If you have visited MILES Auto Spa in Franklin, you may have noticed a unique retail store. For one thing, it’s inside a car wash and if you like to multi task, this is the perfect place to shop. We sat down with Retail Therapy owner, Michelle Roberson to learn more about how she decided to open a space in a car wash and how she decides on what items to carry in the store.
What was your career before opening Retail Therapy?
I was a travel agent for a couple of years which I really loved because travel is a passion of mine. I also worked at the Columbia HCA corporate office as an executive assistant and I was horrible at that job—definitely not a multi-tasker! Then I sold group health insurance for Aetna US Healthcare, and I loved that job because every day was different and I was always meeting new people. My mother-in-law introduced me to Americas Mart in Atlanta where I went on my first buying trip. I originally started Retail Therapy out of the trunk of my car doing home shows and ladies events. That was the grind timeframe of my business though—so much loading and unloading and setting up and dismantling! I was so thankful to find a home for my wares inside of MILES Auto Spa. Mile Johnson and Rocky Crossland, the owners and operators of MILES Auto Spa, have been so good to me. Miles never made me sign a contract, and from a handshake nearing a decade ago, we’ve been friends and business partners ever sense. I’ll always be grateful for the unique opportunity he gave me, for the many wonderful employees I’ve come to know over the years, and of course to the many, many patrons who have kept me in business all these years.
Can you tell us how Retail Therapy got started at Miles Auto Spa?
Before MILES Auto Spa, Retail Therapy was located in downtown Franklin right off the square. Almost nine years ago, a mutual friend of mine and Miles Johnson, the owner of MILES Auto Spa, told me that Miles was looking for someone to “sell something in the lobby.” She introduced us and it turned out we had many friends in common. On a handshake, we agreed to let me try putting my gift store in his lobby to see how it was received. I have been there ever since and have even expanded into a larger area of the lobby. It’s really hard to believe that I will have been inside of MILES Auto Spa for nine years later this summer!
When you shared with friends and family that you were opening a retail space, really a boutique in a car wash, did they think you were crazy or a trend-setter?
CRAZY for sure! People still think I am crazy when I try to explain where Retail Therapy is located. In the beginning, it was really more of a gift shop but eventually I decided to try clothing thinking I might be making a bad business move. Who really wants to buy a dress in a car wash? Well it turns out lots of women do! I also even get male shoppers picking up something for their wife or girlfriend, especially around a holiday! My thought when I began buying for this environment was to sell things that made people’s lives easier. By that I mean, if I had to wait 30 minutes for my car to be detailed, and I could buy a teacher’s gift, a graduation gift, a birthday present, or even Christmas presents and that item could be nicely gift bagged for free, I would certainly knock a few things off my list! So that happens all of the time, and of course, most people can’t help but find something for themselves too! I could write a book with all the fun stories people have shared with me over the years about their experience buying this or that “at a car wash!”
How do you select the items for your space?
I have been buying for over a decade now and I think about several things before I buy. There are some things like the Clinging Crosses and the clay bead wrist keychains that are no brainers because they have sold well year after year. Then I think about the season and I try to hone in on those items I will be able to display well, those that are unique, and then my main rule of thumb when buying is “would I personally wear this or would I want this item?” It’s funny too because I might choose a certain style dress and keep one for myself and within days, the rest of them have sold at the store, but then sometimes I buy something I love equally as much, and it ends up on the sale rack! Luckily I pick more winners than losers.
What are your favorite three items in the store?
Oh wow that’s a tough one! Hmmm… I would say I love the Second Nature by Hand artwork which is handmade from salvaged and reclaimed materials. These boxed signs have witty sayings on them, bible verses, and famous quotes. They continue to sell really well, and this reminds me, I really need to do a re-order! I also go to great lengths to find unique jewelry. I have vendors I use from all over the country. Since all of the boutiques and gift shops around here typically buy from the same sources, I work really hard to find something unique and different. I don’t want to have what every other store has—I rarely buy a fad item or if I do, I don’t re-order as I want to find the “next best thing!” I travel a fair amount, and I love to go to other boutiques looking for new ideas, brands, or lines that have not yet made it to our area yet. I am the first to ask to speak to the buyer and tell them about my store and before you know it, we have a wonderful conversation sharing our “best sellers” with each other. I also work with various local artists, and I love the partnerships that have been created with these people over the years. Everyone wins when we can support our local artists! You said three favorite items but I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t mention how much I love buying apparel each season! The brands I buy from typically retail under $50, so we aren’t talking high-end designer clothing. Instead, I aim to buy “on trend” clothing that I can sell at an affordable price. One of my favorite parts of merchandising is styling and dressing the mannequins.Which is actually funny because I’ve never been a fashionista but more of a tom-boy actually! I also love when women are shopping, and I notice they are wearing something they have bought from the store. I have had wonderful conversations with so many people over the years and some of my closest friends today are people I have met from Retail Therapy!
What has been your biggest challenge at Retail Therapy?
My biggest challenge is that I do not have any full time employees, and I want my business to always be second priority to my family. I put a great deal of time into the buying, pricing, merchandising and selling processes. There are always several times throughout the year that are much more busier than others and sometimes I’ll hire someone to give me a hand. I wish I did more of that! Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a control freak, so typically I like to buckle down and just get it done myself. Another challenge is one that is out of my control, but it’s something people don’t really think about. Most of my customer base are those people waiting around on their cars to be done, so when it’s rainy, people don’t wash their cars! Our lobby and my store are still open when the car wash is closed due to the weather, but business is always down on those days! I do want to mention how grateful I am for all of the MILES Auto Spa employees. The girls that run the coffee bar handle most of my transactions and the guys are always willing to help me unload boxes or grab the door for me when my hands are full of new merchandise!
Be sure to visit Retail Therapy inside MILES Auto Spa located at 100 Market Exchange Court, Franklin. Hours of operation are Monday-Sunday 8am-7pm. Follow Retail Therapy on Facebook for the latest updates.
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