Marmalade Boutique: Anthropologie style on an H&M Budget

“Marmalade delivers Anthropologie style on an H&M budget” has become Marmalade owner Hope Colling’s favorite comment about her store.  Located on Union Street in San Francisco, Marmalade is the cutest little boutique that many people walk past assuming it’s too expensive.  Colling is able to skillfully use her purchasing trips throughout the U.S. and overseas to buy stylish affordable clothes and accessories for the store.  This is evident when you visit her store.  
One step through the door and you’re brought into a relaxing, inviting shopping experience .  The store space is small, however the merchandising is arranged effectively to provide a wide range of items in an organized and stylish presentation.  Furthermore, what makes the store appealing is almost all of the items sold in the store are below $100 full retail.  We had the opportunity to talk to Colling about her boutique and what makes Marmalade unique.
Michele:  How did you come up with the idea of opening your store?  
Hope:  Owning a boutique has been a dream of mine since I was fifteen, but it never occurred to me to go to school to learn about fashion or business.  My parents were free thinking artists and they encouraged me to go out into the world and have as many different experiences as I could and learn from life, so that’s what I did.  I think it’s served me well. 
Marmalade owner Hope Colling talking about the boutique.
Michele:  What finally motivated you to open the boutique?    
Hope:  I moved out here from NYC four years ago because I was bored with where I was in my life and wanted a little adventure.  I’d never been to San Francisco before and I didn’t know a single person in the city.  The first time I set foot on Union Street I knew this was where I wanted to open my boutique.  It just felt right.  
Michele:  How did you come up with the name?
Hope:  The name Marmalade actually came to me when I was kicking around ideas for what I planned to carry in the store…clothes, accessories,  home accents, candles, paper, teacups, treasures- a “jam” of all things girly…and then jam became Marmalade!   
Michele: What makes your store unique?  
Hope:  Ooh, lots!  Our commitment to fair prices for one…I have a policy that nothing in the store is over $100 and the average price tag is around $48.  We have people tell us they are shocked at how affordable our pieces are.  I also try to give the shopper an “experience” rather than just try to sell them some clothes.  We always have candles burning so the store smells pretty and we play great music.  All of the girls who work here are trained stylists and love to help shoppers find pieces that work well with their body type and life style. 
Hope (right) showing the selection of dresses, most of which are under $50.
Michele:  What have been some of the challenges in operating your own boutique and what have you done to overcome them?  
Hope:  The rotten economy is the first challenge that comes to mind, losing our lease as a result was a pretty tough pill to swallow…the only thing I can say I did to overcome it is to just learn to adapt.  We found new space and negotiated a new lease that was economically more feasable, and we listened to what the customers had to say about what they wanted to see in the “new” space.  We held focus groups, asked for input and feedback and the majority of our customers all said they wanted the same three things:  clothing that is affordable, versatile and comfortable, so that’s what we try to give them.  When I buy for the store I always keep the customer in mind – can she wear this to work and on weekends, and is this a piece that can carry through all seasons?  This strategy has been what keeps us going and it’s what we are getting a name for.  I might have continued to carry the pricier brands (Ella Moss, Splendid) instead of focusing on lesser known independent designers…which I like more because there’s less of a chance of going out and seeing three other girls wearing the same exact top! 
Michele:  Who are your target customers?  
Hope:  The majority of our customers are the same girls that shop at stores like Banana, J Crew and Anthropologie…women from 16-60+ who are style conscious but not slaves to a trend.

Michele:  How often do you receive new merchandise? 
Hope:  Once, sometimes twice a week.  I do really small orders (2 of each size) so the store is always fresh and everyone’s not walking around looking like everyone else.  We also do something called Last Call Tuesdays (LCTs)- if there’s only one of a particular piece left we knock it down to 50% off to make room for new goodies!  Our Facebook fans are dedicated to LCTs, it’s often the most fun day to shop…sometimes it becomes a party from 5-7pm!   

