A new store adds another touch of colour to the bustling St. Jacobs shopping district. The Athena Gift Boutique, which had its grand opening last weekend, features a multitude of collector’s items, convertible fashions and an ambitious, lively owner who has stepped out from under the wing of her family’s business with hopes of independence and success in Woolwich Township.Shannon-Marie Poulton is co-owner of Huckleberries Gift Boutique, a family business originally started by her mother and stepfather in Grand Bend. The family had owned a restaurant and clothing store, but after an illness in the family decided to focus solely on retail. Their success in Grand Bend prompted the family to invest in a second location, with Poulton at the helm for the first time.
She moved to Elmira with her seven-year-old daughter in order to run the new branch of the business. An avid real-estate investor, Poulton’s mother saw economic potential for a new business in Waterloo Region and the family chose a St. Jacobs location because of its similarities to Grand Bend in environment and customer base.
“I grew up around business; self-employed has always been the way I wanted to go. I wanted to sustain my lifestyle on my own and control it,” she explained during an interview at the new store location on King Street.
Though she learned the most valuable retail experience from her mother, Poulton also has an honors diploma in small business from triOS College in London.
A passion for independence is not the only thing keeping Poulton motivated to continue her family’s business. On the day of her move to Elmira, she found out she was pregnant a second time and became even more motivated to make the business a success among local shoppers and tourists. After years of working at her parents’ side she wants to create a legacy for herself and her children.
Poulton has even gone as far as changing the name of the store, though it is still part of the Huckleberries chain, the name Athena is the new business owner’s personal touch on the location.
“Athena is a Greek goddess. She stood for strength and community independence. It all has to do with women and strength, that independence. I have another business I’m going to start in the next year or so. Eventually my goal is that I want to be able to speak on women in business and the strengths that they can have. My name relates to that end goal,” she explained, adding that she has hopes of eventually buying the entire family business from her parents.
Poulton’s family gave her financial support when she moved from her home in London to Elmira. Now on her own, she spends her time managing the store, spending time with her daughter and gauging her new customers. A new business carrying a variety of products is presented with the challenge of finding out what people really want.
“I think with every business it takes time to develop that clientele, to have people come in and recognize your product and your logo. I’d like to get involved with some of the community so that my name can be out there,” she said.
Her family’s business policy has always included a strong connection to a variety of customers. Back in the London area, Huckleberries products are circulated during community events and during the holidays at local malls. Poulton hopes to find the same network in Woolwich Township for Athena by thoroughly researching her products and getting feedback from customers about what they would like to see in her store.
“In every area people are looking for something different. I always ask people when they come into the store: ‘what are you looking for? If you could have your ideal store what are you looking for that you can’t find here?’ That’s kind of how you start other then that you have to guess,” she said in regards to her sales strategy.
Visitors to Athena Gift Boutique can find a variety of products in the store, ranging from designer clothes, jewelry and high end collectible items. The store’s products are flexible to change according to what customers will want to see in the future, but currently, some main attractions include BiJolie sandals; a line of sandals with interchangeable styles of straps; a high-end collectible line of Charlie Bears; DaVinci charm bracelets and other jewelry and a designer clothing line from Mexico. A highlight for the store, one that she hopes to popularize in the store is her collection of children’s’ toys.
“My kids stuff seems to go really well in St. Jacobs. There are not a lot of kids’ stores other than Toy Soup across the street.”
Poulton wants to appeal to a wide range of customers not only in the diversity of her product but also in the prices she charges. There is always a bargain to be had she says, because much of the collectible, higher-end merchandise is not sold at the highest prices. In this way Poulton hopes to appeal to a wider range of shoppers. She also has some success selling her product online, directly through her Facebook account and plans to continue the trend by discounting online products after she receives 100 likes on her home page. For more information look up Athena Gift Boutique on Facebook or visit the store on the second floor of 1369 King St. N., St. Jacobs.