MANDEVILLE, Manchester - For three years Summer James has lived her passion through her Anita Elizabeth Boutique, creatively located in a revamped container at the parking lot of the Golf View Hotel.
The enterprise is “a speciality boutique by appointment only” for women who love that kind of “exclusivity” and who recognise that “life is too short to wear boring clothes”.
Teased that she is catering for rich women, James laughed while insisting that her prices are very competitive. However, she said, that sense of luxury as her clients shop at leisure in air-conditioned comfort is what she wants to cultivate.
“That (rich) is exactly what I want you to feel like when you come but you will be surprised by the prices — it's among the more price competitive in Mandeville,” she boasted.
“Women shop till they drop because the prices are good, the selection is awesome and they have the space, the time, the convenience, they can try on as many outfits as they want.
“I can say listen; I don't do shoes but tell me what you have in the closet that goes with this dress... There's a versatility of outfits. It's not only about making the sale, but making the customer happy and that gives me satisfaction and customer retention,” said James.
Women's fashion has been Summer James's passion since childhood.
Through university — at The University of the West Indies (UWI) and in Florida — and for several years while working for her father-in-law, Tony James, and also for Appleton Estates, Summer James sated her passion by supplying a growing clientèle with high-end clothing, sourced in Europe and North America.
But that was just “on the side”, as James pointed out.
Her boutique established three years ago with the blessings of the James family — tagged with the combined middle names of her two daughters — fulfilled a long-running ambition.
“I don't think you should have a burning desire and allow it to rest just because you trying to make everything else in life happen,” she added.
James's experience partnering with The Jamaica Observer's Takes Style Out (TSO) sowed seeds for an initiative aimed at helping other small business owners.
“I have always signed up for Jamaica Observer Takes Style Out [because] it provides great opportunities to get exposure for my business, and to do discounts... but instead of just Takes Style Out I parlayed into sip and shop, complimentary food/drink for clients, so it became more like a social event rather than just shopping and leaving,” said James.
“My clients really, really loved that experience and it caught on and people looked forward to it. I sort of used it as an anniversary sale for my business and really pushed it in every way possible through social media and networking with my customers...,” she said.
The 2019 edition of TSO set for October 3 has found James with a more advanced mindset.
“I thought why not give other small business owners the opportunity to get the visibility that they would want, in an appropriate setting?” she said.
That's how she came up with the idea of a “marketplace” to be named the 'Manchester Shopping Village' at the Golf View Hotel's parking lot on October 3.
James expects about 25 small business operators — some doing business on the side while holding down nine to five jobs — to rent booth space in the 'village'.
There will be flexibility to accommodate those so small that they will struggle to bear the cost.
“Let's say you sell cashew or peanuts, and you have a friend doing a smoothie business or a cupcake business, both of you can do a shared booth...,” she informed.
That, James argued, would allow “a smaller person with a smaller pocket to share visibility...” and sales opportunities.
She believes the shopping village initiative will help diverse, fledgling small business operators to announce themselves to people in Mandeville and the wider Manchester.
“They can do their branding, give out their business cards, do potential discounts (with an eye) for later on, Christmas is coming... so what is it that you do? You can advertise from now that you have a special coming up for Christmas...,” said James.
The shopping village should also allow participants to assess their readiness for business.
“What it will do is give an opportunity to push out you thing, build your clientèle and see what the opportunities are. That's before you go out and rent a shop and then three months down the line you can't pay your rent. Test the waters, see how people react, see what their ideas are, see if they want more of that or less of that...”, she said.
She believes such exposure is too limited in Mandeville.
“Young people are leaving because there is nothing to do here. Business people are leaving to go to expos in Ocho Rios and Kingston. We just have to create the space, create the energy and give the community the hope that there is potential for them to bloom and grow...,” she said.
Summer James says she feels strengthened by the support she is getting from family, friends and the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
Her husband Duane James was admiring when the Observer Central visited last week.
“This is sensational,” he said, “it just shows that if you bring your passion to life you can make anything work.”