From Corporate to Local: The Start of Urban Blues

By Julianne Morris

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As America progressively becomes more and more materialistic with each year, millions of consumers flock to big department stores to quench their thirst for the newest trends in fashion. Many people would say that you can get everything you need from these big stores but 11 years ago a woman named Courtney Gibbs decided to leave Nordstrom and follow her dreams by starting her own local company called Urban Blues.

Urban Blues started out as a boutique that only carried top-notch denim. A plan was devised to sell off priced goods. Gibbs found all the premium denim, which was the hottest thing on the market at the time and brought it in at half price and named her store Urban Blues. They carried all the labels of the day: AG, True Religion, Seven for all mankind, Paige, Rock and Republic, Hudson, and more. The mission at the outset was to see if Urban Blues could sell 10 pairs of denim on the opening day. No one even knew they were there. On that first day, they ended up selling 50 pairs of denim. Gibbs says, “Within I think one year we sold 1 million dollars at retail.”

The first year that Urban Blues was open was 2005. In 2007, the financial crisis happened and that became a huge challenge for Urban Blues.  “However, here we are in 2016 and we weathered the storm and we’re still in business,” says Gibbs. When the market crashed, there were a lot of companies that went out of business. Nordstrom came in and bought off all of the priced goods and there went the Urban Blues supply chain, which really challenged them and scared them into going out of business. Gibbs had some experience and fortunately she was able to stay and buy what the customer still wanted. So now Urban Blues doesn’t offer premium denim at a price. Urban Blues is now a regular priced business. They sell junior and young contemporary clothing. Gibbs says, “I think we’re still price conscious but we’re not a discounter anymore.”

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So what attributes to success in a local business? Gibbs says experience. “I mean I am lucky that I worked for Nordstrom for so many years. Maybe fortitude. Stick-to-itiveness.” Gibbs feels like she has had some good luck going into this business. She has had really good people working for her and she has worked really hard to achieve her dream. She sometimes has days where she wonders if she made the right decision in owning her own business. Gibbs says it is such a profitable business so it would be too hard to shut it down when it is doing so well. “I mean really coming through that financial deal. So many boutiques go out of business. And to be open 11 years. That’s something,” Gibbs explains.

Gibbs has many goals for Urban Blues. Her near-term goal is to open many more stores and especially open one in the downtown area. “I’d like to maybe work on our image, change our image a bit. But I think we have a lot of name recognition so I think that is a lot. That helps us,” says Gibbs. Urban Blues would also be interested in pivoting a tad and to Gibbs, it seems to be working. They pivoted slowly and they are seeing double-digit increases this year. Gibbs explains, “The customer isn’t resisting what we’re doing and so I think we might be on the right track.”

Urban Blues stands out by giving “Old school customer service”. Gibbs is trying to teach all of her employees how to be stylists and how to give customer service rather than just working as a clerk. Gibbs says, “You’re really out there trying to help someone find their own identity and express it through clothing and we think that that is an art form here.” Gibbs believes that if each person can erase the mentality that they are just a clerk and give that old school customer service that she was raised on it would make Urban Blues a special and unique place to shop. Gibbs feels that when she goes to other stores they ignore customers. Even now at Nordstrom , which is where she was trained. Gibbs doesn’t think it is the same from when she worked there and that is why she is setting out to be different. Gibbs leaves her remarks with, “I think that what we do makes it an experience and that’s what we want to do. We want to immerse the customer in the experience so that’s what we’re doing and I think it makes a difference.”

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