Kelley Krohn Heuisler, owner and founder of the Poppy and Stella Boutique in Baltimore, Maryland. Sat down to discuss owning 4 stores, growing an e-commerce business, and having her best business year ever! She truly is building a retail empire.
There are some people you meet who you know are going to succeed. Kelly is one of those people. Her forward thinking business mindset and entrepreneur spirit have crafted a thriving business in Baltimore.
The California native has made a home and name for herself by embracing the local community and reflecting the rich diversity of Baltimore in the collections she offers in her retail stores and online.
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Brittany Brown 0:00
It’s The Digitiv Podcast with Rob and Brittany and today we’re speaking with Kelley. She’s the owner and founder of Poppy and Stella in Baltimore. Check out this clip from our episode,
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 0:08
One of our mottos is at Poppy and Stella’s we meet you where you are, we don’t want you to feel like you have to look a certain way lose weight, be younger, be older, any of those things to find something that makes you feel incredible. And just as amazing as you are.
Brittany Brown 0:22
Now let’s jump in. (Intro Music)
Rob Winters 0:30
Thanks for tuning in. Today we are joined by Kelley, the owner and founder of Poppy and Stella Kelly, thank you for sitting down with us today.
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 0:37
Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited.
Rob Winters 0:40
Absolutely. All right. So you have three locations in the Baltimore area. They include Fells Point, Ellicott City, and the recently reopened Catonsville location. And we know that Fells Point was the first location and I think 2008, can you talk to us a little bit about kind of launching that first store and how Poppy and Stella kind of came to be?
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 1:04
Yeah, absolutely. And we actually have two locations in Fells Point, which is crazy. but so yeah, back in 2008, I was actually well, 2007. I was in the mortgage business and miserable. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I knew I wanted to be my own boss and entrepreneur in some capacity. My half sister owns Stella Mae up in Burlington, Vermont, which is an incredible store. And I would always go to Burlington with a an empty suitcase and fill it with amazing shoes and come back to Baltimore and all my friends were like, Kelley you should just do this, you should open a shoe store here in Baltimore. And so I did, I went on my first buying trip with her Las Vegas, I was 25. And of course, I was like, This is amazing. You get to shop for a living, this is great. And so kind of just got going from there. And I am very big believer, and if it’s meant to be it’ll be and so just kind of started looking for spaces fell into the location that I’m still in now. It had just vacated and was an amazing spot, and just started moving forward and everything fell into place. So it was really just something that I knew was supposed to be on my path. So here we are 14, almost 14 years later, and it’s been quite a journey, that’s for sure.
Rob Winters 2:20
That’s incredible. I mean, time flies when you’re actually enjoying what you do, right?
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 2:24
Very true. I can’t believe I mean, I was 26 When I first opened my store, and I just turned 40 This summer, and it’s yeah, it’s crazy.
Rob Winters 2:34
That’s amazing. Three stores, well, four stores, then you have to In Fells you said, so the Poppy and Stella empire? Is it all you? Are there any silent partners or anybody else who plays kind of a leading role?
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 2:47
Well, from an ownership perspective, it’s just me, I have a ton of support with my husband. And obviously my sister has been such a mentor. And I have literally the best team in the world, my staff. They’re like family, and they are just amazing. So there’s no way I could do any of this without them. So I’m just really lucky in that I’ve been able to find awesome people and keep them close to me for a really long time. And so that is 100% why I’m able to do what I’m able to do.
Brittany Brown 3:14
That’s awesome. And now I have to ask since you have Stella Mae and you have Poppy and Stella, what is it with Stella,
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 3:19
So I actually was born and raised in California. So that’s where the coffee came from. And I wanted to, you know, tie in my sister’s influence in store. So that’s obviously the Stella so Poppy and Stella came from my California roots. And then you know, my sister and all the implements that she’s given me. And it’s funny, because everyone always comes in asking, Are they your daughters? Are they your grandparents, your dogs, and it’s none of that. But it’s fun because we do get so many people that come in where it is their grandparents or you know, I have a customer who she’s been shopping with me from the beginning. And she named her daughter’s Poppy and Stella and she’s comes in and you know, they get stickers every time they come in. And it’s just really cute. So it’s definitely stuck with us the whole time.
