Alison Rubke of Faire Frou Frou
Forget those extra-comfy, cotton granny panties we all wear but would be mortified to be seen in, and hop on over to LA-based luxury lingerie boutique Faire Frou Frou. The pink and sequined space owned by the ambitious mother/daughter duo, Alison and Gail Rubke, offers up more lace, satin, and bowed corsets than a musical number in Moulin Rouge. But their sexy merchandise is as sophisticated as it is fun and helps everygirls and celebrities alike feel like their most beautiful self.
Since opening the store seven years ago, Faire Frou Frou has grown to become one of the most unique and coveted lingerie boutiques in America, winning The Best of Intima Award for Best Lingerie Boutique in North America (a highly-coveted lingerie industry award). By offering the best but hard-to-find European lingerie brands to the States, the boutique has also been featured in popular magazines such as InStyle, Lucky, and W.
Today, Alison shares with us the excitement and challenges she faced while opening her boutique, the ease of working side-by-side with her mother, and the “We made it!!” moments after getting featured in popular publications, TV shows, and websites. Alison is The Everygirl and definitely has the bras and panties to prove it! Save your pennies, ladies, and head over to Faire Frou Frou for your next lingerie purchase—you (and your significant other!) can thank us later.
Full name: Alison Rubke
Current title/company: CEO of Faire Frou Frou, Inc.
Educational background: B.A. in Business Administration and English from Mount St. Mary’s College
What was your occupation prior to opening up your boutique, Faire Frou Frou? How has your career path changed since college? Did you ever expect yourself to be doing what you’re doing now?
Prior to opening Faire Frou Frou, I was a Tax Analyst with Deloitte & Touche. I worked as a CPA for nearly 5 years, and realized that I could never truly be successful in a career that I had no passion for. When I was in college, I was so determined and focused on my accounting career, that I didn’t consider any other profession. I envisioned myself at the age I am now as a partner in one of the big accounting firms. In the back of my mind I secretly wished I had what I considered a fun career, such as a boutique owner or a magazine editor, but didn’t think it was feasible to do either career based on my experience level. Nonetheless, it took me 5 years in the wrong profession to figure out the right one; I left D&T and developed the idea of Faire Frou Frou!
What made you decide to open up a lingerie boutique? How did you come up with the idea?
I always knew that I wanted to own a boutique, but did not initially think it would be lingerie. It was my mom (who is my business partner) who suggested we do lingerie, simply because we were seeing such pretty brands being sold in Europe but not really accessible here in the states. My first thought when my mom suggested lingerie was of the uninspiring, cluttered lingerie stores I had seen before, and it didn’t appeal to me. But when we started talking about it more, we realized there was nothing stopping us from recreating the lingerie experience. We would create a beautiful destination boutique, that’s airy, clean and organized, and most importantly, it would inspire our customers. It took about a month or two for us to determine that our focus would be luxury lingerie (mainly imported from Europe).
What gave you the courage to leave your job in accounting and realize your dream? After doing so, did you ever have any doubts about your decision?
Again, I have to credit my mom for giving me the courage to leave my old career. I was in my mid-twenties at the time, and my mom said that this would be the most ideal time to make any drastic change in my life; being that I was young, single, without children or a family to support. She encouraged me to take a chance and that if it didn’t work, I always had my education and prior experience as a back-up. I began to realize that I had more to lose by not taking a chance on my dream. It took me about 5 months of planning before I quit my job and headed out on my own. It turns out that it was a lot of fun, and quite liberating!
Gail Rubke is not only your mother, but your business partner! What has it been like working side-by-side with your mom?
It’s interesting you ask, because my mom and I rarely work side-by-side on a daily basis, otherwise we’d get nothing done (we’re prone to chit-chatting and not getting as much work done when we’re together!). However, for the first 2 years that Faire Frou Frou was open we worked the shop together nearly every day. It worked just fine, probably because my mom and I get along in general, and secondly because we were both thrown into this new profession together and essentially just had ourselves to rely on. Looking back, we started this store with pretty much no experience or background in the lingerie industry, just our gut feelings to lead us. Now here we are 7 years later, and I manage the Studio City boutique and online store while my mom is behind the scenes with growing responsibility with our social media. I think we’ve both defaulted into the roles we want for ourselves, which works nicely.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of opening up Faire Frou Frou? After you had the idea, what was the first step you took to make it a reality?
Good question, because it wasn’t an overnight process by any means! My first thought was making sure I had enough money saved to safely quit my job and also invest in my new business. Then I created an inspiration binder with stores, products, colors, ideas, etc. that would shape the look and feel of our new business. That one binder then expanded into several binders in which I broke out my wish list for the store Design/Construction, the Brands/Designers, Legal/Business Documents required (that took a lot of research!), and so on. The number of designers accessible online at the time was limited, but I did as much research as I could for unique brands and would email the designers about my store concept and see if they were interested in working with us. These are just a few of the things I remember doing early-on in the process.
