Aksent Boutique located in downtown Abilene for the past 14 years is now closed to the public.
Yet business is booming.
Clothing and jewelry are selling better then ever, only those sales are online instead of in person.
“If we open anymore, it would only be special events,” said owner Jamie Stroda.
Still the store is key to sales that now reach customers as far away as England and Canada.
“We sell online through our live shows, mobile app and through our web site,” Stroda said.
She said what sales that can be generated in one show is often equivalent to three weeks of retail.
She said, at one time the store employed 14 people. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff is down to nine.
“And they work all different hours. We have staff that packages all night long,” she said. “Two shifts basically, a day and a night shift.”
Those filling orders and shipping them can set their own time schedules.
“I allow them to come in whenever they want and leave whenever they want,” she said. “They can work as many hours as they want because there is plenty of work.”
The live broadcasts are held at the downtown store while the warehouse is located on South Buckeye Avenue. All sales are shipped through the United States Post Office.
Stroda manages the sales with a program through Comment Sold, which also provides the app.
Unlike QVC, it allows viewers to comment and ask questions about the products.
Stroda said programs are live every Tuesday and Thursday, which she had been showing for the past three years.
However, a program is aired every day at different times.
She said all of her 4,256 customers found Aksent Boutique on Facebook and downloaded an app to buy products through the Comment Sold program. The Facebook page currently has over 29,000 followers.
Stroda started making crafts and jewelry when she was in the fifth grade.
She sold the crafts and jewelry at shows.
“I would do okay but usually I would be lucky to break even,” she said.
Two events changed her life 14 years ago. She was a marketing consultant for a newspaper when her grandmother died and her friends at the Rocky Mountain News lost their jobs when the Denver newspaper closed.
“Marketing was my background. Jewelry was my passion,” she said.
She said she and a friend started selling downtown during the Christmas season.
“It went crazy,” Stroda said. “We had sold more that particular weekend than I had ever done at any craft show. It was clear that I needed to do an actual store.”
The store has moved three times. It opened in 2006 at 306 N. Buckeye, moved to 205 N. Buckeye and eventually to the current location at 309 N. Buckeye and expanded the store to clothing.
Eventually Aksent Boutique opened in a Salina mall and was open for two years.
“It was great for about a year and then it literally went to crickets,” she said.
That is when she looked at selling online.
“I spent one year building it, working it, and still the best month I did on the web site was $3,000,” she said. “Which was great.”
Three years ago the Christmas season was slow. Staff was reduced from 10 to 2. She experimented with a live show.
“We can’t hurt anything by trying it,” she told her store manager. “At the end of the day, it’s either this or we are closing.”
She said since Aksent opened 14 years ago, there have been 25 stores that have sold clothing and jewelry that have opened and closed.
She called it a “God moment.”
“If He was ready for me to be closed, it would have been done,” she said.
She agreed to give the new marketing idea six months. She said it was hit or miss the first couple of months.
She said more people are accustomed to buying on line. It was at the six-month mark that the show took off, selling $3,000 in one night which she used to make in a good month at the downtown store.
A month later during the Central Kansas Free Fair, the live show sold out the store.
“I had two shirts to open the store the next day,” she said. “Of course customers thought we were going out of businesses which was not the case.”
Fortunately, shipments arrived to fill the store and now Stroda makes sure supply can meet the demand.
“Through the live shows, we are virtual billboards. It’s like 3D. You are actually talking to me. You are saying ‘Jamie, I am this size. What size do you think I should wear?’ We talk chest size, stomach size to hip area. We talk about all of those things, live.”
She said the show often attracts 15,000 to 20,000 viewers.
Stroda said because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the stores closing in March, online sales have increased.
For local customers, there is free curbside pickup at the downtown store.
Stroda said there are also customers that like supporting small, local businesses but they are not shopping in stores.
“People are not walking the streets. The malls are dead,” she said. “I learned that.”
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.