An Open Letter From Owner, Anna Ragle, On How Fira Boutique Is Changing To Better Serve Our Customers For The Future!

Posted by Anna Ragle on 29th Mar 2021

Why did I open a store? 

For the experience! Once upon a time I worked at a bridal boutique. We did an activity of going out to stores and evaluating the store experience with all of your senses - sights, sounds, smells, etc. It sounds silly but really forces to question why do we shop where we shop and what makes us go back?! It was an invaluable experience/lesson and I took it with me when I left vowing to pass it on to others I worked with as well. Before opening the store my husband and I went to Chicago for a weekend and evaluated our store experiences up and down Lincoln park, in and out of shops. Some stores you wanted to leave right away - others you wanted to linger and peruse for hours, taking it all in. We were opening Fira that Fall and wanted to find out just what did we value in a store experience so we could portray that to the customers that chose to shop with us.

Were you greeted or was it crickets when you walked in? How did it smell - like candles or a smelly lunch from someone working and eating behind the counter? How did things look - was it clean and appeasing to the eye with displays that drew you in? Or was it dusty with cobwebs in the corners and disorganized?

Did you want to stay or leave? Would you go back?

We asked ourselves all these questions as we opened doors to countless businesses.

This experience experiment, I guess you could call it, helped mold Fira and we found out exactly what we valued in a store experience. When opening I preached this to the team the best way I knew how – by having them find out what was meaningful to them when it came to a store experience. And the Fira store experience was born! And when I had friends of mine secret shop us, they would answer these same questions.

Were you greeted? – “Why yes! And just as soon as I picked something off the rack the gal working asked if she could start me a fitting room and then as I browsed more, asked if I’d like a water.”

How did it smell? – “Like candles! One was burning in fact, it smelled so glorious, I bought it.”

How did it look? – “Thought out displays with very clean and organized, perfectly finger spaced racks.”

Did you want to leave or stay? “Stay! I would have loved to sit and read from your coffee table collection on that big, comfy, colorful couch while my friend modeled her finds from the fitting room.”

The digital age is real! Do I love a good store experience though? – Absolutely!

Over the past several years, the digital age of retail has come alive like no other! There is no doubt in my mind that Covid expedited what was changing retail anyway. Our data doesn’t lie and over these recent years 75-80% of our business is coming from online platforms. The fact is in-store foot traffic has slowed while digital has only accelerated.

In 1990 my grandfather closed the last location of his grandfather’s 100+ year old men’s apparel & suit shops on Main St. in Paxton, Illinois because of malls, and big box stores. Now malls are closing all over the U.S. because of online. The digital age is here whether we like it or not! If you’re like me, change is HARD and I don’t always adapt well – fighting tooth and nail against something I want to remain nostalgic. The thing is though, we’ve been trying to do both exceptionally well, which in turn has brought a lack of focus. We’ve been focusing on trying to be everything for our customers in how each and every person likes to shop instead of looking at the data and looking at how MOST people are shopping.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good store experience with the best of them – I love well thought out displays/store windows – captivating smells and all of the wonderful atmospherics that go into a shop. BUT, what I value MOST in a store experience are those interpersonal relationships that we build with our loyal customers or people stopping in from out of town. The who’s who game to see if you know the same person from a neighboring area - the hugs, handshakes, meeting new faces and having an impact on each other’s day. This is why I got into retail! It’s why I love what I do! It’s not just a dress – it’s not just the top. It’s a first date, a bridal shower, it’s a girl’s trip and family holiday gatherings! It’s about connecting for me and this is what Fira will always represent.

So, we are here to change the new digital age and make it so much more personal – less transactional – more experience. Our goal is to merge the old school mom and pop customer service feel with the new digital age. Bear with us, we’re navigating on something that feels oh so foreign to us, but if you’ve been following our brand that’s what we’ve been trying to do here all along. The thing is, currently we’re not doing either exceptionally well because we’re not focusing on one experience. With focus, I believe we can bring an experience like no other to you – our customers – our heart!

Some may not know this, but we opened another Fira store in Indianapolis about 4 years ago. It was open for a little over a year and we ended up closing it. I had just had a baby and traveling back and forth to Indy was not ideal – we had an amazing store manager over there but at the end of the day foot traffic was just not there and we weren’t doing anything noteworthy digitally at the time other than Instagram and Facebook. Back then I was so puzzled as I felt we picked a good location but at the end of the day it just didn’t work and wasn’t profitable. It was so hard to close that Indy store as we had spent so much time, money on the build-out, and the atmospherics in that shop to make it just as inviting as our original Champaign shop. We weren’t growing at either location at the time. Something had to give and that’s when we started the Fira Boutique Insider group where things really started to turn a corner. Business was up, our customer base was reinvigorated, and we were seeing that customers really enjoyed this new format. We replaced the experience of trying on the clothes in the shop with trying it on ourselves! We tried to take what it was like shopping in store with us and provide the same connection and experience in a virtual shopping environment, as much as the technology would allow. Seeing clothing on different body types explained in a live video format – answering questions in real-time, was nerve-wracking just like anything new, but customers could then gauge their size and fit by seeing it in video form and we were able to show customers our authentic selves maintaining a connection so often lost by the strictly transactional world of online shopping. The Insiders group has been a wonderful tool and community for us to grow in and make our connection with our tribe.

That being said, we’re going to bring the girl’s day shopping party to your screen! We’re transforming our storefront, effective April 6, with a showroom style space open for the public from 2-5:30pm Monday-Friday for local shopping/pick-ups and open Saturday 10a-4p for all day showroom shopping as well. When shopping our showroom, you will still be able to try-on in our fitting rooms and have a dedicated associate to help you. For online orders, we are expanding our return policy to 30 day – always free returns. Please check out our shipping & returns policy and some additional information on shopping with us here:

Our mission is to help women look and feel their best with inspired looks that set her apart, while providing a modern and innovative shopping experience with an old-school approach to customer service. So, come along with us – we are here – changinggrowing – and being nothing but real with our incredible customers who allow us to do what we love each and every day.

Cheers To You All!