Self-identified serial entrepreneur Heidi Johnson Bixby is not just the owner of The Difference, she’s also a customer. In fact, she’s been a customer of the unique women’s clothing shop focused on personal styling for 25 years.
The Vancouver business woman had been traveling nearly 20 miles to the Lake Oswego flagship store on a regular basis since she was a young downtown financial planner. The shop was recommended by a colleague.
“I was in a profession that respected age,” Johnson Bixby said, “and I wanted to be respected but I also wanted to be 23.”
For a one-time fee, The Difference assigns each customer-turned-client a personal stylist to consult on clothing, makeup, skin care and accessories – for life.
Describing herself at a “potential junkie” – seeing the best possible outcomes in everything – Johnson Bixby said she is not passionate about fashion, necessarily, but she found that she was passionate about the business itself.
“When (owner Cheryl LeDoux) was looking at selling, I knew I could take it and build the brand,” she said.
The executive owns financial planning firm Johnson Bixby, Integrated Tax Services and now The Difference, which on March 1 held the Vancouver grand opening of its second store in 2,300 square feet at 114 E. Evergreen Blvd., Ste. 110.
“The commonality between planning, taxes and fashion is that I’m listening and hearing, not projecting my opinion on you,” she said. “I’m using my technical expertise to help you make an informed decision.”
Customers can also simply be shoppers. The store is a classic women’s clothing boutique in many ways, offering a full line of new casual and formal clothes, shoes, jewelry and select skin care, with a mid-market price point and distinctive labels. Vancouver has a rather small collection of such boutiques with Willows, Mod Haus, Doppleganger, Not Too Shabby and Wild Fern in the downtown area. Resale shops and box stores make up the balance of women’s clothing offerings.
Shoppers can take advantage of alterations, bra fittings, events and Style Points, while clients are privy to a host of offerings, including personal style services throughout the year, after-hours shopping, new merchandise sneak peeks, private events and more. The store boasts a large event and consultation space in the back.
Johnson Bixby expects the shop to stay connected to the community through fashion shows, mimosa Saturdays, community gatherings and First Friday offerings.
“In most retail shops, customers are looked at as a transaction. We’re not looking at them as a transaction. We want to help them,” she said. “We’ve got a service attitude in a retail environment.”
Johnson Bixby began her career in financial planning in 1991 as an assistant to Deborah Johnson, the company’s founder. She achieved her Certified Financial Planning Certification in 1997. She later founded JBA affiliate Integrated Tax Services.
“I try not to put emphasis on being a woman in business. Seventeen of 18 employees at Johnson Bixby are women, but not by design. Qualities of team work and inclusion tend to attract women,” she said. “I stay true to my instincts. In this business, there are a lot of industry standards. And I have been strong enough not to follow them.”
Instead she takes a “more holistic approach,” employing the traditionally feminine qualities of intuition, caring, sharing and inclusivity, “the more human aspects.”
By standards of any gender, Johnson Bixby has made her mark in business as well as in the world at large, having traveled to 30 different countries over the last decades, and staying mainly off the beaten path.
“Travel has been my greatest gift to find early in life,” she said.
Whatever the next project or destination, Johnson Bixby appears to bear a confidence born of simple ingredients: desire, capacity, diligence and focus.
“My parents were self employed, I grew up with that work ethic,” she said. “I was raised with a belief that if I wanted something I just needed to work hard … I believe that’s possible for anybody.” She added, “It never crosses my mind I won’t be successful at something.”