boliwalou logoConsignment shop owner Cris Thompson would probably say customer relationships are like the little black dress of retail. They’ll never go out of style. She knows this first-hand since opening Boliwalou two years ago at Kimco’s Kings Contrivance Village Center in Columbia, Md. Cris’ customers have been the #1 motivation fueling her entrepreneurial drive, and she owes her success to the close relationships she’s forged with them.

“I learn as many names as I can. I know people's stories. People know my story. And it's a relationship,” Cris said.

We talked to Cris about her small business, learning why she opened Boliwalou, how she stocks the store, and where her customer relationships have taken her today. You can listen to our interview here or read the transcript.

  • 0:51 Meaning behind Boliwalou
  • 2:58 Why Cris put a store behind the boliwalou concept
  • 4:27 How Cris chose the location for Boliwalou
  • 5:55 About Boliwalou’s merchandise
  • 8:16 How Cris evaluates items to sell on consignment
  • 10:21 How Cris’ customers have driven her entrepreneurial spirit

After talking with Cris, we picked up several important lessons about customer relationships that we thought other small shop owners can use, too.

1. Exude your passion to customers. Cris believes women shouldn’t let social pressures and fashion trends paint them into a box. Instead, women should use fashion and style to express their inner beauty -- their strength, values, and beliefs. Cris connects with her customers through this story as she helps them find the perfect additions to their wardrobe. Her shop name also embodies this concept, as the term “boliwalou” means to dress or adorn yourself as a mode of self-expression.

2. Delight customers, rather than simply following trends. Cris strikes a balance between offering on-trend items as well as unique finds to help her customers show their personality and express their individual style. She says it’s like “Christmas morning” when customers bring their clothes in to consign, and she carefully evaluates every piece considering what will excite her shoppers.

3. Create a business with a conscience. The idea of having a conscience extends throughout Cris’ business. Her consignment model lets customers enjoy distinctive fashions while saving money. She offers Fair Trade jewelry to benefit artisans from third-world countries. And she is devoted to superb customer service, offering to repair or refund any item and always apologizing for any mistakes.

4. Put your faith behind it. Cris was going through a challenging time in her personal life before opening Boliwalou. She needed a change, and took a leap of faith to put a store behind the concept of boliwalou. Cris’ growing relationships with her customer have continued to affirm that her shop is where she belongs. “It takes a village to raise a boutique,” Cris said.

Beyond customer relationships, Cris told us another crucial component to her success has been her location, which she said is “fabulous.” The tenant mix at Kings Contrivance Village Center includes CVS, McDonald’s, Subway, Bank of America, and other necessity retailers. Several medical offices are also in the center, helping drive ongoing foot traffic. Boliwalou is in the heart of an affluent area, too, with household income averaging over $133,000 within three miles of the center.

Together, these factors have enabled Cris to become a savvy small shop owner and drive growth for her business. “As long as I maintain that relationship with the people I serve, I think that from an entrepreneurial perspective, the business will grow,” she said.

We wish you best of luck, Cris!

We’ll leave you with some parting shots from the world of Boliwalou.


This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.