Updated: Wed, 08/21/2013 - 00:07

Husband, wife master Factors Walk retail

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Curt Bolak shows off a popular Matter of Factors item, scented displayable 'wax pottery' bowls from Habersham Candle Company in Cornelia, Ga. (Photo by Carl Elmore)  Carl Elmore
Carl Elmore
Curt Bolak shows off a popular Matter of Factors item, scented displayable 'wax pottery' bowls from Habersham Candle Company in Cornelia, Ga. (Photo by Carl Elmore)
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Savannah couple masters retail on Factors’ Walk

Most small business owners would never dream of putting two — let alone three — locations within 100 yards of one another. But, with the grand opening of Savannah Belle on July 27, one local couple is showing that such a business model may prove successful. A wife and husband of 25 years, Lisa and Curt Bolak opened the ladies’ apparel boutique following the run of success the couple has experienced over the last four years with their other two retail outlets — Savannah Rose and Matter of Factors.

“(We) call it our little family monopoly game,” Curt Bolak said. “Because one way or another, the customer is going to step in one of our stores.”

Savannah Belle, at 206 E. Bay St., is located on Factors’ Walk and sports a long line of women’s dresses, blouses, hand-crafted shoes and other accessories.

The modestly priced shop’s location was previously occupied by local artist Michele Snell who still uses a small section of the shop as her art studio, where Belle’s customers can watch her paint and purchase her work.

“We kept her on board as a resident artist with her own room so she could continue her trade,” Curt Bolak said. “But she wanted out of the retail side.”

For men who get dragged into the shop by their female companions: Don’t worry. The Bolaks kept you in mind when setting up shop.

The couple converted Belle’s upper floor into a lounge complete with a large flat-screen television, leather couches and a sitting area supplied with reading material so you can relax while she shops.

“I knew that older ladies were not going to want to go upstairs and buy something up there, so I turned it into a man cave,” Curt Bolak said. “The concept being, (someone) can go upstairs, sit down and relax, while the ladies are down spending the money, adding that they will slowly add merchandise upstairs tailored to male consumers.

The Bolaks ventured to Savannah after working all over the country in television media and marketing. They opened Savannah Rose and Matter of Factors on the opposite ends of Savannah River Inn in 2009.

Both Curt and Lisa admit they took a huge risk setting up shop, considering the economic climate of the time, but felt that their marketing skills would weather them through the storm.

“We actually increased sales from month to month during the first year,” Curt Bolak said. “We have had healthy double-digit increases year to year to year. And that is pretty hard to do in this type of economy.”

Matter of Factors stocks a variety of merchandise and gift items, but the store specializes in wines, with a large amount of the shop’s inventory consisting of wines produced by Georgia vintners. The rest of the store’s merchandise includes unique items such as candles, model ships, wine accessories and other gift items one would be hard pressed to find in other Savannah locations.

“There is a very strong common denominator, and that is there has to be a wow factor built into every item that is for sale,” Curt Bolak said. “If I cannot identify a wow factor in the item, I don’t buy it.”

Outside Savannah Rose hangs a sign reading “The Shop with Attitude” and the store serves as the springboard location for Savannah Belle and houses merchandise such as jewelry, women’s shoes and tops, hats, household fixtures and other unique merchandise.

Lisa Bolak said they opened Savannah Belle because of Savannah Rose’s lack of dressing rooms and the fact that her merchandise simply outgrew the smaller location. She said the couple goes to great lengths to ensure neither store contains duplicate items. Curt also stated they venture “off the beaten path” to stock hard-to-find merchandise.

“When you might hear a fashion editor talking about what you will see this fall — well, what you see this fall you will not see at Savannah Rose or Savannah Belle,” Curt Said.

Lisa said the couple’s success stems from a little bit of luck and a lot of attention to detail.

“I find myself walking along Broughton Street sometimes and looking in the windows,” she said. “Everything looks the same, and I don’t see the wow factor … If it is ordinary, I don’t want it.”

Her husband added that many customers find shopping at small boutiques intimidating and expensive so the couple tends to focus their merchandise centered on the pocketbook of the average consumer.

“When we went into (business), we realized that there appeared to be a lot of low-end businesses and a lot of upper-end businesses in the area of ladies’ boutiques,” he said. “Very little fit the middle, and that’s where (our stores are).”

But perhaps the couple’s greatest asset is their product knowledge and their ability to interpret and understand the needs of their customers.

“I know the story behind the merchandise and you don’t always get that everywhere you go,” Lisa Bolak said. “When I buy, I buy like I am shopping for myself. I am always looking for the value. I am always looking for the quality. I am always looking for the uniqueness … It is almost like it is in my blood.”

She also refuses to let a customer leave unhappy. She said many businesses claim how important customers are, while at the same time putting sales above integrity. Lisa often discourages a customer from buying clothes that do not look right on them.

“I don’t want somebody to buy (a product) and go home and have buyers’ remorse and be sorry,” she said. “And because of that I can tell you in four years I’ve had two people bring something back.

“I think the honesty factor is a very big deal. And I am honest with my customers. I’m sincere. We genuinely want people to have what works for them.”

She said she often talks people out of buying shoes, hats and other items as gifts for friends because of the inability to size such items accurately.

When not at one of the shops, Curt likes to play piano and Lisa enjoys running, but with the couple not only owning but operating all three locations, they say it is hard to get away for any kind of vacation. However, both say catering to tourists makes for a low-stress leisure-like atmosphere.

“We are in a vacation wonderland every day,” Curt Bolak said.

He also feels that seeing repeat Savannah tourists returning to their stores is a rewarding experience.

“Customers come back because they feel Lisa is their personal shopper,” he said.

“The ultimate goal is for our customers to feel like these are their stores, not ours … So, when they come back to Savannah they will say, ‘Oh, we need to go back to our boutique.’”

The couple both feel the economic climate is still somewhat stagnant and hope to start building a greater clientele of locally based customers. In fact, Lisa said she is already eyeballing a space for a fourth location.

“Last year, with the economy still being in the tank, was the best year I’ve ever had,” she said. “Our numbers were so through the roof — that is one of the reasons we opened the third store.”

SAVANNAH BELLE

206 East Bay St.

Savannah, GA 31401

912-232-4833

Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Sunday: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

SAVANNAH ROSE

126 East Bay St.

Savannah, GA 31401

912-232-9449

Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Sunday: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

MATTER OF FACTORS

120 East Bay St.

Savannah, GA 31401

912-231-2100

Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Sunday: Closed

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