Michele:  How often do you go on buying trips & where to?  
Hope:  Mostly NY, sometimes London and LA…I would say that I’m gone about a week out of every month.  
Michele:  What are your favorite items in your store right now?  
Hope:  Favorite items right now are this silk sundress with delicate ruffle details on the sleeve and a ribbon sash by Wildflower…perfect for an afternoon wedding or a day wine tasting in Napa.  Also these amazing jeggings (jean leggings) that look exactly like premium denim skinny jeans but are immensely more comfortable and only a fraction of the price ($38).  And DBT by Dorothy Blue makes THE best tee shirts…super comfy and they really hold their shape and color.  Right now my favorite one is a scoop neck cap sleeve basic in tangerine that I have been wearing with the aforementioned jeggings and a white blazer- summer chic! 
Michele:  What are basics that everyone should have in their wardrobe?    
Hope:  Basics are those building pieces everyone should have in their wardrobe, like those letters in the Wheel of Fortune that they give you before you get to guess your own…so here are some alternate takes on the classic basics: one great pair of jeans, a good fitting pencil skirt in camel, a white cotton tee (spend the $ for a good one and wash it by hand), a structured blazer in a warm neutral (charcoal grey or navy are better than black), a good accent belt in a grounding neutral (butterscotch, cognac or earthy brown),  a button down cardigan in an eye catching color (try tangerine, merlot or tomato red), a really great pair of tall riding boots in the same shade as the belt, and a simple clutch that can go from work to weekend.  Seasonal basics right now are a white fitted blazer, which goes with absolutely everything and adds instant chic to the most casual of outfits.  
Michele:  What have you enjoyed the most with having your own boutique?  Hope:  The freedom of owning a business is unparalleled…it’s an insane amount of work but it doesn’t feel like work at all.  I sometimes can’t believe I get paid to shop!  I also really love working with customers to help them find the “perfect” outfit, so many of our customers have become personal friends of mine. 

Michele:  What is some feedback you have received on your store? 
Hope:  Most people comment on two things, if they comment at all:  how cute the decor is and how affordable the clothes are.  My husband and I put so much of ourselves into the store- every detail is a part of us…so it’s really nice when people share how much they like it. 
Michele:  What is are some fun or interesting facts about yourself?
Hope:  I was a professional ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet.  I toured with the band KISS.  I worked as a trader on the floor of the stock exchange.  I survived 9/11.  I survived ovarian cancer.  I’m an adrenaline junkie – I’ve been skydiving, cliff diving and free diving with great white sharks.

Michele:  What direction would you like your boutique (or career) to take within the next couple years or decades….
Hope:  Right now I’m just working on expanding my brand and getting our name out there.  So many people are surprised by how affordable our clothes are, I’d like to find a way to get that message out there without  having to literally have pricetags showing in the window.  In ten years I’d like to be exactly where I am right now, happily married to the man of my dreams, living on the beach, surfing every day and owning a hip little boutique in a city as cool as San Francisco! 
Store information:
Location:  2059 Union Street, SF CA 94123

Hours: Monday –  Saturday, 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Sunday, 11:00 – 6:00 PM

Online store: no
Owner(s): Peter & Hope Colling

Brands/Designers carried: Michael Stars, Free People, 213 Industry, Paper Lantern, Wildflower, Lush, Audrey 3+1, PJ Salvage, Bed Head Pajamas, Toms Shoes, Archipelago, Black & Bluebird Jewelry, Frolick by Adrienne Lee Wiley, Three Dot, Kensie Girl, Ruby Stone, Tea + Honey.

Store size: small, 765 square feet

Units/pieces carried: Anywhere from 250-350…roughly 50 hangers per rack x 5 racks, plus a sale rack and folded items on shelves.  

Items carried:  darling dresses, trendy tops, skirts, slacks, baubles, bubbles, books, paper, teacups, treasures, pjs, frilly things and one-of-a-kind flea market finds (85% apparel/15 % accessories)

Shopper friendly characteristics of the store:  Easy access from the street and very Muni friendly (22 and 45 both stop a block away), next to a garage if street parking is too difficult, seating for friends/husbands/boyfriends, easy to navigate, well spaced out (double stroller-friendly!)

All photography for the article is by Ryan Chua of Ryan Chua Photography.
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