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BY MARIE PULEO • PHOTOS BY JEFF GRAVES

Tonia Ryan

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Tonia Ryan

A bit of show-biz glamour is coming to Pompano Beach with this month’s grand opening of Inance women’s clothing boutique.
Teresa Giudice, star of the reality TV series “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” will be making a special appearance at the grand opening party, which takes place on Oct. 7 from 7 to 9pm and is open to the public.

The event is part of a strategy by Tonia Ryan — the store’s founder and a 15-year Pompano Beach resident — to make a major splash and build brand recognition for Inance at a national level.

Ryan already has a bit of a head start. She is the owner of a successful e-business that sells Inance Skincare products, which have been featured on networks like Bravo, OWN, E! and the Hallmark Channel. Inance Skincare, which Ryan launched in 2012, also sponsored the Oscars Celebrity Gifting Suite two years in a row. The Inance store, however, is a new venture Ryan hopes will gain just as much attention as her skincare products.

Over the years, California-born Ryan has made numerous contacts in the fashion and entertainment industries, which inspired her to branch out the Inance brand into women’s contemporary clothing.

For the past 18 months, Ryan has been working with over 200 manufacturers around the United States to create the two clothing lines she will feature in her boutique. She designed and chose the fabrics for the majority of the items herself and has built up an inventory of over 6,500 pieces to sell on the floor.

“Since we’re doing our own manufacturing, everything is so fresh and new,” said Ryan, who does most of her sourcing and manufacturing business long distance.

Ryan uses FaceTime to talk to her manufacturers, who show her their products virtually. They mail her fabric samples, then work with her to tweak things to her liking.

Of the two lines she’s created, The Inance line is higher-end, designed with busy women in mind (especially working moms) who want fashion and comfort without much time or effort. The second line, called Smazy by Inance, is a contemporary line with a lower price point geared toward younger women. Both lines will offer plus sizes. All the styles, which include dresses, casual wear and active wear, are South Florida-driven.

“I know we’re going to be known as ‘maxi-dress heaven,’ because we have so many maxi-dresses,” said Ryan.

The new Inance store also features handmade bikinis and lingerie from a Los Angeles-based manufacturer whose celebrity customers include Beyoncé, Madonna and the Kardashians.

Customers will be able to purchase the merchandise either in-store, or on the company’s website (Inance.com), with free oneday shipping in the state of Florida.

Inance’s physical store consists of approximately 2,500 square feet of selling space, and another 700 square feet in the back where internet orders will be processed.

The new store is “a totally different concept than what people in retail are used to,” said Ryan. Instead of mannequins, there are TV monitors to show images of models wearing every item in the store. Sales associates have mobile scanners, which allow them to ring up sales anywhere in the store. There’s also a selfie machine where people can take photos and share them with their friends.

“It’s just a new, more personal, technology-driven way to be able to help the consumer,” said Ryan.

For now, Ryan doesn’t plan to sell her products on any other websites, such as Amazon; she prefers to work directly with her customers and not through a third-party company.

Ryan expects her online customer base to be mainly in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Texas and South Florida, and predicts her online sales will far outweigh her in-store sales.

Ryan, who has a computer science degree, is “e-commerce driven,” and plans to raise awareness of the Inance boutique outside the local area through social media, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, all of which she handles herself. Having Teresa Giudice at the Inance grand opening is part of her social media strategy.

“There are a lot of new, fun ways on the internet that you can reach out to the consumer,” said Ryan, who even posted a YouTube video of herself modeling the Inance bikini line, so people could form a connection to her and the product.

Ryan plans to partner with some celebrity friends and other social media influencers like Giudice. By the end of the year, she plans to post YouTube videos of celebrities shopping at Inance.

Ryan will also be organizing an event with Gretchen Rossi, who appeared in “The Real Housewives of Orange County” reality TV series, and whose handbag line will be carried in the store.

If the Pompano Beach store is a success, Ryan would like to open a second brick-and-mortar store in South Florida. “Pompano as a city is coming up,” said Ryan. “Especially for this stage of my life, being married, having children, I find that it’s a wonderful place to live, and I think it’s a great flagship location for what we’re doing.”


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Millie Walsh

Millie Walsh

Body & Soul Boutique, located in The Shoppes at Beacon Light in Lighthouse Point, has been a local mainstay in women’s upscale fashion for almost fifteen years.

Millie Walsh, the boutique’s owner, has kept her business on a steady course, navigating it through ups and downs in the economy, and when necessary, reinventing it.

“Having a background in accounting and advertising has helped me in business,” said Walsh.

It’s made her a “little bit more savvy” when it comes to budgeting and promoting her store. Although Walsh has cultivated a loyal local following, it was Walsh’s intention from the beginning for the boutique to have a national presence. Within a year of its opening in 2002, her website (shopbody.com) was up-and-running, and people around the country were buying clothing and products from it. In recent years, Walsh has also started selling her products on third-party websites.

