College dream becomes downtown success

The Lizzy Lou Boutique in Danville’s River District started with a plan Sarah Rodden wrote while studying at Virginia Tech. “I was taking a small-business class my last semester, and we had to write a business plan for opening a small store front,” she says.

Sarah graduated with a degree in communications and apparel product development. Facing a difficult job market, she remembered her plan.

She started with an online boutique that she operated from home on nights and weekends. “I did a few trunk shows and my customer base grew,” she adds. Sarah wanted to bring the latest style in women’s apparel and accessories to Danville at an affordable price.

In 2015, Sarah opened a storefront on Main Street in Danville. “The building was an empty shell. I put up the racks and lighting and planned the layout,” she said. “I still sell online, but most of my business is in-store. I’ve found that customers prefer to touch and feel — and try things on.”

“My business grows every year,” she said. “The tremendous growth of River District Association over the last two years has helped. It’s great when we all work together. For example, if all the stores decide to stay open at night, downtown becomes more of a shopping destination. We emphasize the ‘shop local’ aspect.”

It was through the River District Association that Sarah connected with Lin Hite from the Longwood SBDC and Marc Willson, Virginia SBDC’s Retail and Restaurant Consultant. The Association had contacted the SBDC to work with downtown merchants in Danville. “We each got an hour to spend with Lin and Marc and bounce ideas off them,” Sarah added.

Lin and Marc have gone back to meet with Sarah, discussing marketing strategies and even social media marketing. “It has all been so helpful,” says Sarah.

“The people I meet in my store make this job fun. I have amazing employees and customers,” Sarah says. “I’m glad I took a chance and opened my business in Danville. I feel blessed to have this opportunity.” She believes advice is also important. “Have a plan and have it evaluated by a professional,” Sarah concludes. “The SBDC is definitely a good resource.”

Lizzy