Brittany Brown 4:05
Okay, I love that. I love it. It also has a meaning it’s just like, not like some more to throw out there. So that’s awesome. So with the reopening of your Catonsville store, were you closed due to COVID? And were a lot of your stores closed? How did that work for you during COVID?
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 4:20
Yeah, so crazily enough. When COVID started, I really kind of saw the path of what was happening and coming down the road before any of my other entrepreneur friends and I don’t know why I don’t know why I had this inclination. I was like, I know this is going to be bigger and worse than everyone’s thinking. Cuz everyone’s like, Oh, it’s gonna be two weeks. It’s no big deal. And I was like, I don’t think that’s the case. So I really was on the ball early about getting the grants and getting the loans and really trying to stay on top of that. We closed all four stores early beca use I just knew it was gonna be bad and I wanted to prepare and let my staff do what they need to do and get on unemployment early so we shut down off Four stores, it was just me. It’s really hard. Thankfully, we had launched our website November of 2018. So it we had actually had a website for a little over a year, it wasn’t doing much. And we didn’t have everything on it. But at least we have the infrastructure in place. And so that helped a lot. I shifted focus to all online and kind of went from there, we moved everything into our Catonsville location, so I wouldn’t have to run around to get inventory. And that’s kind of why Catonsville took so long to reopen because it turned into our warehouse. And that was where we were, we’ve been shipping from and receiving from ever since the shutdown. And because it’s less than a mile from my house. It’s super convenient. But yeah, I mean, it’s been a journey. And I think that it really COVID definitely helped every business owner, I know reevaluate everything they’ve ever just because it’s such a game changer.
Brittany Brown 5:51
So when you’re reopening Have you felt any of the staffing shortages that other business owners have been feeling?
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 5:57
Yeah, I think it’s impossible to be a business owner right now everyone’s feeling that again, I’m really lucky in that I have such an incredible team. So I don’t think I’m feeling it quite as harshly as some others out there. But we do have limited hours for that reason in our Catonsville location. So we’re just starting off open Thursday through Sunday, to start until we can kind of get the staffing figured out. I didn’t want to overwhelm the rest of the team. And I just know that that’s something that I myself can handle if I need to. Yeah, the staffing stuff right now is definitely a challenge for sure.
Rob Winters 6:27
And with Baltimore City, I know we’re compared to some states we’re strict, and then compared to some others were not strict at all. So we’re kind of this like middle ground of, you know, COVID rules and mandates, with the online sales. Are you seeing that kind of continue to be strong, or people coming back to the stores kind of wanting that experience, again, of actually being in person to shop?
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 6:49
I think it’s a little bit of both. I mean, our online sales were definitely I mean, it allowed us to catapult our online business to a place that I didn’t realize we could be at, while still maintaining our brick and mortars. So that was a huge benefit to what happened. And we still see similar numbers to what we were getting, you know what we were seeing a year ago. And so that’s been amazing. We’re still trying to grow that because I think there’s still such an opportunity with online, but I do see our brick and mortars are, we just had our best month ever in 14 years, which is incredible. I mean, that’s crazy. After the year and a half that we’ve been through, we had the best sales ever, and our brick and mortars are being are really busy. And people want that experience, they want to see and touch and feel what they’re buying. I think that while online shopping is here to stay, I think there are definitely people that are a little burnt out by it and want to be back in the stores. So we’re just trying to kind of you know, capitalize on the best of both worlds. I think brick and mortar is really where my heart is, I love the connection that we have with our customers. So many of my customers are my friends. And now like I consider them family. So that’s always going to be here to stay. But again, I think that with ecom, there’s such an opportunity to grow the brand outside of Baltimore, and this area. And I love that too. We have so many customers that shop with us from they’re visiting from out of town, you know, Fells Point, certainly a tourist destination. So we have people coming in from New York, or New Jersey, or Texas or wherever. And they’re so excited that they can continue to shop with us when they go home. And so that’s been a really great source of continued business for us too. Because in the past, we just wouldn’t see them until their next visit. So that’s been really great for us
Rob Winters 6:57
We work with a lot of small businesses who are afraid of kind of the E commerce component. So seeing somebody completely embrace it is awesome.
