Just Us Girls: A New, Fun, Fashionable Business in Charlottetown PEIOct 15th, 2006 | By Alaina Roach OKeefe | Category: Art & Craft, Economy, Organizations
Who are Just Us Girls?
The original “girls” are Jodi Nutbrown and Susan Roggeveen, childhood friends from Charlottetown, PEI. Afer losing touch for many years, they reconnected and discovered that they had a mutual dream to start their own business, so they began brainstorming about what type of market they could tap into. They wanted to create something that was tailored to women, or as Jodi and Susan say, “ladies based”, but they pondered what might work on Prince Edward Island. Would it be a women’s fitness centre? The costs would be prohibitive. A store?
The creation of Just Us Girls
Jodi and Susan began traveling. They needed something catchy, a niche market. They started in Halifax. On their first market-research travel adventure, they came up with the name: Just Us Girls. Now that they had a name, what would they do with this fabulous moniker?
The conceptualization of Just Us Girls was brought to life in June 2004, and in May of 2005, Susan and Jodi opened the retail store they had envisioned. Their aspiration to create a store with products for “just us girls,” which also embodied and reflected their energy, style, creativity, and philosophy of life was realized. They introduced an array of interesting products, many Island-made, and created by very talented people.
They were still on the lookout for an innovative or unique product to focus their sales on. They discovered Crocs. Crocs were literally unheard of in eastern Canada. Ironically, Crocs are a unisex shoe! They are ideal for people who are on their feet all day and benefit from slip-resistance. Health care and food service professionals, boaters, hair stylists, sales representatives, vacationers, and aestheticians are a few of the people who enjoy the benefits of this somewhat wacky shoe, and sought out a pair from the little Just Us Girls store. Within four months of marketing Crocs, the 300-square-foot shop sold more than 10,000 pairs, up to 210 a day. Thanks to this shoe, Just Us Girls began to plan their expansion.
Everyone is wearing these shoes. Pay close attention to Grey’s Anatomy and Scrubs—several cast members have started wearing them. Crocs have also shown up on chef/television personality Mario Batali (he has an orange pair). Country knockout Faith Hill, her husband Tim McGraw, and their kids have been photographed in them. Jennifer Garner is rumoured to have 16 pairs. As well actor Matt Damon has been seen sporting Crocs, and so have several hockey players including the Philadelphia Flyers’ Peter Forsberg, the recently retired Mario Lemieux and all the Pittsburgh Penguins who wear them in their team colours.
Last fall, staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa made news when they wore their bright Crocs to work on Parliament Hill.
Just Us Girls Fashion Café
One obstacle was surpassed: the start of the new business! While celebrating their gains, and with the success of the Crocs line, Jodi and Susan continued aspiring to create a shopping destination for women that offered unique products and fashions unavailable anywhere else in PEI.
In the spring of 2006, Just Us Girls Fashion Café took up a second location on Queen Street, in the city centre. While the tiny retail store remains open on the waterfront, Just Us Girls Fashion Café is the central location of Susan and Jodi’s dream come true. They expanded the concept of the fashion retail outlet, and in addition, shoppers can socialize, eat lunch, have coffee or evening cocktails, and buy trendy unique products all in the same location. They have a delectable menu and their espresso from the Island’s only pink espresso machine is simply the best!
The excitement caught on. Since the summer, hardly a day goes by when the restaurant is not filled with customers (men and women alike) enjoying the positive energy that Just Us Girls provides its patrons. They also offer themed dining in the evening. For example, in September, they transformed the café into an ultimate Italian Trattoria. Clients enjoyed fine wines and delectable Italian cuisine, featuring fresh breads, traditional antipasti, hand cut pastas, and delectable Italian desserts.
Susan and Jodi have had had a few obstacles to overcome in the past two years. Funding was a huge challenge for them when they started their business. They started with a minimum personal investment—primarily their own sweat equity and their ideas. It has been a constant struggle to get financing to grow at the speed they are currently progressing.
