Loosely translated from the French, Camille et Famille means ‘Camille and family’. And from the beginning, the boutique was a family affair. RoseMary Gange opened her apparel and accessories boutique in Oak Park in 1990. Gange included everyone from her sons to her late mother-in-law had a hand in the shop’s operation. The kinship extends to her employees.
She also had an employee, Gloria Flagg, who has now opened her own shop. Flagg worked part-time at Camille et Famille from about 1995 to 2000, but says the experience was enough to give her the skills and confidence to open a business of her own–Twice Again Resale Shop in Maywood.
Gange knows many of her customers by name. She insists that the secret to her staying power hasn’t been accounting or budgeting or conducting inventory or pricing, although she’s mastered all of these areas.
“I can teach anybody how to price clothes and how to know the products, but you have to bring nice. You gotta bring nice. If you don’t like people, you shouldn’t be in retail,” she said.
That nice is what made one recent afternoon reunion in Maywood so rich and sweet with nostalgia. Gange hadn’t seen Flagg in about four years, but Gloria peppered her former boss with questions about past customers and co-workers and their spouses and children. Despite the time apart, the two women hadn’t missed a beat.
Flagg said that she uses many of Gange’s sales techniques in her own store. During Flagg’s employment with Gange, the door at the boutique was always open. Now, with a store of her own, she finds that she rarely if ever closes the door. If the door’s open, Gange said, people can just wander in; if it’s closed, it becomes just another small impediment that keeps them out.
“Do you still send the cards out?” Flagg asked Gange, referring to the notes of appreciation that Gange would mail out to her clientele twice a year. Gange said that she’s now advanced to email. She also calls to remind customers about store credit and coupons they may have acquired.
“Customer service is a huge, huge deal,” said Flagg, who took business and marketing courses at a community college to prepare her for entrepreneurship. “I learned that in my marketing class, but I learned it firsthand with RoseMary,” she said.
In order to pay the rent for the Fifth Avenue storefront space that houses her Maywood resale shop, Flagg bartends at weddings and parties and serves as a cocktail waitress at steppers’ sets. She relies on volunteers to help her run the store and tend to customers, paying them what she can when she can.
Before she owned a store, Flagg spent more than twelve years selling military hats and baseball caps to the veterans that flowed in and out of Hines VA Hospital in Maywood. She also owned a retail store at another location in Maywood for nearly four years before opening her current resale shop. She said that she transitioned into resale, because the inventory is virtually free. Families from Maywood and other communities give her their used things. It’s a pitch-perfect example of the ‘sharing’ economy at its most efficient, with Flagg monetizing a void that may have been taken for granted when the economic times weren’t as rough.
“I get Nikes, Jordans, Pumas, Adidas, nice heels. It’s all name brand stuff. People in our community don’t wear their clothes out, so when they get tired of their stuff, they dump it here. They say that they’d rather give it to me than take it to the Goodwill. They’ve got thousands of stores,” Flagg said.
RoseMary Gange is a teacher as well as a doer and she spends a lot of her time instructing artists, budding entrepreneurs and other inventive anchors of the $2 billion underground economy in aboveground business fundamentals–such as record-keeping, conducting inventory and budgeting.
Gange’s grasp of those business fundamentals has enabled her to adapt to a post-recessionary trough that has doomed many other businesses. Even before the economy collapsed, she began downsizing, closing both her Oak Brook and Park Ridge stores in 2000. The move may have braced her for the crash to come. In 2007, after the poor economy and a stark increase in rent made her Oak Park location untenable, she relocated to a much smaller space at 7418 Madison St. in Forest Park, where she comfortably does business today.
With Flagg’s drive and people skills, emulating the wiliness and agility of her retail mentor, the Camille family tree has sprouted another branch in Maywood.