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 8:31
Yeah, I think it’s necessary. I mean, I think that that’s where being a small business owner, that was maybe the only advantage we had during COVID. But it was certainly an advantage was that we could be I could be nimble. And I could change and shift and alter my business really quickly. Whereas targets can’t, you know, they have a huge ship to navigate. And I can change and shift as needed. And I’ve done that. And I’ve had to and I think that’s a big reason why, yeah, we just had our best month ever, I have already hit my best year ever. I mean, it’s just been a really, really great thing to see the rebound and being able to give our customers what they’re looking for, and meet them kind of where they are. And I don’t think we would have been able to do that otherwise.
Brittany Brown 9:11
So do you feel like the Facebook Live Events have also helped with that? Because I’ve noticed that on your Facebook that is happening more often. So is that part of your strategy?
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 9:20
Yeah, it’s so funny because I feel like when especially when there’s shutdowns, I definitely have customers reaching out to me like oh, there’s so many businesses I’m seeing that are doing these live events and all that and I was so hesitant. I am not super comfortable being in front of the camera or being like the face of my business. I never have been but I do know that that’s where the connection is. And I know that that’s what customers are looking for. And I’ve sold it to myself as it’s like being in the store and so that’s how I can kind of justify it. I do have a lot of customers reached out saying I love them. And so it’s definitely been something that we are embracing and it is showing that it’s a great right opportunity to increase our website sales for sure because people love seeing the products on and again just growing that connection and those relationships which are so important to small business that’s one way we can continue to do so.
Rob Winters 10:13
So did we just understand that we’re about to see you on Tik Tok coming up with Stella Poppy dances?
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 10:18
My staff has gotten me on Tik Tok. Like, it’s, I never thought I would say that. But they have, they’ve convinced me they’re all I mean, not all but I have a handful of employees, they’re young, and they are so into it. And they can convince me they’re like, come on, it’s gonna be super fun. It’s gonna be viral. I’m like, well, it’s not gonna be viral. But we’ll have fun with it, at least,
Brittany Brown 10:40
you have to appreciate the young ones out there that are just they’re okay with it, they’re ready to be in front of the camera.
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 10:46
Constantly. It’s I mean, it’s great because I’m not super comfortable. So I can put them in front of the camera, and it’s good. And my customers love it. I want my customers to know who’s behind Poppy and Stella like, Who’s behind the brand who’s behind what they see. And so for me and my staff to be in front, I think is really important. As hesitant as I was for so long. I think that COVID Also, that was another benefit was when it was just me, like I had to go on Instagram, like I had to hop on and go into stories and explain why shipping might be delayed or what’s going on with the business. And I saw the support that came from that. And so it’s been you know, a couple years making, but yeah, now we’re doing the lives. And if you had to our TiK Tok, you can see me do some of those challenges.
Brittany Brown 11:34
We’re totally gonna go check that out after this. Very exciting,
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 11:37
I showed my 10 year old one of the Tik Toks that my employee had me do with her. And she was like, Mom, that is so embarrassing.
Brittany Brown 11:46
Oh, love it.
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 11:47
You’re right. It is, but it’s okay.
Brittany Brown 11:49
But it’s for the business.
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 11:50
I know. She’s like, I don’t understand how is this helping you sell more shoes? And I’m like, I don’t know. They said it would.
Brittany Brown 11:57
It’s a way of the world.
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 11:58
Brittany Brown 11:59
Oh, goodness. So full disclosure, we do have a mutual friend. And our listeners are very well aware of Alice, she’s been on our show a couple of times, she is the owner of Cardinal tavern. And that’s kind of how we got connected, she speaks very, very highly of your boutique. And something that really resonated with me that Alice kind of said to me was that you guys help pick out the clothes and help them feel comfortable in the clothes. Because I know as a female there’s so many of those styles that you look at, you’re like, I would love to wear that. But I don’t think I can pull that off. So is that something that you help coach or staff on to help women feel comfortable on the clothes and help them style it?
