What is H.C.B.?
Hilary Marino, 27, was fed up with both her monotonous, cubicle based job at Macys.com and her online shopping options. It seemed as if well-styled clothing, reasonable price points, and great customer service did not yet co-exist online or in stores. Hilary wanted to combine these elements to create a unique and comfortable shopping experience for today’s woman. With this vision and the courage to leave her secure full-time job and put her savings account on the line, Her Closet Boston (HCB) was born. What started in 2012 as an eBay store with 6 items has transformed into a full-fledged retail business - starting with the expansion of her online boutique, and now with a Coolidge Corner, Brookline storefront. The new boutique in Coolidge Corner brings everything Hilary loves about the H.C.B. online experience to a store front for local Boston women to enjoy!
Molly Flynn: You used to work for Macys.com. What motivated you to quit your day job and start your own online clothing boutique?
Hilary Marino: It was actually never a premeditated decision to start H.C.B. - it just happened. There were aspects of working at Macys.com that I loved - it was a great company with great people and great benefits. However, I’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur and I was feeling a little stifled in such a structured corporate environment.
After working at Macys.com for three years, I needed a break. I moved home and started H.C.B. on a whim – while going through my old desk, I stumbled on a receipt from a website that sold wholesale clothing that I used to buy from back in high school when I had a small eBay business. The clothes they sold were even cuter than I remembered, and most importantly they were affordable. I took a chance and bought six styles from them to sell on eBay to make some extra money while I figured out which direction I wanted my career to go in. I styled and modeled the clothing for eBay myself, and started getting emails from customers asking if they could buy every item in my outfit, or if I had any other clothes for sale. I realized I loved styling the pieces together and enjoyed the interactions with my customers. After a few successful collaborations with bloggers and the growing sales that followed, there was a tipping point where I realized this could be my full time job. It motivated me to create my own stand-alone online boutique separate from eBay, www.ShopHCB.com. I slowly expanded the clothing selections we offered as more sales came in, and was also able to add in shoes, jewelry and accessories. Now I’m so thrilled to be opening up my own storefront in Brookline!
M: How would you describe the style of a H.C.B. customer?
H: A H.C.B. girl is your typical city girl. She works hard, but she also likes to go out with her friends and have fun. While her style is generally classic, she also likes to try out a lot of different trends, without having to commit financially to each one. She’s always the most stylish girl in the room.
M: I love how affordable the clothing is. There aren’t a lot of great places for college girls to shop on a budget besides Forever 21.
H: I completely agree! At H.C.B., we pride ourselves on being able to offer higher quality pieces that are fashion forward yet still budget friendly. When you walk into a boutique, like H.C.B., it’s a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience than having to dig through the racks at a larger store. I love to help my customers shop and find styles that flatter their bodies. When a woman walks into my store I want her to feel like she’s hanging out with her friends and playing dress up, and most importantly having fun. I don’t want it to be a stressful experience.
M: What are some of the challenges you’ve run into from having an online boutique and now opening up the brick and mortar store?
H: For me, the reason why I started online was because the barrier to entry was a lot lower. It was less risky. When you start something online you don’t have to put down first month and last month’s rent and a security deposit. I decided I wanted to open a boutique after I hosted a few trunk shows and my customers would tell me that they wish I had a store that they could shop at all the time. People sometimes get nervous shopping online and crave the experience of touching and trying on the clothing, even in today’s digital world.
As for challenges, the hardest part has been that at the end of the day, I’m the only person who’s responsible for this business. I do everything myself including accounting, taxes, and legal documents. If something goes wrong I have to fix it, and I have to fix it fast because it’s my entire life.
M: Do you have any plans for further expansion in the future after you open your Boston based store?
H: I would love to expand to a few locations around the Boston area. Right now there’s a high concentration of great boutiques in downtown Boston and Newbury St, but not many options in the surrounding areas, like Brookline. A lot of college students and young professionals live on the outskirts of the city because it’s cheaper, but in order to shop they have to make a trip into the city. I would love to bring more fashionable options to these outskirt cities, and at great prices, but I have to make sure Brookline works first!
M: There is a statistic that 80% of boutiques fail. What makes H.C.B. different? Why do you think it will survive?
H: One advantage I have is that I’ve had an online presence for a while. I’ve already gained an audience. I know that this model works online. The challenge is transforming that successful e-commerce experience to an in-store experience. I want it be a very cohesive experience for the customer. One of the ways we’re implementing this is with an added “In Store Pickup” option at checkout. If you’re local and you bought something online, you can come into the store to pick it up, and even try it on first to make sure it is just right!
M: What’s one piece of career advice you would give to young professional women just starting out?
H: I would say to follow your instincts. Make sure you’re in a place where you’re not going to work just to make a paycheck. That’s a mistake I see a lot of people making. You need to take the time and effort to find the right fit for you, because no one is going to do it for you. It’s important to be happy in your career because you’ll work a lot harder and more success will come from it. When I was at Macy’s I always felt drained because I wasn’t fully challenged. Now I work way more hours, but I love every second of it. I followed my heart and my instincts, and I’m so much happier because I went for it. While starting a business might not be for everyone, being happy with your career definitely is and it is something extremely important that everyone should strive to experience.