Best friends Mandy O’Dell and Allison Seferian met nearly two decades ago when both were working for Savannah-based urban fashion retailer Citi Trends – Ally as a vice president and Mandy as a major fashion buyer.
The two stayed close after Seferian “retired” in 2010 and eventually formed their own company in 2015.
“I worked for Citi Trends for 17 years. It was a great, well-paying job, but an extremely demanding one,” Seferian said. “I loved the women I worked with, which was a good thing, because we traveled together 26 weeks out of the year.
“But, seven years ago, I had just remarried and settled on Hilton Head. Suddenly the idea of being home more was very appealing.”
O’Dell, too, was recently married and juggling her personal life with a career that kept her away from home on Wilmington Island more than half the time.
“Living in a hotel and being on the road can wear on you after a while,” she said. “But I loved what I was doing.”
For O’Dell, the tipping point came two years ago when management decided to move her position to New York.
“My husband is understanding, but not that understanding,” she said, laughing.
“So, after 15 years, that was it for me.”
Meanwhile, Seferian was staying busy consulting for retail chains around the country.
“We both agreed it would be great to go into business together,” she said. “But neither Mandy nor I had any real concrete idea of what that might look like.”
As the two bounced ideas back and forth, they began to focus in on the possibilities the internet held.
“We began to realize that a store didn’t necessarily have to be brick-and-mortar,” Seferian said. “In fact, that actually has a lot of drawbacks.”
Looking at Amazon, the two agreed there might be a niche for them with the online giant.
“Amazon’s platform is genius,” Seferian said. “And, of course, they already carry clothing lines. But we both felt we could bring something a little different to the table.”
The two friends launched Mandy + Ally, an online retailer of women’s clothing, jewelry, accessories and gifts, on Amazon Prime.
Two years later, the young enterprise is thriving and the pair has added a separate Mandy + Ally website.
But it hasn’t been easy, they said.
Trial and error
“For one thing, it took us a while to get to know the Amazon buyer,” O’Dell said. “Our typical customer is Southern, coastal. We also sell a lot in Texas and California and all the way up the East Coast to New York.”
And selling on Amazon is extremely competitive, Seferian said.
“But we didn’t go from 50-something stores to more than 400 at Citi without knowing how to be competitive,” she said, laughing.
“We were already used to swimming with sharks.”
Perhaps the biggest adjustment was going from multi-million dollar buying budgets to buying in lots as small as a dozen, O’Dell said.
“And we’re still learning.”
But both agreed the experience they brought from Citi Trends was invaluable.
“One thing we do that’s different is we buy directly from manufacturers rather than going to shows or the Mart,” Seferian said. “That’s what we’ve always known, so we have those connections, even though we’re buying in smaller lots.
Right now, our looks are fun, easy trendy summer dresses and tops,” she said. “We don’t do a lot of pants, because they are so hard to fit when you’re selling online.
“And we try not to price anything at more than $50.”
The jewelry and accessories are primarily on the website, something the partners are hoping to expand with more clothing items.
To that end, O’Dell hosts “pop up shops” — one-day showings — as well as taking part in area fashion shows.
She has also just begun participating in a monthly event at the Wilmington Island Club called Mix, Mingle and Shop Local. The event, which usually features about 20 local vendors, is free and open to the public, O’Dell said.
“I really enjoy interacting with our local clients,” she said. “It gives me a sense of what they like and what looks good on them, so that when I find something I think would look great on them, I can let them know.
“It’s like having the best of both worlds. We can reach a huge audience on Amazon, but we can also so much more personal.”
IF YOU GO
What: ‘Mix, mingle and shop local’
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday, June 14 and Wednesday, July 12
Where: The Wilmington Island Club, 501 Wilmington Island Road
ON THE WEB
Amazon.com (Mandy + Ally storefront)
Contact Mandy O’Dell at email@example.com or 912-596-5227.