Co-owner, M. Flynn Accessories
Local production, product customization, and online conversation are buoying the success of an MIT Sloan alumna’s Boston jewelry boutique, even as retail stores nationwide see slowed growth and shrinking profit margins.
Moria Flynn, MBA ’07, and her sister Megan, a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, run M. Flynn Accessories in Boston’s South End.
The Flynn sisters opened the store in May 2009, after they had operated a wholesale jewelry business since 2004 designing pieces mimicking the costume jewelry owned by their grandmother.
The store took off, focusing on local production (much of the jewelry at M. Flynn is produced in-house or in Providence, R.I., and all of it is made in the country) and attention to minor customizations not always available from online retailers.
“We’re different because we make our product,” Moria Flynn, who was co-president of the MIT Sloan Retail and Consumer Goods Club, said. “The wholesalers that we sell to rarely discount our jewelry. We tell people when they come in that we can make things longer, shorter, different colors. I think people like that.”
In May of 2010 the shop was expanded to include a high-end special occasion jewelry boutique. The sisters offer help selecting expansive packages of pieces for every event of a wedding weekend.
It’s those touches, combined with creative attempts to engage customers, that Flynn hopes will keep customers coming back and spreading word-of-mouth. On the store’s blog, the sisters raffled a $250 shopping spree in exchange for photos and stories about customers’ favorite vintage pieces. Online conversations with customers kept the Flynn sisters in step with current tastes.
“It gives us a personality and it gives people a little bit more of a window,” Flynn said. “We also kind of wanted to see what they want.”
Flynn said MIT Sloan and an internship at Coach, the high-end handbag company, gave her a look at the challenges and future of the retail industry, as well as access to some of the industry’s top executives.
“It’s still one of those old school, work your way up industries,” Flynn said. But in recent years, high-margin merchandise has been threatened by overexposure by online retailers and deal sites. Flynn pointed to Gilt and Rue La La, members-only group buying sites offering discounted designer fashions, as examples of new business models that threaten the traditional stream of industry profits.
“It’s websites like that that are offering more options for customers,” she said. “They’re smart. They shop for a price.”
At M. Flynn, the sisters hope a focus on local production and service, as well as ongoing online conversations with their customers, will help them continue to grow and buck the trend of shrinking profit margins that threaten so many artistic enterprises not led by an MIT Sloan MBA and a Northwestern marketing degree.
“In this business, I think that really hurts a lot of people,” Flynn said. “They’re not running a business. They’re more creative. They’ve got beautiful stuff. But they can’t make money off it.”