MMDC sat down with Stephanie Mills and Lisa Corkern of the new Medical District boutique, Nine01 to Five04.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves and your business?
Stephanie: I’m originally from East Tennessee. I’ve been in Memphis for about 15 years, so I consider Memphis my home. I have been a stylist and worked in retail since I was fourteen years old. It’s my love. Merchandising is something that comes naturally to me, and we just love being over here and having the shop. It’s fun to have something that’s our own.
Lisa: I’m from New Orleans. My husband and I have been visiting Memphis for multiple reasons—to escape Mardi Gras and escape hurricanes for about the past fourteen years, so last year we decided to actually buy a place to stay here and we bought a place on Mud Island. I grew up in a business. My mother and father were both businesspeople. I’ve always loved fashion, and it’s always been my thing. I love it, and I’ve been trying to talk her into doing this for years, and we finally stepped out and did it. This was the perfect place, we thought, because of everything that’s happening around here that’s up and coming. We thought that if we could establish ourselves now that when everything was done with the Wonder Bread Factory, the condos, and all the great things that are going on around here, we would already be here.
Your business model and a lot of the language on your website discusses how this boutique is based upon your longtime friendship despite the distance between your hometowns. Can you give a background of your friendship and how it’s led to the business you have today?
Stephanie: We’ve been friends for about a decade, we go on trips together, I dress her. I’m a stylist. That’s what I did before, and that’s how we met. It just evolved, and that’s when I realized we have so much in common from music, our families, our love of fashion, our beliefs, and pretty much everything. We’re both only children, and it’s like we found our sister with each other. It was a connection when we first met. When you find your soul sister, it just clicks.
What was the process like of motivating each other to officially establish your business and eventually move to the District?
Lisa: I grew up in a business, and I knew that working for someone else your whole life is not going to pay off in the end. It’s scary to step out and start something new, but what’s even scarier is trying to depend on social security when you retire, so finally I think I pushed through to the point where we were like, “look we can do this.” So, finally, we came across a guy whose office used to be here, and he eventually became our real estate agent. He suggested the Edge District. He brought us here, introduced us to the Magruders, we looked at the space, and we thought it was perfect. He helped us out a lot in getting to this point.
Stephanie: We saw all that was being built in this area, and everyone in this area has been so amazing and so supportive. The support and comradery of the Edge Neighborhood Association, local residents, and business owners is awesome. We want that community feel and for everyone who comes in the store to feel like they’re at home and feel welcome. There are so many times when we go out of town and go shopping, and people won’t greet or help you. That’s not what we want here. We want everyone to come in and feel like they’re welcome. Here, everyone is so willing to help without expecting anything in return. You don’t see that a lot. This area is so welcoming, and I think everyone here has the mindset that we grow together or we fail together.
As new business owners in the District, what is some advice you would give other entrepreneurs looking to establish a brick and mortar in the Medical District?
Stephanie: Be prepared. Make sure you know what permits you need. Get all of that in order. Don’t overbuy. Figure out your target audience, and do something that nobody else in the area has. That way, you’ll be the go-to for whatever need that is instead of having to oversaturate the market.
Lisa: Create a plan A to determine the services/products you’ll provide and determine what will separate you from similar businesses that come down the line. For example, we have products that are handmaid from all over the world. We have a local table representing Memphis and New Orleans. You have to stick with it and remain positive when you start out.
Stephanie: Word of mouth is important, too. Just with the people that live in the community, the people that live in the apartments behind our building—they’re telling their friends and spreading the word about us. Being nice to people and genuine with them is also key. People value that and will naturally spread the word about your business when you have friendly customer service.
What is something that unique about Memphis and New Orleans respectively? How do you represent that with the apparel that you carry in-store?
Stephanie: The music, the food—it’s just a different vibe in those cities. It’s your own style. You can do whatever you want with whatever you have. You put it together and are confident in yourself and what you’re wearing, and it reflects your personality. Both cities have so much uniqueness to their culture and styles that it fits really well for a boutique.
Lisa: There’s a really close connection between Memphis and New Orleans—more than most people know. New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz and Leah Chase, known as the queen of Creole Cuisine that has resided in New Orleans for so many years. Fashion is like an art in both cities.
Stephanie: Anything goes, really. It’s all about the way you put items together. It’s like you can look at some clothes on a rack and say, “Oh, I can’t do that.” But, if you put it on and style it the right way, people are going to be asking you where you got that.
How exactly do you go about finding all of the apparel that you stock in the store?
Stephanie: We went to market in Dallas—The World Trade Center in Dallas. It was 15 stories of wall-to-wall showrooms. Everyone in there was so helpful and nice. We made connections with people at the showrooms, listening to our vision and directing us to other showrooms. There was a vast amount of paperwork just to be registered to get in, but it was worth it because we made so many great connections with different vendors who have since connected us with other vendors.
Lisa: There were a few brands that we definitely knew we wanted to carry, some we’ve been buying clothes from for years. Now, we’re overwhelmed with people who are trying to get their merchandise in the store. There are numerous traveling merchandisers who come through town and allow us to place online orders.
Can people expect any events or programming from Nine01 to Five04?
Stephanie: We’re doing monthly events. We’ll have the grand opening on August 17. On August 31st we’ll be having a tailgate for the first Memphis football game. A blogger/influencer preview event will take place the night before our grand opening. We’ll keep everyone updated on the rest of the events to come!
Do you have any specials that people can be on the lookout for?
Stephanie: Currently, we’ve got 20% off on our men’s apparel. More specials will come soon!
Lisa: We’ve also carry special and unique brands in the store. For example, we’ve got Kendra boots. They are made in the Netherlands. I’ve never seen any store in this country actually carry them. I’ve always had to order them online. They hand make everything and only make a couple of sizes of each boot. Other than our Memphis and New Orleans table, we wanted to have other unique things. We have bags that are repurposed leather made from military scraps. This is not just another place to shop, we’ve got things that you can’t find everywhere and things from all over the world—from Spain, to Russia, to the Netherlands.
What are your signature/most popular items so far?
Stephanie: The kimono wraps have been crazy popular. We sold out of two styles completely. The knitted skirts and all the rock and roll t-shirts have also been popular. We’re also the only retailer in Memphis with Duck Head and Psycho Bunny. Those are also popular.
Lisa: Also, we have only two bags left of our bags repurposed from military tent. They sold really fast!
Stephanie: Our Memphis and New Orleans art has been selling really well, too. All of our art is on consignment from local artists.