Featured in Mainebiz.biz By Renee Cordes
Photo / Jim Neuger
June 10, 2019
Marcia Feller is the owner of Couleur Collection, a women’s clothing store and art gallery in Falmouth she opened in October 2000.
Feller, 72, is an entrepreneur, artist and triathlete who started out her career in the New York fashion industry. She sat down with Mainebiz at her store, where clothes are organized by color, for an interview excerpted below.
Mainebiz: What inspired Couleur Collection?
Marcia Feller: I was in California with a marketing client who had a thriving women’s apparel business and a passion for rugs and antiques. We went to the California Gift Show looking for new items and helping her rethink her business. One day I was out running on Lombard Street, where around each curve there was a swathe of flowers in a different color. I thought, wow, what if you organized the store by color and hang rugs or shelves in each section to display antiques? I went flying back down the Embarcadero with my idea, and this New England businesswoman could not have been more underwhelmed. So my husband said to me, “Why don’t you do it?”
MB: Once you decided to take the risk and open a business, what next?
MF: The deal came together in 90 days. We opened on Oct. 2, 2000, because you can’t be in retailing if you can’t be ready in the fourth quarter. We were profitable from the first quarter we opened.
MB: With so many large retailers today failing, what’s been your secret?
MF: The first thing is our returns policy, which from Day 1 we modeled after L.L.Bean. If you’re not happy for whatever reason, and you have your receipt, we’re going to make it right. The second thing is the fundamental problem with the big stores and why they’re closing is not [because of] online marketing. Inventory is an asset on their balance sheet and people are an expense. If I were designing it differently, I’d put people as an asset on the balance sheet.
MB: Having been recognized by the state for employing older workers, what would you say is their value?
MF: Most of the women who work for me [three full-time and up to 10 part-time] have been in other businesses. They’ve run businesses and departments in state government, they’ve set up social programs all over the state, they’ve run nonprofit organizations — they’re extraordinary women, long before they get to me. Many have gone to New York with me. When vendors come here they all help in product selection. And they run our events. They’re very engaged.
MB: What’s your customer demographic?
MF: We don’t ask ages, but my intuition tells me it’s 55 to 75. Since we started running our ad campaign, “It’s not an age, it’s an attitude” three years ago, we’ve started seeing more corporate, professional or younger women coming in to check us out. Oftentimes they come for their moms, and then leave with something for themselves they didn’t expect to find.
MB: Did you ever think about opening other locations?
MF: The original business plan in 2000 was to roll out nationwide. What happened was the business was 11 months old on 9/11. It didn’t affect the business, but my husband and I took a look at what we wanted our lives to be, so we slowed it down.
MB: And why not sell online?
MF: We decided to go for a broad assortment and high turnover, which invites people to return because there’s always something new. I turn my inventory five times a year. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this, but if I were 45 years old, I might think about the business in a very different way.
MB: What will happen to your business when you retire?
MF: I have this fantasy that there’s some 45- to 50-year-old woman who will walk in someday with a business/financial background, has that younger energy and says, “You know, this could go nationwide or it should be an online business” — to take it to another dimension that I’m not going to do in my 70s.
The full exhibition will remain on display, with copies of “Enduring Heights” and all artwork available for sale at Couleur Collection through the end of the year. 10% of total sales for the evening were donated and shared by Habitat for Humanity and the Maine Trust for Public Land.