The most common question Diane Stanbury gets when people shop in her store, Blue Moon Apparel, is, “How do you keep your prices so low?”
After more than 35 years in the retail business, Stanbury says looking for good deals is simply in her nature.
Many years ago, after working in Silicon Valley’s high-tech world, Stanbury and her husband bought a chain of seven outdoor recreation stores. After several successful years, they decided to sell their businesses and move their three daughters to Lake Tahoe. It was there that Stanbury decided to use her vast contacts in the retail world and oversee buying for a chain of discount stores called Great Outdoor Clothing Company.
“I did all the buying for 17 stores,” she said. “I’d travel to China and other places in search of good deals. Sometimes if I found fabric I liked, I’d have jackets and other things made from it. I always see value in the leftovers.”
Once the last daughter left for college, Stanbury and her husband moved to Nevada County to be closer to Stanbury’s mother and in-laws. While her husband went on to work for Macy’s, Stanbury was ready for something new.
“I was in Albertson’s one day and noticed an empty storefront next door,” she said. “That was how it all started.”
In the summer of 2007, Stanbury opened the doors of Blue Moon Apparel in Grass Valley’s Fowler Center on Nevada City Highway.
Her mother and her youngest daughter, now 25, were on hand to help with the initial inventory selection.
“I went in with a real budget mentality,” Stanbury said. “I bought used clothing racks and used fixtures — I was a Craigslist stalker.”
Deeming her store a “discount boutique,” Stanbury continues to use her vast contacts in the clothing industry to spot the best discounts. She often gets hundreds of emails a day alerting her to discounted clothing opportunities.
“I buy products through online connections and manufacturers. I also go to trade shows that are specific to discount,” she said. “Manufacturers often have overruns. It’s like a batch of cookies — the manufacturer may make three dozen of one item, and Macy’s will only order two. What are they going to do with the rest?”
That’s where Blue Moon Apparel comes in.
With a keen eye for good quality and an extensive knowledge of brands, Stanbury is able to sell discounted clothing with higher-end labels, such as Talbots, J. Jill, Gap, H&M, Forever 21, Coldwater Creek and others.
“Keeping items at $25 or less is my goal,” she said. “Everybody’s looking for something different — we have to appeal to different tastes from the river rats to bank tellers to grandmothers. So far this spring, we’ve sold literally thousands of dresses from casual summer to wedding parties.”
There are a select few of products that are not discounted, such as the “Life is Good” line, which sells well and is made well, said Stanbury.
Roughly a year and a half ago, Stanbury added a new dimension to her business, “Moon Shadow,” which is a line of “previously loved treasures.”
“I pick out tasteful, like-new items with known brands from estate sales, auctions and private parties — mostly from the Bay Area,” she said. “I am always looking for interesting pieces — some are furniture and household items — whatever catches my eye. It’s fun and has been very successful.”
With contacts in the Bay Area real estate world, Stanbury is often able to get never-used items, such as dishes, used for staging in homes for sale. She’s also gone on “hunting” trips to places such as Palm Springs, Portland and San Diego.
Clearly, she’s figured out what works in today’s unpredictable world of retail.
“This is the best year we’ve had,” she said, “thanks to our dedicated customers.”
Also, thanks to three part-time employees, Stanbury is able to find time for another passion: volunteering with The Friendship Club, an organization that provides mentorship to teenaged girls.
“What I love best about my job is my boss — Diane,” said Jessica Aaby, who has worked at Blue Moon for the past two years. “I listen and watch her — she just knows so much about the business. She understands that customers want to shop where things are affordable and there aren’t 100 things of the same kind.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at email@example.com or call 530-477-4203.