Cultivating a Boutique Business in Pasadena, Calif., April Blooms Continues to Grow

From a young age, April Blooms owner April Hicks was interested in fashion, but her career path led her to become a hair stylist. Her Pasadena, Calif., salon Head Trip on the town’s East Bellevue Drive has been open for 26 years, yet when the space next door, at 14 E. Bellevue Drive, became available in 2016 she welcomed the opportunity to open an apparel business where she now sells brands that include Adelyn Rae and Molly Bracken.

“I sold some pieces in my salon for five years off and on and hosted little pop-up events,” she said. “When the space next to my salon became available, there was a moment that I felt like this is what I was supposed to do. Everything sort of lined up, so I called my landlord and he made it pretty simple.”

As a former retail worker at department stores such as Bullock’s and J.W. Robinson Co., Hicks entered into the business with an education on how the industry works and decided to open prior to the holiday season. April Blooms will celebrate its third anniversary this November. With a few years of learning the local apparel-boutique business behind her, Hicks still feels that there is more knowledge to acquire.

“I still feel new,” she said. “I am still learning how to figure it out.”

Citing online shopping and hiring the right associates to work in her store as her greatest challenges, Hicks has organized a trustworthy team of four associates and established an online presence but wants to focus primarily on her bricks-and-mortar model.

“The way people shop has changed,” she explained. “Ideally, I want them to come into the store. I have an online boutique as well, but people should stop shopping online and support local businesses again.”

To promote the value of her retail business, occasionally Hicks hosts events at her boutique. Some of these are parties and celebrations, such as Galentine’s Day—the Valentine’s Day alternative that celebrates friendship. Others bring attention to more-serious issues, including an information session during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A major honor for her was being invited to participate in the philanthropic Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts' Shops at Showcase, which is hosted every year from the end of April to mid-May to benefit music and arts programs.

“They showcase the vendors, some that are new and others that have done it before. It’s a big deal to be invited in, so it was exciting that I was asked,” she said. “It’s typically attracted a more mature group. Now they are trying to attract a younger group, so they wanted to bring in different vendors. It was a success.”

While Hicks expresses gratitude for the recognition and visibility afforded to her business through these types of opportunities, there is a much more gratifying aspect of running an apparel-retail business. She finds satisfaction when clients return to reveal the positive feedback they received regarding pieces bought from her store.

“The most satisfaction comes from people coming back and telling me how many compliments they received,” she said. “When you second guess yourself and then two people come in and buy what you thought was a miss the satisfaction comes from getting it right.”

There is also another facet to business at April Blooms that brings great joy to Hicks. Similar to her role as a hair stylist, many of her clothing customers will open up to her regarding their feelings.

“One lady who came in to shop ended up in tears—she was upset while telling me about her son. I was able to talk to her about it and tried to encourage her,” explained Hicks. “Her husband eventually came in to express his gratitude and wanted to know what she liked so he could buy it.”

These interactions don’t happen everyday, but they occur often enough to reveal the importance of bricks-and-mortar shops within the community. Personal touches that enhance the consumer experience are important for these retailers as they offer elements that cannot be found through online shopping. Despite this gentle approach to interacting with her clients, Hicks’s advice for the next generation of bricks-and-mortar retailers is based on a more tenacious mindset.

“If people are passionate about something, they have to do it. Most successful people try and try again, so they should remain diligent and set goals,” she said. “Be patient and continue to educate yourself. If you truly want to have a small boutique, hustle your tail off.”

Typical customers who visit April Blooms range in age from their mid-30s to early 40s. Many are mothers who would like to update their wardrobes for on-trend casual pieces with a few brunch-worthy garments and dresses and festive designs for the holidays. With her salon still in business next door, Hicks opens her boutique approximately 40 hours per week Tuesday through Saturday with average retail price points ranging from $65 to $70.

Photos by April Blooms