Jill Hathaway wears many hats — wife, mother of three boys, avid tennis and volleyball player, community volunteer and businesswoman. With such a busy life, there’s one thing Hathaway makes sure of — that she is wearing comfortable, fashionable footwear. And that’s what she wants for her customers, too.
Hathaway is the owner and J. Hathaway Shoe Boutique in Park Place in southern Overland Park. The upscale boutique opened in November 2009 and offers a variety of high-end shoes. The store also carries select clothing items as well as accessories, including handbags, scarves and jewelry.
Originally in the banking and financial industry, Hathaway got into the shoe business through her husband, who was a clothing rep. Hathaway became a wholesale shoe rep for H.H. Brown before leaving the company when she became pregnant with her first child. Rather than go back on the road, Hathaway went into business with her husband, opening Hathaway Shoes in the Waldo area of Kansas City.
“We wanted to be hands-on parents and be home for the kids and their school activities,” Hathaway said.
The Waldo store expanded to carry shoes for everyone in the family as well as orthotic shoes for those with diabetes and other foot issues. After a few years in Waldo, Hathaway was looking for a new direction in the shoe business.
“I wanted to have more fashion-forward styles that weren’t orthopedic looking,” she said.
Hathaway didn’t think the Waldo location had enough foot traffic to sustain a high-style shoe store, so she looked for a site that met her criteria. The upscale mixed retail center Park Place turned out to be the place. The Hathaways ran both locations for about six months. When the Waldo store lease was up, they closed that location.
Hathaway’s boutique is among several shoe stores in southern Johnson County. Hathaway said one thing that sets her store apart from the others is her own experience.
“I’ve dealt with every type of foot — from amputations to bunions and beyond,” she said. “I can make a shoe fit you perfectly.”
Q: So how do you compete with a shoe store in every shopping center?
“It’s all about service,” Hathaway said. “I don’t feel the big box stores are competition … they’re not trained. I’ve been in the business for 20 years and I know this industry.”
While the shoes the boutique carries are upper end and cost a little more, Hathaway said the price difference is worth it.
“You’ll get a shoe I can fit you in that you like and that you’ll be comfortable in,” she said. “It’s education. Think about how many miles you walk. Your feet get the brunt of that. What better way to take care of them than to wear shoes that are comfortable and good looking.”
Q: With the sluggish economy, how has the boutique fared?
“They’re still coming in — maybe when there’s a sale — but they’ll purchase one pair of shoes instead of two,” Hathaway said.
When the recession first hit, Hathaway made some adjustments in her shoe lines carrying some less expensive items, but she found that didn’t work out well and returned to her upper-end products.
“I have to stick with my gut and with what works well. My higher line from Italy still turns,” Hathaway said.
Hathaway carries a high level of customer service throughout her business. She writes thank you notes to customers and emails them about new styles and great finds. She has just started a customer rewards program, as well.
“It will be interesting to see if it makes a difference,” Hathaway said.
Like many businesses, J. Hathaway Shoe Boutique gets asked to donate for scores of charity events.
Q: How have you handled the requests?
At first, Hathaway would donate a gift certificate to any group that asked. She found it was hit or miss in terms of redemption.
“Those that would come in would spend the value of the card, but it would be long term customers,” Hathaway said. “I want the customers and I loved the attraction of being in auction booklets and getting the word out .|.|. but we really wanted people to come in and use the certificate and cultivate some new customers,” she said.
Rather than stop donating, Hathaway created Girls’ Night Out private shopping parties in which the certificate holder invites several friends for a two-hour session at the boutique.
“I do everything — I supply the appetizers and drinks and music and they try on great shoes,” she said. “They shop, they look and they buy, but they don’t have to buy.”
Hathaway provides a 15 percent discount on the sales and provides a little gift bag for each attendee. The Girls Night Out concept has worked well, she said.
“I’m all about philanthropy and giving back to my community,” Hathaway said. “The money that’s bid all goes to the charity.”