Stacy Larson opened Covered in 2006 as a 450 sqf store in Minneapolis’ Dinkytown area, near the University of Minnesota. It specialized in premium denim and complementary tops, dresses and accessories and catered to local female college students. Two years later, Larson opened a second, larger branch in the Uptown area of the city and, as a result, started attracting a customer base that encompassed more than students. Larson closed Covered Dinkytown in 2009 and today concentrates exclusively on the Uptown store, which is consistently ranked as one of Minneapolis’ best boutiques for women’s premium denim and related apparel and accessories. Interview by Christopher Blomquist

How big is your store’s buying team?
It’s myself and Megan McCarthy. She has been doing the buying with me for four years now. I own the store but three of us run the store. Bridget O’Brien does all the Facebook, marketing, e-mails and all that stuff and she sort of heads up the sales. I also have some part-time employees. We are the best retail team in Minneapolis, hands down.

Who is your typical customer?
A woman in her twenties to forties. She is trend-driven, sophisticated, savvy, professional, a leader in her field and a creative type. We have a big advertising-agency presence in Minneapolis, a lot of arts and that kind of stuff and Target Corporation. A lot of women from Target shop here. It’s young women and older women. I do get a few moms but we don’t cater to having kids in the store.

Ranked as one of Minneapolis’ best boutiques: Covered
Ranked as one of Minneapolis’ best boutiques: Covered

What are your bestselling brands?
As far as denim, Hudson has been phenomenal for us. Current-Elliott is doing wonderful. Joe’s and 7 for All Mankind always does great and so does Paige. Those are my top denim brands. Other brands? We do really well with Amanda Uprichard, Rory Beca, Parker, Brandy Melville, Chaser for more casual T-shirts and jeans types, Krisa, Wildfox for the funky, edgy girl and Dolce Vita shoes. And Show Me Your Mumu has been a huge new brand for us from LA. It’s by two girls from Venice and it’s just a great little easy line and an awesome brand.

What will you be searching for specifically as you shop at the trade shows in Las Vegas this week?
We still have a little bit of spring filling to do. We are going to do summer. For fall, I don’t know what is going to happen because I haven’t seen a lot trend-wise come out yet. But we are going to stick to what we do. We do a ton of skinny jeans, sweaters, dresses and boots. That’s really what we are focusing on.

What shows will you attend there?
We’re going to spend the majority of our time at Project and ENK. We’re going to go to MAGIC for just a few hours.

Hudson, Current-Elliott, Joe's and 7 for all Mankind are among Covered's best selling brands
Hudson, Current-Elliott, Joe's and 7 for all Mankind are among Covered's best selling brands

Would you say there is a key fashion trend happening now for your customer?
We really vibe with the boho West Coast kind of “casual cool” girl but we definitely do have an East Coast edge. We love our black and we love a little bit of rocker girl style. We kind of mix it up when it comes to that. We are not super flowers-in-the-hair boho but we do love our Blue Moon and Show Me Your Mumu and those sort of bohemian lines. But we will put them with a studded ankle boot or something. We are loving the pastels and that awesome bright coral color that is everywhere. Colored denim is still really good for us. We ordered a lot of printed denim for spring and I will be interested to see how that goes. I think it will be good…. Also maxi skirts and dresses are still super-important. We did a lot of maxi skirts, especially a lot of sheer with a liner that is shorter so it looks like you are wearing a kind of mini underneath. We also did a lot of the high-low: short in the front, long in the back.

Does Covered do many in-store special events?
Oh my gosh, yes! That is probably our best quality and it makes us stand out the most as far as boutiques. We’re super-friendly, we don’t take ourselves too seriously and we are not snobby. We have little signs in the dressing rooms that say, “Water Complimentary. Beer, Wine and Champagne Available Upon Request.” We always have champagne stocked in the fridge and we have vodka in the freezer if you are having a really bad day. We’re just awesome about coming up with events. Every March we do a denim exchange and this will be our fifth year. Women can donate a nice pair of premium denim that don’t fit or that they don’t want to wear anymore. We donate them to a local organization that helps women who are recuperating from domestic violence. We give our customers 20% off a new pair. People look forward to it all year and it’s really good charity- and community-wise. Last year I think we received close to 200 pairs of jeans. And once a month we do special events. For February, we did Spa Week. One night we brought in a brow technician and the next night it was a mobile airbrush technician and then a nail expert….

What do you think is the biggest challenge for retailers today?
When a specialty brand comes out and it does really well and it gets really popular and the next thing you know, it’s in Nordstrom sort of selling itself out. And then all of a sudden they are not a specialty brand anymore. Nothing irritates me more than when a gal comes in and says, “Oh, I just got this at Nordstrom last week.” I understand it’s going to happen, obviously, but it’s a challenge. Then you have to compete with those promotions that the department stores do. You really, really have to work for the customer. She has the money but she wants to know who is going give her the most for the money. It’s not like it was when I started in this industry ten years ago. But that makes it more challenging—which I actually like.

Covered, 1201 Lagoon Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55408, USA
Covered, 1201 Lagoon Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55408, USA