When Sandy McCloud and Janna Moats, a mother and daughter duo, started Willows in the fall of 1997, they had a vision for providing unique merchandise in a one-of-a-kind shopping atmosphere in Clark County.
The women are Vancouver natives and didn’t want their business to be anywhere else; they wanted to build a business within the community they cherished and create a loyal following and positive reputation for selling quality merchandise that women loved. The store originally started as a bed and bath store, where they sold luxury linens, soaps, candles, bath towels and gift items.
“An opportunity to buy a gift store came up but the deal fell through,” Moats said. “We thought, ‘why not open our own store?’ I don’t really know why we picked bed linens. I loved clothing, so did my mom. After a few years, we decided clothing would be more fun. It’s definitely easier to sell something you love.”
The company’s revenue grew slowly for many years and on average, Willows employed about three to four employees until they moved the business to its current Grand Central Station location almost five years ago. Now, they have 13 employees, usually more during the holiday season, and revenue growth remains strong.
Since day one, Moats and McCloud have focused on developing meaningful relationships with customers by connecting with them on a personal level and listening to what they want. Willows specializes in selling women’s clothing, but they also sell jewelry, accessories, shoes, gifts and have some men’s items as well.
“We sell cozy, comfy and fun clothes,” Moats said. “Nothing too fancy. Clothing that can be worn to pick up kids, go to the grocery store or on a date. We listen to our customers about the clothes they love. I buy frequently so I can bring in more of what’s selling. There are some items I sell hundreds of because our customers keep asking for it.”
Moats said that Willows has used the same store designer and merchandiser for 21 years in an effort to keep the store visually appealing. Displays change every three months and, seasonally, there will be new items in the window for promotion.
“It takes a lot of work to run this store successfully,” Moats said. “I want our store to stand out visually. I like having the ‘wow’ factor.”
Moats said she believes that there are three things that make Willows successful – great customer service, great merchandise and a fun, unique shopping atmosphere. She believes that these things are what will continue to drive growth.
“We love how Vancouver is growing,” she said. “We are proud of our community. More and more people are moving to Vancouver and with traffic horrible going into Portland, I want our customers staying on this side of the bridge.”
Moats said that Willows continues to look at how they will expand and, in the next year, the company hopes to start selling their products online. They may also consider opening another location.
“I dream of at least one more store,” she said. “You just never know. I dream big.”
Willows is located at 104 Grand Blvd., in Vancouver.