Leopard Boutique started decades ago as a dream in the mind of a little girl that loved to “play shop” in her room. As that little girl grew older she worked many years in retail, she went to school to learn more about her chosen profession, and when she felt ready she staked her claim in 1500 square feet in the heart of Old Webster Groves. That community welcomed her with open arms and between their support and the support of her friends and family, she grew that shop to 3 locations across the St. Louis area with over 20 employees.
On March 15 of 2020 she gathered her employees to discuss an upcoming Trunk Show that she was very excited about. She was going to introduce a local designer to her growing audience, an opportunity she always cherished. She finished the meeting on a ten, ready for a big weekend and dreaming of continued growth. Little did she know it would be the last time she would see her team together. Two hours later, all her stores were mandated to close. She was crushed… for about 5 minutes, and then she got to work. After all, you do not grow to 3 stores in 6 years without being driven.
Her mission was clear as it had always been, to help women find confidence through a personal boutique experience and a positive work culture. How could she do that when she could not see her women? She started by focusing on what she could control. She figured out which of her employees she could continue to support and laid off the rest instructing them to apply for unemployment sooner rather than later (this was way before PPP loans and there was no clear path forward when all of her money was leveraged in clothing for a season that was not going to happen). She added curbside pickup and local delivery to her website and began doing regular Facebook live videos to connect with her customers. She personally drove to the houses around her business and dropped off the packages, many times leaving personal notes for her new and well-known customers. She persisted.
But the pandemic persisted as well. As time went on it became clear that purchasing three stores worth of merchandise for an uncertain fall was too big of a risk for her small company. After much thought and many tears, she made the decision to shutter 2 of her 3 stores. Once the decision was made, she wiped away the tears and went to work. By this point, she had fought hard to secure PPP loan funds which had allowed her to bring back almost half of her staff and focus on making her one store and website the best that it could be. While she is not thriving, she is surviving. Her plan is not to be profitable this year, but to be in existence next year with the hope that there is more opportunity in 2021.
While there has been a lot of pain, there have also been some victories. Last week she finished moving out of her space in Maplewood to make room for a new small business. While she felt a lot of pain and loss (after all it was only 2 years ago that she leveraged everything and spent late nights rebuilding that little space in the heart of her own community) she also felt some hope. If all her work could help another business get started with a leg up, maybe it was not all for naught. Soon enough there will be a new business in that space in Maplewood, Hair and Beauty Restore by Asylum, and a woman (Felicia Cann-Hanson, the owner) who was once a young girl with a dream of making women feel beautiful will get to see her dream become a reality.
Our little girl, Rachel Sauter, will be fine. She has the support of a strong community, the backing of her caring husband and family, and a staff that is second to none. In fact, this episode will only make her stronger and prepare her business to tackle whatever the future holds.
Note: Leopard Boutique’s locations in St. Charles (1650 Beale #150) and in Maplewood (7407 Manchester) are permanently closed. While Rachel hopes you visit her at her remaining shop in Webster Groves (20 Allen Ave #100) and shop online at leopardboutique.com, she also hopes that you’ll visit the new businesses in the locations she worked so hard to build, Ju-Ju Bs Boutique Pop up in St. Charles and Hair and Beauty Restore by Asylum in Maplewood (opening November 1, 2020). While the bigger businesses are all fighting to be number one, the smaller businesses will only succeed if we realize that we are stronger together and that the success of all of us depends upon the success of each of us.
Leopard’s Mission Statement:
Leopard’s purpose is to help women find confidence through a personal boutique experience and a positive work culture.