The charm of local boutiques is that each shop tells a story and is curated in a unique way. Meet Catherine Bennett of Cat’s Meow, hear her story, and peek into the life of this fashionably local boutique owner.
Catherine Bennett: CAT’S MEOW PERSONALIZED GIFT BOUTIQUE
OWNER SINCE: 2007
How did you get started in the business?
I’m from Kirkwood, Missouri and for 10 years prior to opening Cat’s Meow I had a home embroidery business. By the time I opened the shop, I had a good clientele base but I had no idea that the business would take off like it did. When we first opened we had only half of the space. When the other half became available within a year we purchased that in 2008.
As the business grew I just trusted my gut. I could only handle so many custom orders at once, and many customers wanted gifts that they could walk out the door with, so we started bringing in candles and jewelry that I found at market. The shop has evolved from there, and as I look back, it’s amazing how much we underestimated how well the store would do.
How did you come up with the name?
When I was growing up everyone called me Cat, so the shop’s name is derived from that. I named the store Cat’s Meow because the term means “the best,” even though people often think it’s a cat themed store.
What is the favorite part of your job?
I love sourcing new and innovative things for the shop and then seeing them sell. I also feel incredibly lucky to be working with the best people. I think one of my greatest assets is my amazing staff, three of whom have been with me since the beginning.
Did you have doubts about moving to a new location?
I went back and forth, but in the end, it was a leap of faith. We wanted to grow and add new items but we couldn’t do it in the other location. There just wasn’t room. The move has been a great decision because we’ve been rockin’ it since day one. I think people feel more comfortable to spread out and shop. The expanded space has given us the chance to add more clothing, handbags and new items such as the custom laser engraved merchandise.
Tell us about your collaboration with catstudio for their St. Louis design.
We started carrying catstudio merchandise a couple of years ago and asked them to do a Saint Louis pillow. They said they had a preliminary sketch but hadn’t finalized everything. They sent me their preliminary design and I realized that they didn’t highlight the things that Saint Louis locals know and love. Anyone can go online and research a city but unless they talk to a local, they won’t get the full picture. Their design didn’t feature The Hill, Ted Drewes, The City Museum or the image of a fleur de lis. They also didn’t have a recognizable icon for the zoo or any representation of the St. Louis Cardinals. Their design focused more on riverboats and the blues and they still had the old football stadium on there. I offered to help them with the design so we went back and forth and finally came up with the finalized product. (see below)
What would you do if you didn’t have a shop:
I’d be doing sales. That’s where my comfort zone is, but really, this is my dream come true. If 20 years ago someone had told me that I was going to have a big shop and sell clothing, I’m not sure I’d have believed it.
What are you most excited about in the shop?
It’s hard for me to say because we have added so many amazing things with our bigger location. But if it came down to one thing, I guess I’m most excited about our new laser engraved products. I did a lot of research on this process and realized that we could do so many customized things with it. We laser engrave picture frames, drink tumblers, decorative serving trays and we cut lights featuring all the Sororities for back to school. The process works on all kinds of surfaces such as wood, plastic, glass and metal and the finished product is amazing.
What is your demographic?
We have everything from the monogrammed, preppy look to the camo, trendy look. Originally, I thought we had to have a defined style in the shop, but then I realized that some days I want to wear the pink, preppy look and other days I want to wear the hip, trendy look. I think many of our customers are the same. Our demographic is for all walks of life. We have gifts for every age and special occasion.
How do you combat online shopping?
We do ship items, and we’d like to do more online with our site, but we hope that people realize the positive impact a small business has on it’s community. From hiring local people to donating to local causes, small businesses give back. I don’t think a whole lot of those online places are donating to our local charities. Additionally, when you order a personalized item online, you never know what you are going to get. I’ve had so many people come in disappointed with the quality of the items they’ve received online. A lot of people think that monogramming is a simple machine where you just push a button. There are so many variations that come in to play with fabric, color and fonts that may not work well for what someone wants. We take the time to guide our customers through the design process because we want our customers to be happy with our finished product.
What advice would you give anyone wanting to own a boutique?
I think you have to trust your gut. When you start second guessing yourself you’ll start making more mistakes.