As part of its downtown appeal, Susan and Jodi wanted to offer a patio atmosphere, which created yet another obstacle. They had to lobby for permission to create the outdoor patio in front of the store. Susan and Jodi were really surprised at the resistance to their idea, since the city of Charlottetown and The Charlottetown Area Development Corporation (CADC) spent so much money changing the Queen Street streetscape recently! They persevered and after many phone calls and conversations with city hall and numerous business owners (the biggest resistance was from other businesses), they received approval for the patio in late May 2006.
The PEI Liquor Commission (PEILCC)
Susan and Jodi had a huge hurdle to overcome when the PEI Liquor Control Commission (PEILCC) refused them a liquor license. They approached them several times before they were allowed to license the café. The fact that there was a clothing store and a café in the same room posed a problem for the PEILC. Finally, they were licensed in June. The largest obstacle was to get the patio licensed—the PEILC would not meet with the businesswomen for months. After much headache and missed business and several phone calls from community members, the girls were able to arrange a meeting with the PEILC, and the answer to their pleadings was a firm “no.” They didn’t give up. Jodi and Susan continued to persevere and were finally able to have their patio licensed for the remaining two months of the summer.
Celebrating Just Us Girls
Women’s entrepreneurship is skyrocketing. At last count, over ten million women business owners generate over three trillion dollars in revenue annually and employ 30 per cent of the North American workforce.
In the private sector, women are one of the fastest growing groups in terms of small business ownership, but women remain a rare sight in the boardrooms of our nation’s top corporations. Despite the rapid growth of women-owned businesses, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found in a survey conducted in 1996 that there was “outrageous” discrimination by banks against female entrepreneurs. Women were refused loans 20 per cent more often than men, and when they did get financing, they often paid a higher rate of interest than men. (And what’s more, some banks still ask husbands to co-sign these loans.)
Despite these challenges, Susan Roggeveen and Jodi Nutbrown have successfully created an exciting new “hotspot” for Prince Edward Island. Their fashion café provides yummy lunches (my mom and I are always looking for a new place to bond over coffee and flavorful food) and fashion forward products from all over the world. In a place like Prince Edward Island (small, quaint, and sometimes isolated), it’s nice to find some fun new clothes or other products to experiment with. It’s also nice to walk down the street and not see your outfit on ten different people! Just Us Girls carries fashions from PEI and Canada, as well as Australia, London, and California (just to name a few).
Throughout the whole experience of opening their own business, Jodi and Susan have had the chance to laugh at some of the absurdities of life and the various dilemmas they have encountered. They are proud of what they have accomplished as business women in Charlottetown. Their business of continues to grow, with a new guys section. They are to be applauded, congratulated, and celebrated for the hard work, sweat, and tears that they have contributed to Just Us Girls, and serve as fantastic role models for women in business (and they are fashion forward too!).
Their success is evident by the reaction of their customers, such as from this frequent diner and shopper:
What I enjoy most about this small company is the personal touch. After only a few visits to their cafe, my daughter and I were asked our first names, “so we can greet you by name when you come back,” quipped one of their friendly staff as we were leaving. I thought, “What a nice touch!” As well, their clientele range is vaster than you would think. I took a male colleague there for lunch. At first, he kept looking over his shoulder on the way in. Soon, he was impressed. The food was superb, service was fast, friendly, and courteous, and even though he was surrounded by women, he really enjoyed the experience. He cannot wait to take his young wife and two little girls back to have lunch and shop! Charlottetown is much richer having this little bright light on lower Queen St. with its bright pink and brown awning.
Jodi and Susan have learned to never take “no” for an answer when it is illogical, and to never underestimate the influence of networking and contacting friends and family for help. Their favourite quote summarizes the hard-working philosophy of these two determined businesswomen:
You cannot change the direction of the wind but you can adjust your sails.
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