By Linda Scherer
Lillians stores, offering the newest and hottest accessories for women, are springing up all over the country and two of its newest owners are sisters Katie Quast of Winsted and Dana Meyer of Otsego.
The Lillians shopping experience is so unique, it has been featured on Channel 5, “On the Road” with Jason Davis, and just Friday it was on “Twin Cities Live.”
This shopping phenomenon started with one store in Buffalo three years ago, which was the creation of two women from Buffalo, who are also sisters.
Today, it is a franchise with a total of 24 stores, and the numbers are growing. In September, another store will open in Woodstock, Ga.
“We fell in love with Lillians three years ago when they opened it,” Quast said. “We were avid shoppers every month going there and buying things.”
At the beginning of 2007, the sisters were approached by the owners of Lillians telling them the business would be a perfect fit for them and encouraged Quast and Meyer to start a Lillians business of their own.
In April, one year later, after many discussions between themselves, talks with their husbands, Jon Quast and Travis Meyer, and looking at more than 20 different stores in many different towns, the sisters purchased a store in Nisswa. Their open house was July 3 of this year.
What does a Lillians store have to offer that makes it such a popular place to shop?
To begin with, the location of all Lillians’ stores makes it different. The chain of stores is presented in a Main Street setting, away from shopping malls.
When the customer walks in the door of a Lillians store, the mood is set immediately with music provided by Dean Martin singing his many familiar tunes, the smell of fresh Caribou coffee, and walls and walls of accessories.
There are totes, trendy jewelry, watches, sunglasses, hair-gear, and every color and style of affordable handbag imaginable.
“They buy them at vendors that sell designer inspired handbags so that customers will find something in our store that looks very similar to handbags by some favorite designers,” Katie said.
Most of Lillians stores are only open four days a month, the first Thursday through Sunday of each month. But it is the choice of the owner if they wish to be open more.
Dana and Katie have decided to open their Lillians on the third Thursday through Sunday of each month, as well.
“Our store is the only one open twice a month,” Dana said. “Through September, and then we will go down to just that first weekend during the winter months. That will start in October.”
Having the store open only two weekends a month allows both Katie and Dana to work at their full-time jobs. Katie works at Lester Buildings in Lester Prairie as an edit/audit assistant, and Dana works in human resources for Archway Marketing Services in the Rockford area.
Although the store has been open only a short time, and just two weekends a month, Katie and Dana have found it to be a very successful venture for the two of them.
“The first shipment we got was 879 purses, handbags,” Travis said. “We probably sold a third, and this last shipment we sold 460.”
“Every month it is all new product and we take all of the old product down and put everything new up so that the whole store looks totally different each time it is opened,” Dana said.
With the store open only a few days a month, Lillians owners are able to give their customers the royal treatment, another feature the shop is known for.
A friendly greeting to each person entering the store, bells ringing when a man enters, and coffee and sweets are provided while browsing the merchandise.
Although the two sisters are the owners of Lillians, Dana and Katie are very aware of how lucky they are to have their husbands’ help on this venture.
They have not only supported and encouraged them, but supplied many man-hours of labor getting the store ready.
The couples worked late into the night getting everything together for their grand opening, once they found their perfect location in Nisswa.
One of the reasons Nisswa was chosen is because it is close to where the girls’ parents, Chris and Jan Renko, live, as well as Jon’s sister, Kirstina.
Lots of fond memories from the girls’ childhood are associated with the location, too.
“As kids, our grandparents would take us up to their cabin on Pelican Lake and take us into Nisswa all of the time to the candy shop and to see the totem pole,” Katie said.
After the store was purchased, the work began. The building interior was just concrete and Sheetrock. A lot of work needed to be completed in a short amount of time.
“We were up there every weekend from the beginning of June until we opened July 3,” Dana said.
“And the late hours. We wouldn’t leave until three in the morning to head back to our parents’ place,” Katie said. “Or to Kirstina’s place.”
Everyone nodded and agreed that they remembered the long nights of labor well.
“One morning it was 5:30 a.m. when we went back to their parents,” Travis said. “We probably got to bed by 6:30 in the morning and slept until 9 a.m. Then we started all over again,” Travis said.
Now that the shop is up and running, the sisters are already thinking of new ways to make it even better. They are finding that owning and operating their own business is very exciting.
“It is a risk that a lot of people don’t get to take and we are lucky enough to be able to do it,” Dana said.
“It is fun doing what we are passionate about,” Katie said.