One of our favorite places to shop, KuDeTa, is a name most of you must know from the South Boston location as a must-visit shopping venue. We recently had the chance to talk with the owners at a local cafe. It is amazing how quickly their brand has grown, and we look forward to supporting their successes, especially with recently-opened second location! Read on for more!
Nicole Cronin (L) and Heather O’Connell (R), KuDeTa
As told to JUGs July 23, 2014
Okay, this is probably the first thing people ask you, but we’re dying to know the story behind the name KuDeTa, do tell!
We were the first clothing store to open in South Boston. So, the words “coup d'état” means “revolution,” and the tagline for our store is that “the fashion revolution starts here,” except it is usually spelled a different way, so to mess everyone up, we changed the spelling from the French way to Asian writing. So, until we put up accessories and clothing next to our storefront logo, people, at first, thought we were a sushi restaurant!
Please walk us through your backgrounds, and the joint decision to become business owners!
Nicole founded KuDeTa in 2006, and I had graduated from URI with my bachelor’s degree in Textiles, Merchandising and Design in 2007. After graduating, I was working at a job that I didn’t like at all. One day I just couldn’t continue with my then job and literally just drove away. I drove to Southie and applied as a waitress at The Boston Beer Garden and walked across the street to apply at KuDeTa. I met Nicole and [then store General Manager] Molly. Later that week I was brought in for an interview and was hired. I started out very part-time, just three days a week as a Sales Associate. From that, it grew to an Assistant Manager position then General Manager and eventually buyer/ When the opportunity came to open a second location, Nicole offered me an option to partner with her in Chestnut Hill, which I couldn’t pass up!
So, how it all started for me was I didn’t go to school for fashion, I went for liberal arts. I always loved fashion, I always loved looking at magazines. After college, I was bartending, making great money and told myself I just had to grow up. I got my real estate license and figured this is what I’m going to do, make a big sale [and be happy doing that]. Then, on the weekends, I found myself sitting down with fashion magazines. My husband would say to me, “You know, you really need to read the real estate section, this is what you do now. But, if you want to do something else just go with it and I’ll support you.” I knew I didn’t want to read the real estate section, so one day driving through Southie, he said to me “Go with it and do it now, or don’t do it at all” (referring to opening a boutique). So it was a huge, huge risk, to go for it, so but I did, and now we’ve been in business for eight (!) years. Heather and I just have such a great harmony. I can completely trust Heather to run the store, and she is part of the reason we opened the new location. Plus, we’d love to expand more, 4, 5 stores, maybe even a private label! We want to be trying new things and expanding our brand. We’re not buying for 100 Heathers, or all Nicoles, we’re buying for every type of girl. There are so many different styles meshed into one store.
We think you were one of the leaders in turnaround of East Broadway (back in 2006), not an easy task! How did you decide on boutique locations, in Southie and now in Chestnut Hill?
From the beginning, the South Boston community was super supportive of KuDeTa. Back in ‘06 when I opened the store I did so because there was nowhere to shop in South Boston. I could see that it was something the community needed. If you wanted to go shopping you had to take a cab, bus or train downtown. Opening KuDeTa made it easy for girls to stop in and grab a last-minute outfit for a night on the town or a gift or whatever they may have needed that night. As we grew so did our brands and labels we carried and we became more of a shopping destination for women not only in South Boston but also throughout the city. We were able to bring downtown styles to South Boston, so now women don’t have to go far from home to shop designer brands and the latest trends. The developers of The Street actually approached us. We’ve always talked of expansion but it was a question of where was the right fit for us. After many meetings, research and planning we decided that The Street would be perfect for KuDeTa. There’s still a feel of small business (Polka Dog Bakery, Portobello Road) as well as national brands (Lululemon, Intermix), which creates an incredible mix in one intimate location.
Starting where we did has prepared us for what has come now, and we’re constantly trying to grow our client base in CH just as we did in Southie, which we know takes a lot of work, but know it’s worthwhile. We’ve already had return customers within our first month of opening in Chestnut Hill and look forward to continuing to grow the store and brand. So far, so good!
How do you feel each store location caters to its local demographic?
