It's the little things at Jeannie n Mini
Jane Kitchen -- Kids Today, 9/1/2012 2:00:00 AM
Jeannie Yoon is no stranger to the baby business. She first came to Southern California from Australia, where she had worked for bedding manufacturer Living Textiles Baby, getting to know the design, manufacturing and distribution process. Add to that the fact that she'd done an in-depth final project for her MBA on a baby retail store, and Yoon knew her way around the industry.
But she found the Orange County marketplace lacking.
"Compared to the baby stores I used to go to in Australia, I felt there was a huge market gap," she said.
So in 2010, she opened Jeannie n Mini, a 2,900-square-foot store in the upscale Shops at Mission Viejo.
"Having a baby is such a romantic thing - everyone should really enjoy the time," said Yoon. "The shopping experience should be the same: romantic and exciting. And it doesn't have to come at a high price."
Yoon set out focusing on providing good service, helpful information, and a pleasant environment, figuring that that combination would have customers lingering longer in the store and coming back regularly.
"When (customers) come in the store, there's always something to excite them," said Yoon.
Jeannie n Mini carries everything from furniture to gear to gifts and toys to apparel. The store is laid out by category, and Yoon said she strives for a whimsical look.
"Customers are constantly saying that the store is so cute, and that we have the most unique things in this store," she said. "But most brands I carry are widely available in the U.S. - I think it's the way it's been displayed."
In choosing her merchandise, Yoon looks for products that she would be happy to use herself - good quality, but not too expensive.
She began by just selling furniture and bedding, but soon discovered just how much the U.S. baby industry is driven by baby registries. Yoon added feeding, bath, strollers, car seats, toys, apparel and accessories to the mix - a plan that's worked for her on several levels.
The accessory items served to fill the store up and make it more approachable.
"When I first started, the shop looked a bit empty," said Yoon. "It was beautiful, but it looked too expensive, and a lot of people wouldn't even come in."
Once she expanded her merchandise mix, Yoon said customers were more likely to come in and browse - and spend time looking.
"It increased the time the customer spends in the store, and it increased the sales," she said.
And, it means customers return to Jeannie n Mini.
"You can only sell furniture and bedding once," said Yoon. "You can sell the other categories again and again."
The store's location near Nordstrom means it attracts a mid-to high-end customer, and plenty of gift-givers. With a selection of unique items and free gift-wrapping service, Yoon aims to make their experience as easy as possible.
She prides herself on the store's customer service and relationship-building.
"We make sure each customer is greeted properly and try to get to know each customer," said Yoon.
Registries are a big business for Yoon, accounting for around 50% of her business. Customers can either come in to the store and use a scanner or register on the website.
Registering also means that each customer can have her own mini-website, where she can organize her shower, send invitations and share photos. Jeannie n Mini giftwraps everything, ships it to the customer, and offers free assembly of strollers, as well as a registry completion discount.
"You want to make it quick and easy and simple," said Yoon.
Customers learn about Jeannie n Mini through word of mouth, or through one of the events that Yoon participates in. Once a month, the mall hosts an event for children, and Yoon usually has crafts or games for the kids. She also participates in a local maternity hospital tour, where she takes a display of products and gives expecting parents a gift certificate for the store.
"These face-to-face meetings work better than any other marketing," said Yoon.
But Yoon is not immune to competition, especially from online retailers who have the advantage of not charging sales tax.
"That was a big shock when I came to the U.S.," she said. "But I can't change the industry - I have to come up with ideas."
She's implemented a customer loyalty program and focuses on the things she can do that an online retailer can't - free assembly, free one-on-one training, and local, in-person customer service and advice.
Yoon said she spends a lot of time doing research on products so that she can offer the best selection.
"We may not have everything, but we have the best of what's available on the market," she said.
And she still enjoys working in the industry.
"It's a happy business," she said. "...It's such an exciting moment in life, and I'm glad to be part of it."
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