They say you never like an outfit as much as you do in the dressing room of the store. April Bullock, owner of Eve Marie’s in Hattiesburg and Ivy Boutique in D’Iberville, is working to make sure her stores are stocked with the most unique items that appeal to each and every customer. It’s her dedication to her customers that got her named the winner of the 2017 Best of the Pine Belt Best Women’s Clothing category.
The Biloxi native moved to Hattiesburg in 2000 to begin school at The University of Southern Mississippi. She knew then that she wanted to own a boutique.
“I knew at a fairly young age that I wanted to open a boutique, because at that time there weren’t many,” she said. “But growing up, I had a lot of influence to go into the education field.”
Bullock said she originally planned to teach high school Spanish or kindergarten.
“I did go into education, because I thought, ‘I can teach, then open my store later,’” she said.
However, three years into her education, she decided she didn’t want to go into education at all anymore and just open a store.
Bullock then changed her major to fashion merchandising, under the business department at Southern Miss with a marketing minor.
Right after graduation, she moved to Orlando, Fla., and worked as an intern for a fashion magazine. Then, she took a full-time management position at Disney World for two years.
Around that time, the owners of Eve Marie’s in Hattiesburg announced they were selling their business. Bullock purchased the boutique in 2006.
“Since then, I’ve kind of revamped it and remodeled twice and really broadened the amount of merchandise and the different target market,” Bullock said.
Bullock said she broadened the target market to include anyone from “college students to grandmothers.” She pointed to the screen in the back of the store to note a grandmother who was in the shop with two of her granddaughters, shopping for them and for herself.
“So we really have a little something for everyone,” she said. “I really got to know my customers and what they wanted. I got to know our city as a whole. I reached out to people to see what they were looking for. Do they want weekend clothes? Or work clothes? I really dug into our community to see what everyone was shopping for.”
Bullock said this meant long hours at the boutique and many conversations with customers as they browsed her selections.
Up until five years ago, Eve Marie’s was Bullock’s only store. However, she opened Ivy Boutique in D’Iberville in 2012.
“Having the store for six years definitely taught me what to do and most importantly, what not to do,” she said. “It took me a while to really tweak everything.”
While Bullock owns both Ivy and Eve Marie’s, patrons who visit both get a little different experience. Her customer base in Hattiesburg is made up of mostly college students.
“They’re more up on the fashion trends and willing to take more risks,” Bullock said. “My Coast people are a little more laid back. They’re Coast girls, a little more relaxed and like casual, flowing stuff.”
Her goal is to cater to her customers and stock her stores with what she thinks they will want.
“Which is difficult to do when you’re at market,” she said. “Because you’re there and thinking, ‘This dress my Eve Marie’s girls will like’ or ‘This my Ivy girls will like.’ You have to go with two groups in mind. And I have to take myself out of the equation. I’m not shopping for me, I’m buying for everybody else.”
Bullock said she is her customer. However, she is not her only customer.
“Not everyone is a 30-year-old entrepreneur who can wear whatever they want every day,” she said with a laugh. “That’s the best part of my job.”
What helps her find the right fit is asking herself, “Who’s going to wear this?” “Where are they going to wear it to?”
She said the biggest thing is keeping the season in mind and being mindful of what holidays are coming up.
“With fashion, everything is changing, so you really gotta stay on the up-and-up of what’s coming in,” she said.
This is why Bullock is constantly researching new lines and trends online. She said she turns to bloggers and magazines online.
Bullock prides herself in offering unique items at her stores, so she travels to market four times a year to make sure she is giving the people of Hattiesburg and the Coast something original.
“If you go to five boutiques, you are not going to see the same things,” she said. “So I research new lines and go to market and sit through the classes to hear about new lines and go to fashion shows to see what is coming up next.
“If you just order online, then you don’t get all of that,” she added. “That is what some places do, which isn’t bad, it just isn’t me.”
“Because when I go somewhere, I don’t want anyone else to look like me,” she said with a smile.
Her goal is to bring something new that her customers cannot find anywhere else.
“That’s why we go to Dallas, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, because we want to keep Hattiesburg and Biloxi in the know. Because if we have it, then they know it’s popular.”
In between markets, some vendors go on the road to show new lines.
As if owning two of her own unique boutiques wasn’t enough, the business owner is in the middle of plans for her upcoming wedding.
Her October wedding is quickly approaching, and Bullock said she never could have made it without the help of her wedding planner and family members.
“Things are starting to get into high gear right now,” she said. “We’re doing the tasting of the cakes and ordering of flowers and it’s been so fun.”
However, one of her favorite experiences so far has been shopping for one of her most important looks to date – her wedding dress.
“Wedding dress shopping was super amazing, because I never do that,” she said. “I never go shopping and get the treatment. I’m always the one starting fitting rooms and giving my opinion to people, so it was kind of weird.”
Bullock joked that she was trying to put the dresses in the fitting room and the woman who was helping her had to stop her and say, “No, no. I do that.”
Bullock said “yes” to her dress at L. James Bridal in Ridgeland.
What’s next for the couple after they tie the knot is still up in the air, according to Bullock. However, you can still catch her at her Hattiesburg store most days of the week.