Right before the stock market and the economy sank, Jill Card opened a women's retail boutique in Wheaton.
While the timing was not ideal, the business concept was just right, driving it to success and expansion. Card launched a second store in St. Charles a year later and now opened her latest location at 5116 Main St. in Downers Grove. The success of the business starts with the name of the boutique, Jeans & A Cute Top Shop.
There is a cute story behind the name. Card explains that before her first date with her now husband, Richard Card, she asked him what she should wear. Richard responded, "Just wear jeans and a cute top." The phrase was used fondly and jokingly through the couple's marriage of nearly 20 years. The clothing suggestion took on a new meaning though when the first boutique opened.
The stores are filled with jeans, shirts, sweaters and other accessories for women looking for a casual outfit. "We tapped into a great niche. Women want to look cute and sometimes need a little direction," Jill says.
She selects clothing for the store based on what she would like to wear if she was going out on a Saturday night. Keeping prices affordable has been key, especially during the down economy, she says. Catering to women of all sizes, tops range from $20 to $80 and the jeans are under $100.
Before launching the second shop, Richard left his longtime career as a trader at the Mercantile Exchange. "He gave up his trading. It was bittersweet," says Jill, 46. She says they work well together. "Jill has excellent taste," Richard says. He jokes that his wife "sells sunshine." The walls of the shops are bright yellow and the fitting rooms are orange. "Our goal is that we want everyone to walk out feeling good," Jill said.
The toughest part of growing the small business has been the "behind the scenes, internal structure."
Streamlining the operation has been tough. "We've had some growing pains," Jill admits. The selling, styles and setting up the stores has been the easy part, she said.
Jill, who has a communications and advertising degree from the University of Illinois, brings an array of experience to the company, another key factor in the success.
She worked at Ann Taylor for a couple years after spending time in the private club industry. "That's how I set up the stores. We treat all customers like members of our club," Jill said.
Running a growing retail business is a lot of work, she admits. Her work day usually starts at 6:30 a.m. She takes a couple hours off during the day to spend time with her two sons, ages 15 and 13. She is then back at it and usually works until midnight. "There are no days off. I love what I do," says the bubbly owner.
Like most working moms, she admits she tries to find more time for her family. Jill says that being the owner of a business is like being a mom. "You never stop being a mom. It's the same with the business."