SHEBOYGAN — "There's few things better than when someone comes in and says, 'Dress me,'" Tami Conard laughed.
After working in retail for more than a decade, Conard turned one of her favorite activities — shopping and putting together outfits — into her full-time job.
"I grew up shopping all the time with my sisters," Conard, of Kohler, recalled. "Then I went on to have three girls of my own so it's always been a thing in my life. I've always loved clothes."
About the products and style of the boutique
In terms of what kind of store to open, Conard also had a very clear vision there as well.
"I felt it had to be a destination place. I drove around and really wasn't finding anything, then I saw these being built and knew that is exactly what I wanted to go for," she said of the riverfront buildings that now house TLC Casuals and other small shops. "When I go anywhere out of town, the place I want to go is to the water. If people come find the water, they're going to come find us — it goes hand in hand."
Conard opened TLC Casuals in 1996 to fill a void of unique women's clothing and accessories in Sheboygan, she said. A few years later, she opened a location in Port Washington that eventually closed and relocated to Cedarburg, where it has been for the past 18 years.
"My whole goal is to have unique items, so I try to get a lot of brands that are just for boutiques and not stuff you'll find all over," Conard said. "That just makes it more special."
Some of those brands featured include Parsley & Sage, Tribal Fashion, French Dressing Clothing and Habitat.
"My daughter, Kendra, and I will spend 10-hour days shopping these places to find just the right thing that we think our customers will love," Conard said. "We have a very loyal group of customers where we know them by name and we shop for them, but we also get so many people who, for example, their mom lives in town and they visit twice a year. So they'll come by and check in, to make sure they get their shopping fix in."
In addition to keeping the TLC Casuals brand central around unique boutique-only options, Conard wanted to capture a specific cultural feel.
"We carry a lot of resort wear, but year-round looks and things you can wear," she explained. "We've had so many people come through saying 'I just came back from Hilton Head, South Carolina, and bought that exact piece, and here you have it here!' We have a lot of that vacation stuff with Sheboygan and Wisconsin sweatshirts and t-shirts, but we also have everyday casual clothes and dabble in dressier things."
How to make shopping an experience
Conard's love for shopping is clear, and she wants to help spread that joy and excitement with her customers.
Prior to COVID-19, TLC Casuals dabbled in Facebook Live shopping spree events, but Conard said those have amped up and become extremely popular in the last few months.
"We have a live sale every other week or so, and people like to see what the hottest things are, they get to see them on real people and then buy it first," she explained. "People can sit back with a glass of wine after work while we show like 40 different looks. Everything is numbered, and people can comment 'hold' and we will have it waiting for them in the store or 'sold' and we will ship it out."
TLC Casuals also offers after-hour shopping sprees for groups of more than five. Those interested can just call the store to set up a time.
"A group of your friends can book a slot when the store is usually closed, and we will have snacks and everything—we can cater to each group," she said. "We've had everything from people booking on Sunday mornings, work parties booked after the work day to have some fun to groups from outside of town looking top stop by and shop for two hours and grab a bite."
Trending items to look out for
As any small business owner, Conard has tried to make the best out of a bad situation with COVID-19. In the last few months, she said masks have been some of their most sought-after merchandise. Along those lines, embroidered baseball hats are also flying off the selves to cover that "quarantine hair".
"We have some really cute ones," Conard said of the hats. "We have some that say 'Here for the boos' for Halloween, some wine themes and mom themes.
"Also, everyone is clearly getting ready for fall because we've been selling a lot of sweaters already, they're flying out the door," she said.