8 Students, 6 Days, One Store: A Boutique Face-lift

Boutique Boot Camp by the numbers:

8 students. 6 days. 3 credit hours. 1 colossal success.

On Memorial Day, students from Columbia College Chicago’s Fashion Studies department hit the road, making the 6 hour journey to Northport, MI for a week-long immersion course. The goal?  To execute a retail “facelift” for The Pennington Collection, a local boutique.


Planning for this project began last fall, followed with site visits and strategic planning in late-January.  Dana Connell, the Associate Chair of Columbia College’s Fashion Merchandising and Retail Management Department, and Amy Meadows, Adjunct Faculty, created budgets, block plans and wish lists, then worked closely with the store’s owner, Sarah Eggert to help realize her vision—“Be Bright. Be Bold. Be Clear”.  With decades of combined retail expertise and a desire to provide valuable hands-on experience, a new coursework model—with an eager retail partner—was launched.

The Pennington Collection is one of the few area businesses which remains open year-round. Located north of Traverse City in Leelanau County, Northport and its neighboring towns (Leland, Sutton’s Bay) are popular tourist destinations and it was imperative that the work be completed prior to the start of the season, without affecting traffic and business during the class work session.


With  summer shipments of merchandise arriving daily, it was important to not only reorganize the selling floor but reboot the back of house in order to reduce the amount of stock on the floor and facilitate fill-in. The leadership team reached an agreement to relocate a key destination business– paper goods and greeting cards, to the adjacent room—from there, non-stop “domino effect” as the group refinished and reconfigured fixtures, prepared FLOR carpet tiles, created trend walls, installed high wall visuals and added signage.

The workload was daunting.  12 hour days, souvenir t-shirt overload and design by committee required a willingness to improvise and perhaps alter original plans.  For example, a mirrored wall had originally been intended as the primary location for jewelry.  It looked lovely but was it the best use of that available square footage?  After careful consideration, the jewelry wall became an anchor for a dedicated Trend Pad.  In addition, the creation of a Trend Pad near the store entrance created a template for seasonal changes without extensive floor moves.  While “sustainability” is used primarily to note environmentally-friendly materials, the sustainability mission for Sarah’s store was to execute a workable block plan, visual identification of merchandise categories (the shop  carries  clothing, gifts, shoes, books, artwork, paper goods, accessories, jewelry and more).


During the often chaotic work week, sales not only met but exceeded last year’s numbers.  Once the boot camp wrapped up, The Pennington Collection experienced at least one day of double sales, with the potential for many, many more as the tourist season picks up steam in the months ahead.

As for the student results…  A true immersion into visual merchandising, in all its grit and glory.  Schlepping comes before styling.  Paint and power tools can make your life much easier.  Adjacency matters. While there had been an orientation session, a group Pinterest board and a Facebook page for the students, the workload remains somewhat speculative until one arrives and begins the work.

Article contributed by Amy Meadows of Window Matters. Interested in finding out more about the ways in which a Boutique Boot Camp could work for your store or your business district?  Contact  Window Matters at 

Photo provided with permission for use by: Amy Meadows, Window Matters 

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