Rather than compete with a huge player like Amazon, Walsh said she took the approach of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” and created an Amazon store where she sells some of her more well-known brands to the U.S. market. It was a long process that had to be approved by Amazon. She doesn’t sell the items at a discounted price, but she does ship them for free directly from her boutique.

Having an Amazon store opens her up to selling across the country, and also keeps merchandise flowing through her physical store, which helps her local customers.

“They always get to see new things, and the store doesn’t become stagnant,” said Walsh.

Last month, she expanded her presence even further, and opened an Amazon store for the markets in Canada and Mexico.

“Making those changes has enabled me to keep a brick-and-mortar,” said Walsh. “Brick-and-mortar is difficult. There are a lot of expenses, and with people buying online, it really has changed the whole face of retail.”

Walsh also sells on a third party website called Shoptiques, which is made up of higher-end stores from key areas in the U.S. and Europe, and has generated some international sales for her boutique.

Walsh hand picks all of her merchandise herself. She spends at least three weeks out of the year attending clothing shows in Miami Beach, Palm Beach, Atlanta, New York and Las Vegas, where she places orders four to five months in advance. She also attends gift and jewelry shows, and a lot of local clothing line representatives come to see her at her store.

“People don’t realize how much time is spent in acquiring the inventory,” said Walsh. “It’s pretty intense.”

Some stores will look at products online and order over the internet, but Walsh likes to see and feel the piece in person.

“Material is very important to me,” she said.

Where an item is made is also important. She strives to sell only clothing made in North America. At least 90 percent of the merchandise is made in the U.S., and a couple of lines come from Canada.

When purchasing her products, Walsh thinks of her local clientele first. If she sees something she loves, she’ll think, “Who can I picture wearing this of my own local customers?”

Then she’ll ask herself, “Will this sell well online? Will I be able to get good photography for it? Can I put it on my own website, or will I be able to put it on Amazon?” If she can put it on Amazon, she’ll increase her quantities to make sure she has enough for her local customers as well.

Right now, she estimates that 75 percent of her sales are local, and 25 percent online, but her goal is for them to be fifty-fifty, not because her local business will go down, but because she’s anticipating that her online presence will be that much more.

Walsh said that the top way people outside the local area find her is through Instagram, then Facebook and Google searches. She also finds that e-mail is important, and through an e-mail marketing tool called Constant Contact she lets customers know when a sale is going on, or sends them a birthday certificate. In the beginning of next year, she plans to start advertising her website around the U.S. in print publications that focus on women and fashion.

Last year, Walsh made her website mobile friendly, which not only makes it easier for customers to place orders using their cell phones, but also helps bump her website up in Google searches.

The hard thing about selling around the country, Walsh said, is that her biggest competitors are the brands that she buys from. Most of them have their own websites, much bigger advertising budgets, and they sell direct.

Her local audience is very loyal, but she said she can’t expect people in other parts of the country who don’t know her to be loyal to a small boutique.

“I just have to be there alongside them,” said Walsh, “and hope that people find me too, and that once they’ve been to my website and like the personal service, and see that they can get other things from me, they’ll come back.”

Knowing how to transition over the years has enabled her to stay in business.

“It hasn’t been easy,” she said, “but if you don’t change and bend with the times, you’ll break. I’m bending, for sure.”


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Emily Caponera

Emily Caponera

Since June 2015, Lighthouse Point has been home to Merry Love Joy, a children’s boutique offering stylish clothing, toys and custom party goods.

“I knew there wasn’t a children’s store in our local area and wanted to fill the void between Boca and Fort Lauderdale,” said store owner and Lighthouse Point resident Emily Caponera.

From its inception, the Merry Love Joy brand has been reaching more than just a local audience. The storefront actually evolved from an online business that Caponera started in 2014.

The original concept for the brand was “Your Party in a Package” – custom-themed packages filled with everything needed to put together children’s birthday parties, from invitations and thank you notes, to party hats, tablecloths and costumes. The individual package items, like the princess dresses and pirate outfits, became such bestsellers that the business focused more on those, and eventually turned into a children’s boutique.

“It’s nice to still have the national platform with a website,” said Caponera. “I get a lot of international customers as well.”

To promote her business, social media has proven to be one of her most valuable tools.

Her efforts to raise awareness of her brand on a national level began when she joined several buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook that were specific to the product brands she carried. She forged relationships with women in the groups, which usually have 5,000 to 10,000 members from across the country. Once they became familiar with her store, they helped spread the word about her website and trusted reputation.

“I built relationships that way, and then the business grew kind of organically,” Caponera said.

