Reach for the Skye

February 2018 View more

Retail experience runs deep for Joellen Elam, who’s worked in a variety of jobs and cities over the past 19 years: She’s been a buyer for Williams-Sonoma, Inc. in San Francisco, in a London boutique and for large clothing retailers including Nordstrom, Nicole Miller and Evereve.

But there was one thing Elam always wanted to try: opening her own store. Last fall she took the plunge with a new venture, a clothing boutique called London Skye in the Naperville Water Street district, which opened last fall. She recently spoke with Naperville magazine to share her plans for the shop.

Why now? What void does London Skye fill in the market?
The biggest takeaway for me was men’s clothing. I had noticed that there wasn’t a really good men’s store in downtown Naperville for everyday guys’ clothes. You have men’s stores down here, but their focus is more on work clothing.

I started thinking about this idea 12 years ago, when my oldest child was a baby. The store is named after my two girls—their middle names combine to make London Skye. I wanted to be home with them early on, when they were young. So I took my time writing my business plan and doing all the research.

What have you noticed so far about your typical shopper?
Customers drive from hours away to experience downtown Naperville.
You get a lot of customers whose kids are in a sporting tournament around the area and they are killing some time. We get a lot of hotel guests coming in; we get a lot of people waiting for tables at nearby restaurants. They are looking for clothes that are different from what they normally see at department stores.

What is your store’s specialty?
Contemporary, everyday clothes. We are split fifty-fifty between men’s and women’s clothes.

It’s not so much about the designers—I concentrate on a good price point for the customer. Our most expensive pieces are premium denim, which top out at around $198. But our average price point is $58.

Working in retail for so many years, I got a lot of feedback from customers. The biggest takeaway was that prices were too expensive. A lot of London Skye’s pieces are seasonal, so that’s another reason to concentrate on a lower price point.

Do you see differences in the ways women and men shop?
In my research, I learned that most guys only shop twice a year. That’s why I couldn’t just open a men’s store—they shop differently. Many women want a new piece almost weekly.

I’m getting a lot of couples coming in. She shops on one side, he shops on the other. We are putting outfits together for guys, showing them how to put the graphic tee together with the flannel and the puffy vest.

Our customers are people who love shopping at small stores. They love the boutique atmosphere and the personal styling experience.

Does the store reflect your own style?
That’s the thing about having your own store—you can’t just buy merchandise that you like. You have to know your target, and you have to buy for other body types, too. We have a wide range of sizes.

What is your closet like at home?
I’m a simple person, so it’s not overflowing. I’ll get the classic pieces each season. I’ll buy a couple of henleys, a few chunky sweaters and one cardigan that I can wear with a lot of different things.

I’ll also buy some scarves and a couple of pieces of premium denim. I’m into the Articles of Society brand that we carry. It’s a lightweight denim at a great price point and it looks good on all body types.

London Skye
120 Water Street, Suite 104, Naperville