Fri04182014

Business & Real Estate

Carving a niche: Gemma looks to stand out among clothing retailers

Photo Elliott Burr/Town Crier Gemma Boutique owners Lisa Vellequette, left, and Hayley Ditzler hope to help build community in the downtown area.

Counting the number of women’s clothing stores in the downtown triangle requires at least a few more fingers than most people possess.

So for longtime Los Altos residents Lisa Vellequette and Hayley Ditzler, who opened Gemma Boutique last week, standing out among the slew of clothiers – not to mention combating declining citywide apparel sales – could prove challenging.

But in mere days since opening, the local first-time business owners say the outlook remains bright.

“Things are really good so far,” said Vellequette last week at her store, where curious shoppers frequently poked in for a gander. “We’re excited to have another clothing store.”

Their shop, which officially opened Aug. 29 at 208 Main St., offers “something for everyone,” Vellequette said, though men may feel left out in the cold. Unless of course they’re into women’s scarves.

From high-end denim to moderately priced cashmere sweaters and other accessories carefully lodged in an open-floor setting, the Gemma owners feel they’re fulfilling a need for an “elegant shopping experience.” In time, they plan to host events and may even begin to offer champagne to shoppers.

“Things are volatile … but you can’t control the world economy,” said Vellequette, a Stanford University grad with a master’s degree in business administration from Santa Clara University, who previously pursued a career in the pharmaceutical industry. “A good product will lead to a loyal customer base.”

Vellequette and Ditzler, who operated an automation software company for 12 years and sold it in 2000, met years ago while performing fundraising duties at Pinewood School. They decided to start a business in downtown Los Altos that “didn’t feel like work.”

“We both felt we didn’t want the nine-to-five,” Vellequette said. “And Hayley has a passion for fashion.”

Added Ditzler, “I’ve always loved clothes, putting it all together right.”

The owners had been working to secure contracts with vendors and ready the store – previously occupied by a company that offered personalized gifts – since March. Vellequette said no other clothing store in downtown Los Altos carries the brands they do, because vendors granted Gemma exclusivity.

“The lines we carry, only we carry,” she said. “Shops in Los Altos are not allowed to carry what we carry.”

Gemma features designers from Akiko, Laurie B., Monrow and Tracy Reese.

To be sure, other downtown boutiques have their own exclusive vendors as well. Otherwise, “there would be too much saturation,” Ditzler said.

 

Giving back

But selling dresses isn’t the only thing on these moms’ minds. Before the two even opened their doors, they donated $1,000 to a school in Awaso, Ghana.

And sometime in the future, they plan occasionally to divert a portion of sales to charities selected by customers.

Whether they’re local, regional, statewide, national or global isn’t what matters so much to them.

“Community building is the main reason I did this,” said Ditzler. “I’ve lived here since 1994 and the town needs reinvigorating.”

“It’s important to give back,” said Vellequette. “It’s part of the store.”

Gemma is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.

For more information, call 947-4000.

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