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 12:33
Absolutely. From the beginning, when I started popping Stella, I just sold shoes, in large part because she you can wear your shoes whenever and to always say you know, they kind of can be your go to. And so that was a big reason why I started in shoes, because I felt like find an amazing pair of shoes and it makes your entire outfit one of our mottos is it Poppy and Stella’s we meet you where you are, we don’t want you to feel like you have to look a certain way lose weight, be younger, be older, any of those things to find something that makes you feel incredible, and just as amazing as you are. So my staff, I mean, when we are interviewing new hires, that’s part of the interview process. And we really try hard to find people that also ascribe to that of like just embracing who you are, and helping our customers find something that makes them feel amazing and comfortable and confident. It’s definitely mission for us. And we love it. It’s a big reason also why we’re pushing for the E commerce because I think that that’s kind of not as prevalent out there with brands, I think you see some bigger brands kind of embracing that. But for the most part, especially in small boutiques, like you see their social media, and it’s these young white skinny girls doing all the modeling, or they only hire young white skinny girls. And like that’s just not especially Baltimore. Like that’s not the majority of people shopping. That’s not who we are not who I am, right? So we want everyone that walks in to feel amazing and comfortable and confident. We want to help them kind of build that. So Alice is awesome. She’s I’ve known her for a really long time. We lived in Canton for 10 years before moving Catonsville. So my husband and I would always walk down to her former bar. And yeah, it’s been great to kind of see her grow as an entrepreneur too. And having that relationships been awesome. So appreciate her.
Brittany Brown 14:18
Yeah, she’s amazing. We love her as well. I love your mission, because I know that I have walked into stores and just felt uncomfortable because I feel like they’re judging me based on obviously, who’s working there, what kind of clothes they have, and it doesn’t feel like I fit in. So I love that that’s kind of your mission because as women I think that we are very self conscious anyways, what are the things are you doing to help grow your customer base and keep your existing base committed to shopping with you?
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 14:44
Yeah, so we are like I alluded before we just launched a collaboration collection with Alexis Wilkins, her handles at living Alexis and it is our relaunch of our extended sizes. So most The pieces in the collection are sized from extra small to 3x, which is amazing. And it kind of also ties in that we want any person to come in and be able to find something that they love and not be discouraged that it doesn’t fit, or doesn’t look great. And Alexis and I, we went to New York, and she helped pick out the pieces. And we’re really intentional about what’s going to be flattering on the most body types and what is going to work well with someone’s closet and what they already own. And so we’re trying to do more things like that, where we can help our customers see how to incorporate the pieces from Poppy and Stella into their lives. And to again, help them feel more confident. You know, we even made different collections on our website. So there’s based on kind of the style so there’s, you know, the Kaylee collection and that she’s the younger 20, something who still goes out. And then there’s the Devon collections based on some of my employees with Devon questions. She’s kind of in her mid to late 20s. And she’s a little more casual. There’s the Kelley collection, where it’s like the mom where, you know, you want to be cute, but still comfortable and still need to be practical, and the Nancy who’s you know, in their 50s 60s and wants to still feel fashionable, but also, you know, is practical. So we really try to be intentional in what we bring into the store and to think through all of our customers, not just one demographic, because I think Baltimore’s so diverse. And that was that’s a big reason why my husband and I chose to move there, it’s a big reason why I chose to open my business there and continue my business for 14 years is I love love Baltimore. I love how diverse it is. I love that we get customers from all walks of life, and that they’re loyal and committed to supporting us. And so the least we can do is continue to give them pieces that make them feel amazing.
Rob Winters 16:50
And kind of speaking at the collections because we were exploring them on the website and they have some awesome pieces in there. How do you source the different pieces? Are you you know, just going to fashion shows? Are you meeting the designers kind of one off? Or how does it all come together?
