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A Shoe Story

Why. I really don't know most days.

Every day, I stand back and look upon my creation and I think how surreal this life is. I find myself wondering, and being asked by others, how I ended up here in this place that I never intended to be. The owner of a shoe store.  Not just any shoe store, but the shoe store that literally has carried me through my life.  And here I am.  In the place between here are there.  On the precipice of my own making once again . . .

February 1, 2016, I walked into a 29 year old retail business known then as Zoe's Boutique.  Aside from a brief stint at Kristy Allen in the 80's, as a sales person, I had never worked a day of retail in my life. I did not have a point of sale machine, or any of the tools that I needed.  No accounting system. No bookkeeping system. No inventory system, just a list of inventory counted and recorded not more than two days earlier. I had a plan to reinvent this business, from the brand up. To breathe new life into this auspicious shoppe.  

That night I went home and created a new sales and inventory system and began the work of changing the website.  Day 1 we did not make any sales. Day 2, we did. 

By day 15, the day after Valentine's Day, we moved the store into the temporary shoppe next door to renovate the store. I gave my team, which consisted of my daughter, and my husband, one week to do the work but that stretched to two weeks. The carpet of over 20 years had to be scraped by hand off the floor, which revealed a 1906 stone floor.  The walls were refreshed with white paint and our new stairway shoe displays and tube and clamp clothing systems were built.  At the same time, we began working with Arcas Advertising, to develop a new brand and logo to carry this store into the next generation.  The renovation took two weeks, and on February 28, we moved back into the store,with a new look, a new website, phone number and a newly updated brand, ZÖE.

The Old City Hall Mall location after a two week renovation project. 

Original stone floors from 1906, custom built stairways and a couch.  

Lynn Armstrong, Owner; Sara Armstrong, Retail Design Specialist, Curator, Buyer and of course, Angela, the Shar Pei

ZÖE is the Greek word for life.  So it made sense to me. It spoke to me.  We rebranded it in the hopes that it would speak to everyone.

Thinking back I couldn't not do this. I have been on a quest since February 11, 2011, to live well, and to live the life of my choosing.

For more than 20 years, I enjoyed a very successful and rewarding career as a corporate planner / communicator / strategist for large corporations.  My job was to help leaders create visions and write about them so that others could see them too.

I published this book in December 2014, a book about pursuing a life of vision, 
In June 2011, I created a consulting company called Lynear Thinking Strategy & Communications Ltd. to offer independent businesses all that I had learned over 20 years about developing business plans and strategies and communicating them. 

In my first year, I made about $80.00 - because the language and tools of the corporate world were not at all relevant to independent business.  By year two, a gap in the market started to reveal itself to me.  That gap was helping independent business owners tell their story.  As a trained journalist, and award winning writer, with an indepth understanding of business strategy,  I knew that I could help so I began researching the creation of a magazine that would tell the stories of independent business.  

In September 2012, one of my consulting clients called me because he had seen SKY Magazine for sale on Kijiji.  I contacted the publisher, and then did some market research on the magazine.  The name, SKY spoke to my heart and my love for strategy and possibility. By October 18, 2012,  I had become the new owner and publisher of SKY Magazine, and 45 days later I published my first issue in December, which I called "The White Issue." I went on to publish 12 more print magazines, one digital magazine, and created social media network under the SKY brand.

SKY is my Vogue . . . it is the place where I tell the stories of great businesses and the people who bring them to life - most of whom have been predominantly women.  Each quarter, SKY has been distributed to 32,000 homes in Regina and Southern Saskatchewan as well as Saskatoon.  It has become known and loved for intelligent content and writing, presented in a fashionable way. I produced SKY as a one woman show, selling the spaces, writing, editing, distributing and managing. With the help of photographer Greg Huszar as well as other guest photographers, and Amber Moon, designer, we created a brand that has come to be loved and sought out by our readers as well as our competitors.

SKY focuses on women in business, and particularly women of retail as it is a growing market. It was through SKY that I gained a appreciation and respect for boutiquiers, like Nadia Williamson, of NWL, Sonja Clifton-Remple, of Studio S Fashion House, Trina Johnson of Trinos Menswear,  Fallon Huffman of Queen V Fashion House, Lisa Wicklund of Seed Sustainable Style, and my mentor, Kandace Lawson, owner of Zoe's Boutique.

Late 2015, I was approached by the owner of Zoe's Boutique to purchase the store.  I was in the middle of my winter 2015 issue (Winter Reimagined) and I immediately said no thank you.  I couldn't imagine how I could take on this important responsibility and do it justice. I remembered all the times that Zoe's had carried me through the events of my life, from promotions, bad bosses, new jobs and celebrations.  I started to imagine what would happen if the store no longer existed.  And if I felt this way, then others would do.  And then I could see it and I created a business plan to chart the path.

What followed after February 1, 2016, I could not have been prepared for with all the planning in the world.  Now 343 days later, I am literally exhausted, and quite honestly overwhelmed some days.

New supplier relationships had to be forged.  A new product strategy was developed and implemented to introduce new and premium brands and styles to the market that are in line with our contemporary and urban brand, including reaching out to the international marketplace.

Location had become a priority as a result of the Globe Theatre's intention to overhaul the building, and the fact that traffic flow and parking issues dissuade downtown shopping for many.  In the summer, we made the decision to move the store out of the downtown location where it had been for 20 years  to Canterbury, Regina's newest shopping / business and living area on the southern fringe of downtown.  Over the summer, the new shoppe was designed and built that would bring the original vision to life.

By October 30, we moved the store out of the downtown location, and opened our doors on November 3, 2016, just in time for Christmas shopping.

Day 365 is the official first day of our new future at Canterbury, and the first anniversary of ZÖE's new life. This first year has been a success on many levels, from a new brand, reinvention of the downtown space, to the recreation of a brand new store that was truly the vision that inspired me to take on this project in the first place.

There are many things I love about this business, and each day I think how lucky I am to be here, to create and share my vision with our community.  I think the best part has been spending time with our clients (Zoeists) who share their life events and stories with us, and invite us into those special moments in their lives, like Zoe's always did for me. I love hearing their stories about the first time they shopped at Zoe's, and the shoes that meant so much to them.  I love seeing that look when the perfect shoe meets the perfect person. When I hear these stories, I know that I am not alone in knowing that this is more than a shoe store. It is a place where lives are lived in shoes.

2017 is the 30th year since the original Zoe's Boutique was created. It is my great honour to be the one to carry this important legacy forward.  This year, we are celebrating in many ways, one of which is to give her a coming out party in her new home on February 1.

Why am here in a place I never imagined being?

Because once I could see the vision of what it could be next, it became destiny;
Because life is about putting one foot in front of the other;
Because ZÖE is life, lived in shoes; and
Because I love shoes.

Shoe Story.

Lynn Armstrong

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