Pearls & Pockets is a women’s boutique with old world elegance. New and vintage styles transport patrons across decades and into classic silhouettes. Front windows lure passersby with the likes of brocade, hand-beaded trousers, fascinators and jewellery. But the fashion show starts before customers even enter.
“The lighting is better outside,” explains owner Martha Bernard. That’s where she and communications manager Jennifer Laide can be found on most days, in downtown Toronto, striking a pose.
“You have to do it before 3:00. We prefer to do it earlier (before the store opens.) It’s photos, then customers.”
The photos have become the most important marketing channel for the store. When walking along Queen Street when the light is right, chances are you’ll see multiple store managers who’ve caught on to their power. Bernard and Laide post on Instagram three times a day, but other shops on the street post as much as 20.
Moving from fashion buyer to model isn’t something Bernard envisioned happening. She’s actually quite camera shy, and didn’t appear on Instagram once in her last store. In fact, when Laide went away for Christmas leaving Bernard to the channels, her mother called Bernard the ‘Headless Wonder,’ following a series of cropped photos she shot in Laide’s absence.
Laide encouraged showing off the products online from the beginning. Even before opening shop in April, Laide planned a photo shoot and began seeding styles on Instagram using dozens of hashtags to build a following.
Being a brand new business without a marketing budget, it was important to Bernard and Laide to be genuine and build their following organically. They said no to influencer requests that didn’t align with their brand, and aim to reply as instantly as possible when people reach out. That means that in less than a year, both the inventory, and their approach to social media, have evolved hugely.
“Martha always wanted to have her own boutique,” explained Laide. “She loves vintage, loves colour, loves something different.”
The initial concept for the story was daywear, but they quickly learned that when women are shopping, it’s often for an event. They began bringing in more evening styles, but never strayed from their colourful and playful palette.
The ladies’ unique style is prevalent in every element of the interior – from the Bone china they’ll serve tea in to the ribbon on the shopping bag. It’s a lady-like style that’s genuine to Bernard herself.
“Not only does she not wear sweatpants or yoga pants, but she doesn’t own flat shoes. When we were in Bali her flip flops had heels,” said Laide, with a laugh.
When styling pieces, Bernard is always looking to stay true to the vision of the brand. “There’s no point in pretending and trying to dress a different way and then they come in here and it looks different to how you’ve styled it.”
The duo recently started a partnership with their first influencer, Jodi Lai. Lai was already a fan of the store, and wore their clothes.
Being protective of the brand made business sense. As a retailer, Instagram helps not only drive exposure to customers, but to potential merchandisers too.
“A lot of the brands you like straight away want to see an Instagram,” said Laide. “A lot of brands are very particular about where they stock their clothes.”
Nearing their one-year anniversary means Bernard can glean learnings from the store’s inception. As someone who didn’t have Facebook or Instagram before, to someone who can now wear model as one of her many hats, she explains she didn’t originally know how good social media could be for her business.
That’s why Laide stuck to her vision for using social media as a channel.
“You just wouldn’t be drawn to go a store until you see what they’ve got,” she said. “If you cant see it clearly on a website or Instagram, why would you trek there?”
Getting Digital with is Devon Burke’s monthly look at how bricks-and-mortar businesses and entrepreneurs are using online channels to build their brand. Do you have a business that’s just starting out? Reach out to Devon Burke to share your story.