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Summer 2005 B. Hip, B. Spirited

Walk into a B. Fashion store in Florida and you enter a different world—an enchanted world. The variety of items for sale is dazzling, a vast array of unique designs and colors, and a great selection of up-to-the-moment jewelry, accessories and shoes to ensure that women of any age will find something they’ll love wearing. And that’s not all: there’s an equally appealing home-décor line.

It’s easy to lose track of time browsing among the many wonderful things that is B. Fashion. But the store offers much more than marvelous merchandise, thanks to Pipina and Mauricio Chediak.

Through the couple’s genuine passion for this, their family retail business, they’ve managed to create an ambience that makes the shopping experience unique, an ambience born of the Chediaks’ heart and the spirit. You hear it in the New Age music playing in the background, adding a layer of calm that makes browsing a relaxing experience, almost a mini-vacation from the hullaballoo of the mall. New customers are thrilled to discover B. Fashion, and regulars come back for more, bringing their friends and families. “One day, three women from Panama came into our store in Sunset Mall. They said they heard about us in their country!” says Pipina.

In the B.ginning

Pipina Chediak grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, where she earned a degree in fashion design, and later ran a designer-clothing store in Caracas with high-end labels like Moschino, Byron Lars, Gemma Khan and several Japanese designers. “We had clothes on the first floor, and handbags, shoes and Italian accessories on the second,” she says. That’s where she met Mauricio one summer. “I went to Venezuela in 1988 on vacation, met this lovely lady here, fell in love, and ended up staying,” he laughs. A Colombia native who grew up in Florida and earned a degree in finance and economics from the University of Miami, Mauricio had opened a store in Caracas, selling jeans, sweaters and sunglasses. Both stores were doing very well, but when the Venezuelan economy started to weaken in 1996, the Chediaks decided to move to the US with their three daughters. “We were hoping for a better and safer future for our daughters in a more stable economy,” he says. They settled in Weston, Florida, north of Miami.

With their combined experience in retail, fashion and finance, they decided to continue in retail, and opened two carts in two malls to sell Anne Geddes products. But sales were dramatically low. “It was big damage to our egos because we’ve always been very successful in retail,” he says. “We had all these beautiful products with Anne Geddes babies [photos]—mugs, calendars and stationery—but people just weren’t buying.”

And so they decided to switch to a product category they knew well: jewelry. In 1997 they made a risky decision to sell a single product—coil bracelets (thin bracelets, not necessarily matching, worn together), a very popular item at the time. The gamble paid off. “We finally found the right product and started selling like crazy,” he says. “We went from $20 to $30 in daily sales to $500, even $900 on weekends.” The Chediaks knew the coil bracelet was a fad with a short life span. “One day, everybody wants them and the next day you can’t even give them away,” he says with a laugh. After several months, they added other popular items: beaded “illusion” necklaces, power beads, rings, temporary tattoo bracelets and other pieces of fashion jewelry.

To make sure they stayed on top of the trends and carried the latest fashions, they started traveling to trade shows both here and overseas. Being at the shows would give them new ideas, a look at the latest merchandise, and the opportunity to make industry contacts.

One of those new ideas? A new and expanded concept, and a new venture. And so in 2003, the Chediaks opened the first B. Fashion in the Sawgrass Mills Mall in nearby Sunrise, a 1,600-s/f space they were ready to stock with great merchandise—and their sunny personalities.

Success in store

imageThe Chediaks brought in an experienced designer to ensure that the stores attract new customers not only with its merchandise selection but also with its unique atmosphere. Every B. Fashion store has a similar look, but store displays are custom-designed by an independent carpenter to fit and complement the shape and size of the individual stores. To add to the atmosphere, “we always have beautiful music playing in the background,” says Pipina. Many customers like it so much, she says, that they ask to buy the CD. “The Buddha Bar collection is one of the favorites.”

Today, the Chediaks have seven stores in Florida, and will open their eighth in July—this time inPennsylvania—at the Pittsburgh Mills Mall. For them, every store opening is a celebration, almost like the birth of a baby. “It’s a family business, a joint venture, and we’re giving our life to this store,” says Pipina. “I believe in giving as much spirit as possible to the business.”

And that sense of spirit is all in the family. The Chediaks’ oldest daughter, Andrea, age 17, helps out at the store, scans teen magazines for the latest fashions, pitches in with ideas, and helps her mother with merchandise selection. This year, Andrea accompanied her parents to her first trade show. The Chediaks also involve their three younger daughters, Victoria, age 12, Camilla, 9, and even Emiliana, 2, who are picking up on their parents’ immersion in and enthusiasm for the business. “We transmit the energy and spirit to them by showing them how much we enjoy what we do,” says Mauricio.

The Chediaks require the same enthusiasm from the sales staff they hire. If a person shows genuine interest in the merchandise and it’s evident that they really believe in the success of the business, they’ll get the job, even if they can only work on weekends or need flexible hours. “A very important part of a successful retail business is hiring the right people who like their job and are willing to do it right,” he says.

And they have to like the merchandise. “If a person doesn’t like what they sell, they project this negative attitude onto customers, and the customers simply won’t buy, even if they initially liked the earrings or bracelet,” he adds. Chediak would rather hire a college student who needs flexible hours but loves the merchandise (an “Omigod, this is gorgeous!” is a good sign) than an experienced salesperson who shows no interest and doesn’t care if she’s selling necklaces or tires.

“We want people who are enthusiastic, who can help customers choose the right gift or a piece of jewelry for themselves,” he says. Good salespeople sell as if they’re buying, he adds, helping customers make the right choice without being pushy. B. Fashion sales staffers know the merchandise well and can give advice on “perfect” gifts for Meagan or Mom or Aunt Jen. “Selling is an art,” says Mauricio.

Making choices

imageSo many products, so little time. That has to be what ustomers think when they browse B. Fashion. The Chediaks constantly add new merchandise to the store, not just fad fashion anymore but items that can have lasting fashion power. Pipina is in charge of selecting and ordering, sometimes with Andrea’s help and a “little bit” of input from Mauricio. But with so many vendors and manufacturers in the US and overseas who offer literally millions of choices, how does she know what will sell?

“It’s almost like a sixth sense,” she says. “I usually choose things I would buy or wear [myself], but it has to do with years of fashion experience.” She reads fashion magazines like Allure, Marie Claire and Vogue for the latest fashion news and ideas. But when it comes to ordering, it’s primarily a matter of personal preference and years of paying attention to what customers like. The Chediaks sometimes get ideas directly from customers who ask for specific items like embroidered pashmina shawls from India, or trendy items—tunics, shoes, skirts and belts—inspired by various cultures. And sometimes technology dictates fashion trends. “We even have jewelry for cell phones,” she says. “They’re little crystals that people can hang from their antennas.”

And sometimes ideas happen by accident. One such “accidental” idea, and a major one at that: deciding to carry home-décor merchandise. A customer had asked to buy a lamp that was part of the store display, and that did it. Light dawned, and the Chediaks added home-décor merchandise to the mix.

But the rare happy accident and Pipina’s long-standing “sixth sense” for fashion merchandise is only one side of the Chediaks’ success. The other side is their boundless enthusiasm for their business, a true passion and relentless commitment to what they do. “If you put 100 percent of your mind into the business, it will give you back 100 percent—but you have to really enjoy what you’re doing,” says Mauricio. “In our case, it was very simple: I love my wife, we love what we do, we run the business together. This is our formula for success.” And that’s the heart and spirit of B. Fashion.

Kasia Dawidowska

Dawidowska writes frequently for both trade and consumer magazines. She can be reached at .

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