April Prejean’s path to becoming a boutique owner is anything but typical. However, while the owner of Court & Layne Boutique in Gonzales doesn’t have any traditional business training, she says her two degrees and background in the oil and gas industry were more than enough practice for the career she would ultimately choose over a margarita. Now four years in, Prejean has seen immeasurable changes in her boutique but has maintained a close-knit team and customer base. We sat down with her to learn more about her strategy, style and her faithful team.
1. What is a typical day like for you and your team?
Our days are pretty crazy–in a good way, of course. I run my store a little differently than most. Our days are never planned out. For me, it’s hard to plan when you never know who or what will walk through the doors. So, a typical day starts with a team meeting around 9:30 a.m. We chat about social media, details of the previous week, how we can improve this week, how to reach our goals, and lessons learned. With a steady flow of traffic, we divide and conquer. Each girl is assigned to the area they thrive in. Our team also plays a major role in buying, so I ask them constantly throughout the day if they like new things I am thinking of bringing into the store. I depend on my girls so much! I make sure to let them in on everything because I want them to know the ins and outs of my business. I truly feel like if they know all aspects, it’s easy for them to understand the importance of each role they take on.
2. What is your professional background? How did you get into the retail field?
My professional background is in the oil and gas industry. I was very fortunate to land a job with Performance Contractors at the age of 19. After seven years of learning every department and graduating college, I moved on to work with Shell. I have three degrees: one in marketing, one in speech communications and one in journalism. I also have a minor in English–none of which relate to the oil and gas field or retail.
I am self-taught in all things retail and business. I actually got into retail after my husband and I went to eat out one night and I jokingly said, “Whoa, there’s an empty suite. I bet that would be an awesome spot for a boutique.” A few margaritas later, I was holding the keys!
I did not have a business plan or any clue what I was doing. The one thing I learned how to do very well in the oil and gas industry was to adapt to an ever-changing environment. I honestly believe that is what has kept me going.
3. When did Court & Layne open, and how has it grown or changed since then?
We opened on October 10, 2014. We celebrated our four-year anniversary just a few weeks ago, and we have grown leaps and bounds. So much has changed, but one thing that has remained the same has been our team. That’s next to unheard of for a boutique, and I am so thankful my girls have stuck by me by stepping up and growing with the business.
Our first store was already built out and basically done from the previous business that was there. Again, I had no clue what I was doing. At that time, I was traveling a lot with Shell so I depended on others to basically open the store. It really was not my style and no matter how much I tried to change things, I knew something was not right. I feel like that negative vibe was felt by everyone. I couldn’t quite figure it out. I finally left my Shell position and began working full time at Court & Layne. Finally, I figured out that what was missing was me. I began to learn and get to know our customers and swore that once my lease was up, I was going to really show my customers what Court & Layne was all about.
I walked away from the old store with just my team and started over from the ground up. That is possibly the best decision I have ever made. The look, the feel, the vibe and my team are all on the same page, and it feels amazing. Our store is bright, clean and modern. It’s truly a place I love to be.
4. What are the first things customers see when they walk through your doors?
Me! I am in the store six days a week and I love to be there helping customers. I hate the business side of things, and it kills me to be in the office if I know customers are in the store. If I am not there, you will see one of the “babe crew” girls. They are there to greet you and make you feel welcomed.
5. What sets your store apart?
The one thing that sets us apart is definitely the environment we have created in the store. We are not your typical boutique. When you walk into the store, you are made to feel at home and welcomed. We love all of our customers and really take the time to get to know them on a personal level. Most have become close friends. You never know what someone may be dealing with, so when they walk into the store, that may be their only 10 minutes of sanity or personal time. In my eyes, it’s my job to make sure they have the best experience. There are boutiques popping up all over, but it doesn’t phase me one bit because I know that when our customers walk in, they are receiving more than just clothing. I am so blessed and beyond thankful for each person who takes the time to come in or shop online, so I will bend over backwards for them.
6. What is one thing you think customers should know about your store that they may not be aware of?
I’m a pretty open book, so I have taken my customers on the journey with me. But one thing they may not know is that you are able to shop our social media. I am the only one who runs the Facebook and Instagram, so when someone asks a question, I am the one answering. I am more than happy to answer any and all questions because I truly want ladies to buy and receive items they love and feel good in.
Also, we open outside of normal hours for ladies who may not be able to make it during the day. I totally understand the struggle of working a full-time job and not having the time to shop because of getting off too late. I try to accommodate busy lifestyles.
Lastly, we are completely honest with everyone who walks in. Our promise to customers is to never let them walk out not looking their best. We want anyone who walks through our doors to buy something they love and feel good in. If you can’t find something with us, we are there to help you find it at another store.
7. How do you keep your store’s inventory fresh and up to date?
I shop every day. We only receive two of every size in a particular item, so things sell out quickly. Because of that, if has been easy to keep inventory fresh. We receive shipments every Friday and I also travel to Los Angeles every two to three weeks. I meet with our vendors and they play a huge role in keeping me up to date.
8. Can you share a hint about what shoppers will see in your store next season?
I can’t even think about next season yet! Let me just say that the ’80s are still going strong. There will also be a lot of neutral colors and a few blazers for pairing with high-waisted shorts.
9. What are a few must-haves this season?
My must-haves are a teddy bear jacket and super-soft chenille sweaters. Everything in my store has been so soft–even our dressier items. I am also loving the shinier materials.
10. What are some of your best-selling products?