Boutique-sized retailers face a host of challenges when they open their stores, from devising budgets to getting the word out. But Linda Scharlin and her business partner and longtime friend, Sylvia Yellin, took on additional emotional challenges when they opened Eve’s Place in North Hollywood’s Valley Village neighborhood. Scharlin describes her store as a “post-surgical boutique” for women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer; it offers prosthetics, surgical and non-surgical brassieres, wigs and headgear for chemotherapy patients as well as resources for women battling breast cancer. She was interviewed by Joyzelle Davis.
Opening a business ends up costing twice as much as you budgeted that was probably our biggest challenge. You think that you’ve accounted for everything with your budget, but it ends up being much more than you planned once you’ve dealt with renovating the property.
Secondly, it’s a challenge to let people know you’re here without breaking yourself with an astronomical advertising budget. Advertising is expensive, but it’s important and we’ve made it a priority. We’re doing without cabinets and molding right now so that we can afford it.
So much of our business depends on word of mouth. I try to get out once a week to visit the clinics, oncologists and women’s support groups to tell them about us.
Many of the surgeons don’t think about what happens to a woman after her mastectomy. These women are lost unless they get hooked up with a good support group.
We consider our store to be a community service as well as a business. You can go to an orthopedics-prosthetics shop or a pharmacy, but a lot of those places are run by men and few are certified fitters. Many of these women are vulnerable and depressed when they come out of surgery. (Buying a prosthetic breast) is like buying a shoe for the first time. You don’t know what’s supposed to fit and what’s a good style for you. It’s not something you can buy out of a catalogue and expect to work for you.
It sometimes can take two hours to do a fitting; some of our customers sit in the dressing room and cry for an hour.
Some of these women give us hissy fits: this lace is too scratchy, this is too perky … But when it really comes down to it, these women are not happy with their situation and it’s being hidden by other complaints. No one wants to stamp their feet and demand, “I want my breasts back,” but that’s really want they want. And we can’t give them that.
Sylvia and I have been close friends for seven years, but working with someone who is such a good friend also presents a challenge. It’s like a marriage. You think you can change someone, but you can’t. So you’ve got to compartmentalize each others’ strengths and areas of expertise and you’ve got to learn to compromise.