Cathy Beach’s Pepper boutique in Scottsdale is relaxed and inviting and features bohemian clothes perfect for free spirits of the Valley. After opening only a little more than six months ago, the cozy shop (named after the 28-year-old Scottsdale resident’s very cute dog) is already turning a profit and is featuring a fall blowout sale, so everyone can get a taste of Pepper. Look out for some new men’s styles in the boutique, a holiday special brought on by customer demand.
Beach talked about what it’s like to be a successful young small business owner and what she thinks of the Phoenix fashion scene after living in L.A., and names her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video below.
What brought you to Arizona?
I’m from Vancouver, British Columbia and moved here when I was 12. I went to high school here at Saguaro High School, got my undergrad in psychology at ASU and went out to L.A. for grad school, where I studied clinical psychology at Pepperdine. I worked in wholesale apparel during grad school and after in L.A. This past spring, my mom’s cancer reoccurred, so I moved back to Scottsdale to be closer to her.
How did you become interested in fashion?
I worked at boutiques when I was in undergrad, and while I was in grad school and needed a part-time job, I started working for Rachel Pally, a jersey designer. I was managing her pop-up shop then started working as her assistant. I got to see the whole gamut of the industry as her assistant. There were design things to help with, sales and production, lookbook shoots and sample sales – pretty much everything. I cleaned out her closet when her boyfriend moved in and sold all her amazing clothes on eBay.
I really liked visual merchandising, so I ended up getting a job as a visual merchandiser at Bloomingdale’s in Santa Monica. I became the lead merchandiser there, and through that job, I met some people at Free People and ended up working for them as the West Coast visual merchandising coordinator for all the department store accounts. I spent almost three years three doing visuals and allocation reports.
I had just started a new job at Alternative Apparel, where I was doing the same type of thing. They had never had that position before, so I came in and put all the policies in place, when my mom’s cancer came back. I ended up moving pretty abruptly. I had always thought about opening a store here, and when I moved back I thought, ‘OK, might as well do it now.’ I moved back in February, and we had it open in April.
It’s been great. We’ve been turning a profit since July, and it’s been a really great learning experience for me and really fun. Now that we’re running on our own, and I have a couple of employees, I’ve been able to go back into psych. I’m working as a clinical counselor for a counseling agency that contracts for CPS.
Why did you get back into psychology?
In order to get licensed as a therapist in California, you have to do 3,000 supervised hours of client-to-client work. When I was done with grad school, I had the opportunity from Free People, and I was a little burned out on psych and also couldn’t really afford to do 3,000 hours, since a lot of it is unpaid or minimum wage. That wasn’t an option then.
When I got back here, I was referred to the counseling agency I’m working at now, and the way things work here, people are paid a little bit better, there’s more supervision, and it’s a better set-up than it was in California. It’s something I always wanted to get back into, so it’s nice to do both.
What made you want to open your own store in Arizona?
There are little contemporary boutiques that are a dime-a-dozen in L.A., and I would never think about opening up a store in L.A., but there’s a real void here in terms of independent local boutiques. There’s a slightly lower price point void, and we’re kind of in that little middle ground with most of our items less than $100, and nothing is more than $200.
I still try to buy contemporary designers, and a lot of them are domestically produced or use organic materials or have a philanthropic quality to them, and they donate back to a cause. I try to find companies that have some sort of good aspect to them, versus everything being made in China.
What do you attribute to turning a profit so quickly after opening?
I think there’s a void in the market for that. The Arizona market is a tough market, and a lot of businesses fail here. We started out really small, with a tight budget. We had the opportunity to move to UNION Biltmore this summer, and I definitely considered it, but I really like staying small and not being associated with a mall and the rules that go along with them, staying local and neighborhood-friendly.
What do you look for in the designs you feature?
We’re definitely very boho. I try to buy for both the mom and the daughter, who make up a lot of my client base. We started out with some more well-known brand,s like Free People and MINKPINK, but we’re really focused on bringing in domestically-produced brands or brands that have a philanthropic aspect and donate back in some way.
I also like supporting smaller designers. There are a ton of awesome new lines coming out of L.A. and Orange County that are ubiquitous there, but unknown here.
What local designers do you carry?
I’m definitely open to local designers and let people come in and show me their stuff. If they’re willing to do it on consignment, I love that, because I’ll try anything on consignment.
What are the biggest benefits and challenges to owning your own business?
The benefit is the flexibility. I have some good employees, and I’m able to come and go as I want to. Not being in a mall, we can set our own hours, and we’re closed Sunday and Monday, which is nice. Also, being able to do my own buys and my own merchandising is fun, as well.
The biggest challenge is the business side of it, which I’m learning as I go. The accounting, the bookkeeping and the taxes you have to pay, that side of it is not my favorite thing to do and is also part of the learning process.
What advice would you have for someone who’s thinking about opening up their own boutique?
Start small. Don’t invest all your money all at once into it. I feel like we put a little bit too much money into it at the start, but we still kept our budget very, very small. The past few months, I’ve really been keeping a tight budget and really have been only buying to fill our voids. I think really staying on top of your budget is crucial to staying alive.
How did you apply your visual merchandising background to your own store?
We just kind of try to put a lot of those boho aspects into it. Our backdrop in the store was made of reclaimed wood, and we made all the fixtures ourselves. A lot of things in here are vintage – the trunk here was my great-grandmother’s she brought over from England. We have a lot of repurposed materials, and we’re always recycling.
How would you describe the fashion scene here?
I think a lot of the ASU girls really know what’s going on, and that’s why I love utilizing my employees who go to ASU and are active in their sororities. I just started working with the president of the fashion club at ASU, and she’s been great, also. I think if we can bring that voice of those girls who are really Instagram- and social media-savvy down from Tempe into Scottsdale, we’re bringing more of that modern vibe into our neighborhood.
Scottsdale is a lot safer in terms of what customers are buying. I tend to err on the safe side now that I understand the Scottsdale customer, compared to what I was initially buying when we first opened. I’m really learning who that Arizona customer is now and what she wants. I think she’s definitely a little more classic, but once in awhile, we’ll get a super-trendy piece that everyone loves, and it sells out.
What are your goals?
Big, big picture, we’d love to do a second location. We thought about Tempe. We did a pop-up shop there for like a week, and I learned about the Tempe market a little bit, and I don’t know that we’d go to Tempe again. I think a second location somewhere like San Diego would be fun for me.
We want to continue to profit here. We’ve only been open for a little more than six months, and the season is getting started here. We’re starting to pick up on the weekends, the tourists are coming back, the holiday season is coming up, and then we have Super Bowl and spring training. Hopefully, we’ll have a great holiday season and then plan better next summer.
Do you want to continue balancing being a business owner with being a clinical counselor?
Yes. If it gets to be too much, I will have to scale back on one of them, but it’s working out fine now, and I hope I can continue to do both.
Who’s your favorite designer?
From a business aspect, I really respect Rachel Pally. She built a really strong, stable business when she started in the early 2000s, and she’s continued to maintain that strong business. She does local production in L.A. and keeps a very tight staff and has a really good business model.
Why should people come into your store?
I have a lot of lines no one else in Arizona carries. It’s a welcoming, kickback place.
Learn about other Valley fashion professionals:
Learn more about fashion designer and co-owner of Studio Joy Li Joy Li here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Femme Athletic designer and Phoenix Fashion Week executive director Brian Hill here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about State Forty Eight designer Nicholas Polando here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about T-shirt designer Sebastien Millon here on Phoenix People.