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Sometimes an artist develops their own unique style, and sometimes the art finds the artist. This is true of Amanda Branson, owner of Avanna Boutique in downtown De Queen. Growing up, Amanda always wanted a shop. Her initial ideas were a flower shop that she could combine with Interior Design services, but the market wasn’t that wide in her southwest Arkansas rural hometown. Instead, she used her love of fashion and art to inspire a new boutique that she developed and opened in just 60 days.
Amanda was a teacher by trade but was working as an insurance agent. She was driving around the town square in September 2017 when she saw a vacant spot in the middle of a block. She called the landlord, and after some figuring of finances and the monthly rent, she set out to make her childhood dream come to life.
Three short years ago Amanda opened her new store under a name inspired by her daughters Ava and Anna. The store initially launched with a concept of a few clothes, accessories, painted canvases and restored furniture. Opening in December proved to be the best decision. The locals showed up, and she launched with a stellar first month during the holiday shopping season.
But the winter months that followed were hard. In January and February, she didn’t even have heat in her building, and many days she would sit on the city bench in front of her store to finally see other people. It was hard and gave her a lot of time to think about the future of her store. “Just get through the first year, and you will be OK,” was advice other retail store owners had given her, and she was determined to make it happen.
Not long after she opened, another single mom friend brought an opportunity to her doorstep. This young lady was an artist and was looking for a local spot to introduce paint parties to De Queen. Amanda shared the back part of her store, and the two co-worked as they built a clientele and similarly managed a new stage of life together.
A friend asked Amanda if she was interested in buying her stamping kit and tools. It was a no-brainer for Amanda, who was interested in making jewelry and knew it would be a fit for her brand. The hand-stamped jewelry took off that May (2018) and her business grew into something she could not have dreamed of during those cold, lonely days of winter.
Today, Avanna Boutique has an online presence and regional reputation for affordable, personalized, giftable jewelry. While the brass cuff is the most popular piece ordered, Avanna also offers bar, coin, star, and extended disc necklaces that can be personalized with symbols, initials, mantras and more.
“People like to wear what matters,” said Branson. “That’s one of my business slogans that I use when advertising the jewelry. Whether it’s children’s names, a business slogan, verse or quote, it’s important to most people to wear a timeless piece that is important to them.” Part of the hand-stamped jewelry’s success is the timeless design. But being flexible and having the ability to personalize in the moment makes it accessible to many. Customers can order online, but they can also call ahead and either pick up their purchase or use curbside delivery.
For anyone who lives in De Queen, four things are often shared about Avanna Boutique and its owner.
“Empowering other women is very important to me. It’s hard to be a mom. It’s hard to be a working mom. And, it’s hard to start and own your own business. I know we are all better when our local economy is strong. I had a lot of people show up for me when I got started, and I’m not afraid to be part of that process for another mom. Any woman who has the bravery to jump into anything she wants to do with the unknowns and risks of owning a small business, I want to support and advocate for them.”
A year into her business, Amanda started thinking and dreaming about bigger plans for her business. “I’m dressing the teachers, nurses, mothers-in-law and grandmothers in my community. I think about how clothes can fit lots of body styles, but carry classic things that can be worn year after year and by multiple generations.”
Amanda hired a local photographer and used local ladies as models to host the first photoshoot and launch her website. The photographer used venues including the city park, alleys in downtown, and the courthouse lawn for a stylized photo shoot with models holding coffee from a local shop and wearing some of her hand-stamped jewelry.
While those types of partnerships may seem rudimentary for a business formula, they were novel for her local community, and those faces took to social media and used their influence to help share the story and brand of Avanna Boutique. It was a turning point for business. Many of those images are still cornerstone graphics used in promotions and social media campaigns.
Organic, online conversations and random downtown foot traffic is how most people are introduced to Avanna. Still, the personalized jewelry, handbags, unique shoes and women-owned business products will keep a customer coming back. Avanna has a reputation for supporting other women who are launching their businesses through pop-up shop experiences like the Gather & Graze charcuterie day and a recent first public appearance of Sacred Steps Pottery.
When asked about advice for other momtrepreneurs and store owners, Amanda offered these words:
For more great shopping like Avanna, see Arkansas Boutiques to Shop this Holiday Season.
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