By Jonathan Reed
[caption id="attachment_2135" align="alignnone" width="200" caption="Photo by Jessica Sauck"]
Classic, clean and a little edgy – that’s the philosophy guiding fashion selection at Bungalow 29, a small boutique store located just off Highway 71 in Arnolds Park, Iowa.
Begun seven years ago by Amy Zahradnik, a bright 31-year-old with lifelong ties to the Iowa Great Lakes area, Bungalow 29 is a shop where fashion, style and personal attention are foremost. The roster of brands offered should be familiar to anyone who regularly shops at urban stores like Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman-Marcus: Theory, Milly, Vince, Eileen Fisher, Trina Turk, Lilla P, Isda & Co., Velvet, and Peace of Cloth are among the most notable women’s fashions at Bungalow 29. Denim lines are Joe’s Jeans, J Brand, and Red Engine, which she feels offer a great fit for real women, not runway models.
“I like to think that my brand names speak for themselves,” Amy says. “I choose them very carefully. I choose them for quality; I choose them for fit. If people like Theory, for example – which is one of my brands – they have probably bought it for years and will probably continue to buy it for years. My brands, themselves, kind of carry a following.”
Real sizes for real people
“I know that boutiques get a reputation for being tiny, sizes for little, young girls. That is not the case with my store. I run from sizes 2 to 16, so it will actually appeal to a broader audience.”
High-end fashion gives way to fun-loving gear with the Norwegian Helly Hansen line of technical winter active-wear and summer gear for boating and sailing. Amy notes that she has the only store in Iowa carrying that brand.
With so many specialty clothing and fashion shops in the Lakes area, Amy knew she would have to stand apart from the rest in order to succeed. “What I’ve decided is to stick to what I know, and what I know is clean and classic looks.”
Mothers and daughters may have different size needs, Amy reasons. If they share the love of fashion, shopping at Bungalow 29 should become a bonding experience. It must be a good strategy since business has improved every season, Amy says. “I’m still meeting new customers every day which is exciting.”
After college, what?
Owning her own business has been a goal of Amy’s as long as she can remember. Amy states that her parents were kind enough to let her live with them after graduating from the University of Iowa. That’s been a give-and-take arrangement; she also helps in spring and fall at the family business, Yesterdays restaurant in Arnolds Park.
Her shop’s name comes from the address of a once-decrepit bungalow her parents bought years ago to house the restaurant’s summer employees. After several seasons of college students bunking there, the time came to tear the building down or find another use for it.
As sometimes happens, big things come from casual conversations, “It was my mom and I who were chatting, kind of playing off each other. She had thought of turning the space into a commercial space because a commercial lease would be easier for them.”
Amy continues, “Then we were talking if there were anything I would want to do, as long as it would be commercial. We noted how there was nothing I liked more to do than shop – shop for clothing and brand names and fashion. She said, ‘You should start a clothing store,’ and we laughed.”
That started her thinking. Years of working at the family restaurant had produced two things for Amy: a solid picture of who her customers could be and a large savings account. It wasn’t long after that; Amy convinced her parents that she could make a ‘go of it,’ and building renovations began for the Zahradnik’s first commercial tenant: Bungalow 29.
“Right away I felt that I knew my customer because I had been working with them in the restaurant for so many years. I came up with a list of names. And even in my first year I was kind of buying for specific people because I knew them from the restaurant,” she says.
Financing the business was not difficult for the then 24-year old. “It was actually all my money,” Amy proudly states. “I’m really excited about that. I had worked at the restaurant all those years. I had saved more money. Probably more than any of my friends had.”
Shopping all day, every day
After opening Bungalow 29, Amy has used the seasonal nature of her business to do research among Florida’s elite retail destinations.
She shops. All day. Every day.
“During the winter months we live in Pompano Beach located between Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton. I mean, these are shopping Meccas
. I go into the big stores, the little stores. I try things on every day. I even made friends with some of the sales clerks. Once I told them that I was coming from Iowa and wasn’t any competition, they opened up a lot about what brands and styles were hot.”
If Amy’s research methods seem intense – she’s quick to point out that she would shop but rarely buy
– it’s all to make smarter business decisions. She now regularly negotiates with clothing reps from New York and Los Angeles.
“I’ve gained buying experience, customer service experience, and I’ve learned what it is that women want. Women are looking for different things – there are fit issues. For example, I’ve learned a lot about that.”
Bungalow 29 is a seasonal operation which presents a business challenge. Amy must order a complete summer’s worth of inventory, as well as early fall deliveries, and sell it before she closes at the end of September.
Amy credits everything she has done successfully to her parents and her best friend, Cassie Hansen. Cassie is considered to be Amy’s “advanced fashion outpost commander.” This long-time friend manages a much larger high-end boutique in San Francisco. Cassie grew up in nearby Terrill, Iowa, but the two didn’t become friends until meeting at their dormitory at the University of Iowa when they realized a shared love of haute couture
“We talk about fashion often, and I get all my tips from her. All the trends start on the coast, and by the time it comes to her, she calls me and says, ‘Hey, you better get on top of this line.’”
Seventh Year and still growing
In the past six years Amy has learned a lot about business and the retail market in general. Specific to her business, she has been willing to try different clothing lines and has found the ones that best fit her customers’ body types and their lifestyles. She has also expanded her depth by offering some accessories as well as some gift and home décor items.
Beyond offering high-end brands in a resort area when people are in vacation-mode, Amy feels her personal attention to customers is what ultimately makes the shopping experience at Bungalow 29 worthwhile. She feels she is not just selling clothing, but actually she is in the customer service industry. That explains why Bungalow 29 has been successful.
“What I like is working with my customers when they arrive at the boutique. As they come out of the dressing room, I love to discuss with them and help find the best outfit for their body. We have fun; we giggle. It’s such a personal experience. At the end of the day, I walk out feeling that these people are my friends.”
29 Dam Road
Arnolds Park, IA 51331
Open mid-April through September.