South Boston has more moderate price points in comparison to Chestnut Hill. When we decided to go into The Street, being able to keep prices moderate was a major factor in store #2. South Boston is a more a mix of young professionals, whereas in Chestnut Hill we’re able to elevate our price point a little bit and bring in lines such as 525 America (a great knitwear line), Bella Dahl (huge Celeb following) and Mother Denim. Plus a lot of Australian brands like Lovers and Friends and Keepsake for more edge, and a higher price point. It’s been fun to bring in pieces that we may not have thought about offering before. In the same breath, it’s been great to test the waters in Southie first and see how things are so relevant to our customer base.
Who do you look to for inspiration, either personal or business-related?
I would say Kate Moss, I’ve always loved the way she dresses. My family inspires me to work hard, I learned a great work ethic from my mom and dad. Nicole has definitely guided me. I was a just a little one in the beginning, all wide-eyed. I also learned a lot from Molly, the former General Manager, who laid a lot of the company’s foundation. I also get a lot of inspiration from media, in seeing what other people are doing, like other Boston boutiques; there is such a great synergy! When you see others doing great things, it makes you want to do the same, it’s really a healthy competition. Just like our boutique neighbors in both locations, it’s inspirational!
What are your favorite aspects of your work? Least favorite?
We both think being your own boss is awesome, although also challenging since everything falls on your shoulders. I feel like I’m always glued to my phone making sure everything is running smoothly at the store but I want to be available as a resource, too.
We must applaud you on your low-pressure approach to customer service. Too often, local boutiques have snobby or pushy team members representing their personal brand, which is a real turn off to the shopping experience. How did you establish this with those you employ?
That’s been my goal from the beginning. When women walk in, we welcome them and generally suggest they browse, and after trying something, they seek our opinion, and we’re able to naturally help women feel like their very best self. I’ve had customers say that coming in to shop at KuDeTa is the best part of their day, and I try to keep that in the back of my head when helping customers. We just like to have fun and want people to feel comfortable, I think that resonates at both our stores. Even if you want to come in for a chat, we’re here for you!
From your website, we saw that you host Girls’ Night Out, that sounds so fun! Tell us more!
We host Girls’ Night Out sessions during the week, from 7-9 at our Southie location. We provide wine, hors d'oeuvres and 20% off all store merchandise and you just need to have 10 women minimum, which is our one requirement. We have a lot of customers who do it every season, we’ll put on your favorite music and just run with it. In Chestnut Hill we close a bit later, so we’re still finalizing hours, updates will be on our website.
What do you see next for KuDeTa?
We definitely want to open more stores, continue looking into doing a private label and
anything to brand ourselves as a business. Anything is possible! We’re never going to stray from who we are. Of course right now, we’re focused on Chestnut Hill, then we’ll be taking over the world!
Any fashion predictions for the future of Boston style?Boston is constantly evolving, there is an influx of young, interesting people. With all the European influences, we’re ever-changing. The city is growing so much, and we’re going to see a big influence in that. People are having more fun with style than before. I think we’re going to see different types of styles than what we’re used to, more experimentation.
Are there any upcoming promotions we can let our readers in on?
Your readers can sign up via our website for the latest updates as well as social media. We’re also on Boutikey, which is a great way to find out about flash sales.
Favorite line/item that you carry
Pink Martini is my favorite line right now, their piece have great flair. I’m also a big denim fan, mostly True Religion and Mother. Lovers and Friends is a great new line, too. Free People, I just love everything they do. They have this white dress with black embroidery that definitely makes me feel like a “10,” it is killer! I also love Alternative Apparel for classic, simple back-to-basics, especially when it’s hot out! Their prices are reasonable, too, for such great pieces.
Favorite food spot/watering hole in Southie
The Playwright // I’m a Lucky’s girl!
Favorite food spot/watering hole in Chestnut Hill
Davio’s // Del Frisco’s, they have a great number of options for vegetarians!
Most inspiring female to you today
Vivienne Starlite, 3, she’s my best friend (and daughter)! // My mother. And if we’re going non-personal, I’m a big Oprah fan.
The First Phone Call From Heaven, by Mitch Albom, I just love all of his books! // All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner, it was a great summer read, and the author has ties to New England, which is always relatable.
Dream brand collaborationRed Valentino // Samantha Wills (Australian jewelry designer on my radar), found via Instagram
What are you waiting for?! Get yourself to one of KuDeTa's fabulous locations today!
photos courtesy of KuDeTa's instagram page and website