The details and planning that go into opening a store can be daunting. For example, finding a space, finding investors/getting a loan, choosing products, setting price points, hiring employees, figuring out the finances of it all… Please tell us how you went addressing these challenges when opening Faire Frou Frou.
All of the planning was somewhat daunting, because EVERYTHING was new to us. We didn’t even realize there were showrooms or tradeshows for the products we wanted to carry! That being said, I just researched and researched online. The finance planning was tricky because we didn’t know exactly what to expect in terms of how much we could sell, but once we started talking to different vendors we got an idea. In fact, we learned very quickly! Each day of being home and researching was rewarding, because we learned something new; whether it was the fact that we needed to file for a Seller’s Permit or that we learned the contact to an amazing brand we had our eye on. As for finding the store location, we simply wanted the store to be next to other businesses we liked. It was important that our location had a synergy with the other stores in that we wanted to be near other luxury retailers. We ended up choosing Studio City because it’s pretty much where I grew up and I know the area and the resident mentality well. Pretty much any question I had involved a search on Google for the answer!
You utilize a lot of social media for your business, including blogger, tumblr, and twitter. How much time do you typically allocate to social media in a day?
I consider all of our social media my “fun time” for the day. It’s been getting more and more difficult to manage just because the business has been expanding and expanding. Luckily we have some great employees, but I handle the social media portion of the business either when it’s slow in the shop (yes, it happens to the best of us!), while I’m waiting on customers in the fitting room (Pinterest and Tumblr are SO easy to manage on my iPhone), after work in my free time. Essentially, the social media is my outlet for when I need to take a break from work. It takes several minutes here and there to work on, so it’s not too difficult to manage. We are at the point right now where we have hired an employee to help with all aspects of our business that involve the internet… that way I can focus on what’s next for the store. Also, my mom has taken an interest in Facebook and Pinterest, so she contributes too!
What has been the greatest challenge since opening your shop? Has anything been easier than you thought it would be?
The greatest challenge overall is probably one most small business owners have, and it’s just hoping you’re making the right decisions about the business to ensure that the customers keep coming in. More specifically, it was rather depressing dealing with the downturn in the economy a few years back, and then we were hit with a DWP water main break that flooded our shop and closed the Studio City boutique for 7 months. Those were tough times to go through, and amazingly we are still in business and stronger than ever. It takes the tough times to make you stronger (unfortunately!). Another challenge was our inexperience and our sometimes unrealistic expectations. It took time for our reputation and word-of-mouth to cultivate, so we learned to be patient. I think part of being a good business owner is seeing challenges every single day you go to work, because the day you get complacent is the day someone comes by and steals your thunder! I can’t think of anything that was easier than expected, maybe experience makes the overall job easier than it was the year before, but then some new challenge pops up. Running a business really keeps me on my toes, especially when I’m a perfectionist and want every customer to have a great experience in my store. Luckily I love what I do, so a lot of what might be considered “work” is enjoyable for me.
Faire Frou Frou has dressed just celebrities ranging from the Kardashians to Dita Von Teese. What do you attribute to gaining such high profile clients?
I think our high-profile clientele is mostly attributed to word of mouth. For instance, Dita started shopping in our store at the urging of heiress/socialite Liz Goldwyn, but then she became a big fan of our store because of our selection and service. We learned that most of the people who come to our store made a special trip to do so, and as a result, we have made our business destination-driven. What that means is that we make sure to offer brands and a beautiful boutique experience that’s worth a customer driving to Studio City to experience. You can get lingerie anywhere, but you can’t get the type of lingerie we sell just anywhere, which therein makes us a destination. As for the celebrity aspect, we are located near a lot of the movie/TV studios and there always seems to be a celeb photo shoot that requires lingerie, so we are in a great location to accommodate the needs of stylists and costumers. A lot of celebrities live within just a few miles of our shop, so that doesn’t hurt either!
What is one thing you now know that you wish you knew going into the process of opening a store?
I wish I knew how long it would be before I actually had a real paycheck. When we were new, we had to keep reinvesting in the company and any extra dollars went to Faire Frou Frou and not my mom and me. We initially thought that people who owned their own boutiques were all rich…we just didn’t realize it takes time. It also took us time to learn that you need to look at sales cumulatively; some days are slow and then some are incredible. You need to look at the overall picture to see whether your business is doing well or not.
Best moment of your career so far?
One moment that stands out is when we won the Best of Intima Award for Best Lingerie Boutique in North America (a highly-coveted lingerie industry award). We were open maybe just a year or two at the point, and to get the recognition of our peers in our industry at an awards show was just incredible! There have also been bits of press that have made us incredibly excited and proud (for instance we were giddy over our first mention in InStyle magazine!). One cool opportunity was when I got to model lingerie on the local morning news…it’s not every day you get to do that!
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
I would have told myself not to chose a career based on what the perceived paycheck would be. I did that, and though I’m grateful for having worked for a huge firm in a cushy job, I didn’t realize that I could never truly be successful because I was motivated by a salary and not my passion. It seems that once you do what you’re passionate about, everything else falls into place. It’s a bit of delayed gratification.