Saturday, November 13, 2010

Annabella Boutique Continues to Thrive by Focusing on Customer Service

For those planning to visit Annabella Boutique on Chicago’s Northwest Side, it’s best to have your calendar cleared for a bit. That’s because a visit there is more like visiting a relative than a store run by strangers. Once you walk in it isn’t surprising to be asked if you want coffee and to sit and chat for a bit. After all, according to owner Annabella Vitale, turning clients into friends is something they take pride in. Of course, clients come there looking for the finest in wedding, prom, social and evening wear and accessories and is the best alternative for women who can’t go to Milan or Rome, or don’t want to head downtown to Michigan Avenue or Oak Street.

Owned by Gaspare and Annabella Vitale, the shop is run by Annabella and her daughter Rosa Analitis. In addition, another of Annabella’s daughters – Cathy Vitale, also works in the store. Now in it’s 25th year, the store is the anchor of the strip mall at 3320 N. Harlem Avenue in Chicago. It is currently approximately 4,000 square feet and will grow larger in the spring because of plans to open an adjacent storefront offering men’s tuxedos.

Annabella’s daughter Rosa, who graduated with a degree in fashion design at Columbia College in 2001, virtually grew up in the store, which was first located at Thatcher and Belmont Avenues for its first ten years. According to Rosa, she has worked in the store since she was about eight years old. Of course, she wasn’t designing dresses or traveling to Europe looking for the latest fashions as she does now, but was assisting her mother and helping the customers nonetheless.

Annabella Vitale and her daughter Rosa Analitis

Over the span of twenty-five years Annabella Vitale has seen good economies and bad economies but said the key to success is customer service. That is what enabled the store to grow from 1,000 square feet at its original location to more than four times its original size currently. The spring plan to expand to another storefront will add close to another thousand square feet, although the men’s tuxedo shop may have a separate entrance, Rosa said.

“We have some clients who bought their communion dresses here, then homecoming and prom and even their wedding dresses,” Annabella said. “Our customers become our friends.”

...From the fashion houses of Europe to Harlem Avenue

Friends from near and far, as evidenced by several boxes of letters and pictures from women happy with their purchases. Because of the power of the Internet, Annabella’s Boutique is often the go-to vendor for many designers and manufacturers. So, when a woman sees a dress online by a certain designer, often they are directed to Annabella’s to purchase it.

“We have customers from every state and several other countries,” Rosa said. “They send in their measurements and we take care of them.”

The store is currently having a state-of-the-art website of its own designed. And while it is great to have clients generated by the Internet, Annabella said word-of-mouth always has been their best source of clients.

One thing is for sure, clients from out-of-town can’t quite get the at-home feel of being in the store. This reporter met with Rosa for a second time on a slow morning and declined coffee. A short time later Annabella arrived and asked if I had coffee. When I said that I hadn’t, she looked at me in a motherly way and said “why not?” I was planning on being there for maybe thirty minutes on that visit. Of course, it turned into almost two hours that felt like ten minutes. That’s the effect Annabella has on her clients and what keeps them coming back.

Annabella said the customers appreciate the attention her and Rosa give and the fact that they work as mother and daughter in addition to co-workers.

“Rosa will say make [the dress] shorter and I’ll say make it longer,” Annabella laughed. “I’m more like the mother of the brides. Rosa is more like the bride. We argue sometimes but we get along great.” Rosa concurred, rolling her eyes slightly and adding “you can tell we definitely are family.”

Looking at the thousands of letters from customers and the success of the store over the years, the feeling of family is one Annabella Boutique’s customers share as well.

Annabella Boutique, located at 3320 N. Harlem Avenue in Chicago, can be reached at (773) 889.5513 or email the store by clicking here.

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