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 17:04
Yeah, so it’s a little bit different now since COVID. But I do go to a lot of the buying shows now or I’m back to buying in person, I was doing a lot of it while I was doing all of it online for a long time, which is, but it’s nice to go back in person. So I go to New York and Las Vegas and Atlanta occasionally, to see the collection to see the samples in person to make sure that the fabric is right and the fit is going to be what we want. Yeah, I hand select every single piece in the past had other employees help me with the buying. But I found that when that happens even as amazing as they are, which my staff is I lose a little piece of myself in the business. And so it buying is definitely one part that is really important to me to be a part of and to still say that I can select every single thing that comes into the store. So yeah, online in person, all the things, how we get the collection and the the pieces that we have
Rob Winters 17:58
in kind of on the flip side of that, do you ever have designers approached you to try and get their lines into your store or into your collections.
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 18:06
And I love supporting local artists and designers when we can when it fits in with what we’re trying to provide for our customers, Absolutely. I found it in the past bring in a lot of local artists, jewelry and stationery giftie items, specifically, there’s not a ton of ready to wear designers that are local and fit in what with the price point and kind of where we’re at. But yeah, we definitely get some people reaching out especially through you know, Instagram sliding into the DMS. Hey, I think this would be perfect for your store. And like I don’t You don’t even know my story. You’ve never been here, but okay.
Brittany Brown 18:42
Okay, I kind of love that. I mean, you’ve been doing this for 14 years. What do you see happening in the next three to five years in your business? Where do you want to see it go?
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 18:50
Yeah, that’s an excellent question. I think that I’ve had to kind of re think the direction of the business over the last couple of years. But what I would love to see is to grow Poppy and Stella to a brand that is impacting as many people as possible, and our potential customers that we can help make their lives better and help them feel as confident as possible. I really, really, really want to grow the brand to a place where I can provide my staff with an awesome lifestyle. That’s like super important to me, I’ve always paid well and taking care of my staff. Because again, they’re like, why I’m here. And I want to continue to grow the brand so that they’re really loving their job, and I’m able to give them what they deserve. So I don’t have a ton of specific goals to achieve that. I think having the four stores right now is great. We keep kicking around the idea of a fifth location, which sounds insane to me. But I think again, if it’s meant to be it’ll be if the right location comes into play. There’s two locations that we’re kind of thinking about, then I could definitely see us opening Another location and another store in the general area. But yeah, I think we just want to continue to reach people. And again, get our message out there of, you know, we’re gonna meet you where you are and help you to feel good about yourself.
Rob Winters 20:12
I mean, that’s a pretty positive message. And this is more a plug than a question, but I thought I would throw this out there for all of our listeners, if they actually visit Poppyandstella.com and sign up for updates, they can get 10% off their purchase. So just a little, you know, advice if you want to take a look at the collections we’ve been bragging about on here,
Brittany Brown 20:30
Kelley, you have been amazing to join our podcast and just share all the things with Poppy and Stella, what’s your Instagram or I know that you also have a VIP page that people can join to see the collection.
Kelley Krohn Heuisler 20:43
Yes, so Instagram is just @poppyandstella, Facebook at poppyandstella. We do have a VIP Facebook group which I kind of treat like my own personal page, which is funny considering again how I don’t like to be the center of my business. But yet there I am. I don’t know. So if you want to see like pictures of my kids and my dog and that’s definitely a place where but and we’re not exclusive, like anyone can join. That’s a huge part of our thing too is we’re inclusive, yeah. And then Tik Tok. If you want to see me make a fool of myself and embarrass myself as my 10 year old says it’s shop_PoppyandStella. We’re at 979 followers, which that has nothing to do with me. So all the things and then of course, one of our stores so in Catonsville, Ellicott City, and we have a store in Broadway and the store right across the street from the Pendry on Main Street.
Brittany Brown 21:32
That’s awesome. And I traveled to Baltimore quite frequently. I’m actually in Savannah, Georgia. I go to Baltimore to visit Rob so I will definitely be popping into one of your stores. I’m very excited about that. If you’d like this episode, please listen, like and subscribe and we will see you all next week. (Outro Music)