She also uses Instagram as a marketing strategy, which she said is a good visual medium to show off clothing and styling and get people interested in the brands she carries. Currently, she has 29,700 Instagram followers, not just in the U.S., but in locations all over the world.

Her brand recognition gets a boost from a national magazine called Babiekins, which is distributed to Target and Barnes & Noble. It sometimes features the clothing she carries, and credits her store for it.

Caponera’s online business (merrylovejoy.com) accounts for about 20 to 25 percent of her sales. National sales are in locations all over the country, but California has a particularly large customer base, and a lot of customers are from Indiana and Utah.

At least five to 10 orders a week are shipped to customers overseas. Caponera’s international customer base includes a lot of Australian customers because she carries quite a few Australian brands. She also has customers in Asia, the Middle East and several European countries, mostly Great Britain, Denmark, France and Spain, because she carries a lot of Spanish products.

Caponera sells her own customized handmade party supplies, which are under the Merry Love Joy brand, on a third-party website called Etsy. Although they account for just a small percentage of her sales, Etsy uses layers of advertising to put her products out to Google, which helps attract a larger audience to her brand as a whole.

She doesn’t sell any of her other products on third-party websites like Amazon, because the brands she carries stipulate in their contracts that, in order to avoid over-saturating their market, they don’t want to be carried online by a retailer.

“I don’t really compete with Amazon,” she said. “I would say people who are going to Amazon are looking for a different product than what
I’m carrying.”

What sets her apart from Amazon, she said, is that she offers free shipping nationally, and does personalized styling for customers, even
long distance.

“We’ll work with our customers and snap pictures from afar, show them different looks to put together, and help them if they’re doing a special occasion, so they’re getting one-on-one service.”

Caponera finds the brands she carries through Instagram, networking, talking to her local customers, and working with reps over the phone. These brands have a built-in following, and are carried only in select shops.

When picking her products, her primary focus is her local customers, like making sure fabrics are the right weight for Florida. Some items she features only in the boutique, and not on her website, so there’s a bit more of a mix in-store. Even as she strives to grow her brand’s presence, both nationally and beyond, she never loses sight of her local audience.

“I think there’s something really special about having a local business,” she said. “Especially a small mom-and-pop, because there aren’t too many of them out there. So I really try to give the local area something special.”


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Al Stephens
Al Stephens

Al Stephens

Some business strategies are hatched in a boardroom, while others, as in the case of Al Stephens, can start as an idea scribbled on a cocktail napkin.

Stephens, who owns Al Stephens hair salon in Pompano Beach, was out having a drink with the president of Intercoiffure, an international organization of independent hair salons. The two men were discussing ways to promote the organization.

That’s when Stephens came up with a plan: Why not do a photo shoot in Cuba? The photos from the shoot would go to the national trade magazines, and Intercoiffure would gain exposure and recognition.

Stephens helped put together a team of some of the top talent in the business, and earlier this year, headed to Havana for what Stephens says was the first photo shoot in Cuba to be conducted by a group of American hairdressers.

“It started out as just a photo shoot for a magazine, but it turned out to be a whole cultural experience,” said Stephens. “We used all local models, and really got involved with the people.”

The models were outfitted with clothing and jewelry by two local Cuban designers who wanted to be part of the collaboration.

Stephens and his team prepped their models at Arte Corte, the only beauty school in Cuba, and had the students assist them with some of the smaller tasks.

“It was a great experience for these kids to work alongside some of the best hairdressers in America,” said Stephens. “They were like sponges, and were in awe of us. It was extremely rewarding to be able to share everything I know with them.”

It was only by partnering with the beauty school that the hairdressers were able to travel to Cuba, because in order to get their visas, there needed to be some type of cultural exchange. The beauty school only had a few antiquated blow-dryers, so before going to Havana, Stephens called a supplier in the U.S. who donated 75 professional-grade blow-dryers, curling irons and flat irons, which were left behind for the students after the photo shoot.

Stephens chose the streets of Old Havana as a backdrop for the shoot because of its “raw” nature. He wanted to shoot beautiful girls against what were once beautiful buildings.

“I wanted to create a contrast,” he said.

It took hours to choose 18 models from among the almost 200 who showed up for the casting call, which was held in one of the city’s few grand hotels.

“It was absolutely nuts,” said Stephens. “I never saw anything like it.”

Going to Havana gave Stephens a new perspective on Cuban culture.

“I was amazed,” said Stephens. “Cubans are happy, grateful, fun-loving people. They have very little, but the little they have, they really enjoy.”

In collaborating at an international level, Stephens earned global recognition for his local business. The resulting photos were featured on the cover of American Salon earlier this year, and will appear on this month’s cover of Modern Salon, both of which are distributed worldwide. Another shoot for Intercoiffure is in the works. This time, Stephens plans to shoot inside Alcatraz. The theme: “criminal glam.”

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