At ladies’ clothing boutique Monkee’s of Blowing Rock, Jess and Kenneth Wehrmann want their customers to feel they’re at home.
As children growing up in Wilkesboro, both Jess and Kenneth Wehrmann would frequently come up to the Blue Ridge Mountains with their families to cool off, sightsee, hike, and shop. Many years later, when an opportunity arose to become part of the mountain community permanently, the now-married couple didn’t hesitate; they already knew and loved the area.
That opportunity? Jess had been attending Wake Forest University, studying sociology, and was working part-time at Monkee’s of the Village, in Winston-Salem. After graduation she became a full-time employee, and one day in 2012 she learned that the Blowing Rock Monkee’s franchise, a fixture in the town since 2001, was for sale.
Jess picks up the story: “I asked my husband, ‘How do you feel about owning a women’s shoe and dress shop?’ He said, ‘Let’s do it!’ Kenneth had grown to know Monkee’s through my tenure there and was confident in the Monkee’s approach to retail. And I loved the Monkee’s family, enjoyed working with and befriending customers, and was confident that Kenneth and I would be happy owning our own business. Kenneth and I saw an opportunity to expand on what Wendy Burgette, the original owner, had started and really build a business that had staying power.”
Her instincts were correct, as Monkee’s has continued to be a mainstay of the Blowing Rock retail community, active in the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge, not to mention supportive of the arts through the Ensemble Stage and Movies in the Park. “We are thankful for the support of Blowing Rock,” says Jess, “and proud to be able to give back to the community that embraced a young couple with a vision.”
She notes that in addition to having a vision, not long after taking over the business, they realized risk often accompanies vision. “Five months after Kenneth and I purchased Monkee’s, it was time for a revamp. We closed the store for 40 days to do a massive renovation that included combining two 1,000-sq.-ft. retail spaces, adding stock rooms, fitting rooms, and custom display shelves, and doing a full interior decorating overhaul. It was scary. Not just being closed for 40 days, but hearing the whispers and the concerns about ‘What are these new young owners doing?’ and us thinking, ‘Seriously, what are we doing?!?’
“Thankfully, our customers loved the new look, the designers we introduced, and the energy we brought to Blowing Rock.”
One aspect of Monkee’s the Wehrmanns did not change was its family-oriented approach to doing business—the reason Jess fell in love with it in the first place. Customers are greeted and treated like family, and the staffers themselves view one another as members of an extended family, lending Monkee’s a relaxed, intimate vibe.
“Monkee’s is all about the customer experience,” she says. “Our store is merchandised to be not only visually pleasing, but physically comfortable. For example, we have a ‘living room’ in the middle of our shoe department! When customers come in, we want them to feel like they’re family or out shopping with their best friends, even if they’re just out and about by themselves.”
Jess and Kenneth recently celebrated their seventh year of marriage as life partners and their fifth year as business partners. Going forward, they want to continue providing the best customer experience possible and contributing positively to the community.
“We also pride ourselves at staying ahead of the trends and having the best designer products in the market,” Jess notes. “We want our customers to be able to find the ‘big’ names right here in Blowing Rock instead of online or in a big box store. Every year we strive to find the newest ‘it’ designer or the hottest ‘it’ look, traveling to New York, Atlanta, and Las Vegas to trade shows 8-10 times a year to keep our store stocked with fresh merchandise for our customers.
“And once our customers are here, we also want to make sure those customers leave as our friends.”
Monkee’s of Blowing Rock (www.MonkeesofBlowingRock.com) is located at 1179 Main Street in Blowing Rock.
The full article continues below. (Written by Fred Mills) Click to open in fullscreen…