Small Business Q&A: Rhinoceros Boutique

Private chain near Whole Foods in Merchant's Walk is running a summer sale on mid-priced women's clothing lines made in USA.

Eugène Ionesco's classic absurdist play, Rhinocéros, was required reading for  owner/founder Nathalie Welch at her Paris high school.

The play depicts a culture where characters' external transformations represent the internal evolution of Nazism in pre-WWII Europe.

"I was a bad student until we had to read that play. I got it. Finally, I understood," Welch said the assignment was a turning point in her self-esteem.

Welch is a hands-on merchant and works in the East Cobb store most days and delights at opportunities to use fashion to pull out a customer's inner confidence.

"I enjoy helping a woman pick out, maybe a dress, which is a style that she wouldn't have worn before. When she comes back in, a month later, and tells me about all the complements she's received when wearing the dress I feel good. And, so does she."

There is also a Rhinoceros Boutique in Chattanooga and she plans to open another store in Atlantic Station this coming October. Welch opened her first store in Lenox Square three years ago, but economic forces lead to closing that store and opening in Tennessee.

Welch manages the stores, does the books and the buying. She carries a minimum of ten women's clothing lines at any time; most clothing is bought in Los Angeles and made in the USA. Welch strives to create a selection of clothes that are comfortable and can be built into wardrobes that will fit in all places.

According to Welch, a naturalized U.S. citizen, her brand name is Rhinoceros because of her experience with the play and characteristics of the animals including; rhinos never back up and the females are devoted and protective mothers. She plans to develop the brand into a concept lifestyle store that carries a broader scope of mechandise than clothes, jewelry, perfume and accessories that are in stock now.

Q. What's the best thing about your job?

A. Interacting with people. Helping customers make buying choices.

Q. What is the best thing about East Cobb?

A. The people. I find the people here very friendly, down to earth, laid back.

Q. Why did you choose to open your business in East Cobb?

A. Buckhead is saturated with boutiques and I didn't want to compete with everyone else.

Q. Why did you pick this kind of business?

A. I have been around fashion. When I was younger, I was a runway model and I managed a Benetton store. And I've always been good at finding the right clothes for the right person and adding accessories to make different looks. I would make-over my fashion-challenged girlfriends, help them buy clothes that look good on them.

Q. What are some of the services you offer that people may not know about?

A. Styling. I like to reinvent people's wardrobes. I will go to someone's closet and go through and pull out what they like and get rid of things that don't work for them and arrange their closet. Then, I'll find ways to put things together and bring in new pieces that make other pieces work. Sometimes you have a favorite top but need something to wear it with. I can help find the right pieces.

Q. When did you start your business?

A. This store opened in March.

Q. How did your business get started?

A. I spent 20 years at home raising my four children and I needed to reenter the workforce. Most companies don't understand a 43 year-old woman with only so much work experience, so, I wanted to work for myself. While I was raising children, I had to have something to do, so I taught myself how to paint. I ended up selling my paintings to friends and others and used that money to open my first store.

I studied the market and did research for about two years, including designing how my store should look.

Q. Do you have advice for anyone who'd like to start a small business in this area?

A. Study the market and wait. (laugh.) In the '80s people were buying because they had money and now it's not like that. You have to be very good at running your business because it's a shark-infested world. But, perseverance is a good thing.

Q. Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know?

A. Come visit the store. We've got clothes for everyone's budgets, prices run between $60 and $125 for a dress. Summer sale is on and will run until all stock is sold.

Nathalie Welch, owner/founder


1311 Johnson Ferry Rd, suite 528




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