Shopping has been on most of our minds as of late, while we rush to pin down holiday presents. And when I personally think shopping in Boston, a shortlist of stores auto-populates in my mind. Which is near the top? Covet – a consignment store in Southie that sells high-end clothing at a decent price – and whose owner, Hanadi Hamzeh, is someone everyone in the city should make an effort to know.
Hamzeh, a Northeastern alumna, has a background that you’d never expect from a person who started a fashion boutique. But with Covet thriving a couple of years after it opened its door, she’s clearly in her element now.
Given the success Hamzeh’s had with her store (with more to soon come, so stay tuned), I figured I’d catch up with her. I dug into how her journey has been going with several questions, and here’s what she had to say.
Olivia Vanni: Covet has been up and running for two years now. What’s changed since you started?
Hanadi Hamzeh: In general, things have gone better than I expected they would. Not that you open a business thinking it will go bad; you usually open a business because you think it will be good. But everything has surpassed my expectations.
If I showed you the before and after pictures of the store, you’d be amazed. When we started, we had around 20 consigners and a few shelves worth of stuff. Now, we have over a thousand consigners. In two years, that’s madness.
We have so many regulars…60 to 70% of women who walk into the store – I’d say closer to 70% – I recognize their faces, I have a rapport with them or I know what’s going on with their love lives, their professional lives. We’ve truly become a neighborhood shop. We’re a part of Southie now.
OV: No venture is a complete cakewalk. What have your biggest challenges been?
HH: Going from an 8 to 4 schedule to working 7 days a week hasn’t been horrible because it’s such a pleasant place to be. There is a lack of flexibility that comes with it, though. If you’re sick, you can’t just call out. There’s no such thing as a day off. You can’t take a personal day. I remember I had a wedding overseas last year. I had to go, I couldn’t miss it and getting that time covered was so difficult.
I never realized it before, but staffing can be an always be a problem. I have a few incredible girls now, but it took a while for me to get there. I just didn’t expect it to be so hard hiring people. Your store is your baby and you only want to bring on someone you can trust wholeheartedly. And someone who represents the business well. Customer service is huge for me, more than most retail businesses. Our customers are the best part of what we do, so I want to make sure we’re creating a warm, welcoming and helpful environment for them.
OV: You were working in an MGH lab before you opened Covet. What was the aha moment there?
HH: I always assumed I was going to be a doctor. I was working in a lab and I was planning on going to med school. That was my goal in life until shortly before I quit my job. And right when I decided I didn’t want to be a doctor, I had to think, “What do I do now?”
Basically, when the rubber hit the road – right when I actually had to apply to med school – I had finished my classes, had earned my lab certification – I was like, “Ehhhhh.” Being a doctor was an attractive option because I love helping people, and it’s a well-respected job. But I hate school. The thought of me having to put in all of that work wasn’t worth it for me.
Even when I was planning on becoming a doctor, I knew I wanted to specialize in something that would let me have my own practice. My mother had her own business, and for me, I always knew that at some point I wanted to be in charge of something that was mine, too. Did I think I would own a clothing store? Absolutely not. It just ended up working out that way. What I know best are clothes, shopping in fashion, so it made sense to do it.
OV: What has the entrepreneurial grind been like for you?
HH: I’m not going to lie to you: It’s basically just been me and my dog Olive. I opened the store on a shoestring budget. I took out a micro-loan, but it’s been 99% on me and my dog.
I feel really lucky. When you open a business, it’s all about blood, sweat and tears. But I firmly believe that there’s always an element of luck. So many businesses don’t make it, and I’m grateful that I’ve been so fortunate.
OV: If you had to give some words of wisdom to aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
HH: My advice would be to do your due diligence, do your research and then go for it. The ones who don’t do enough research and just say, ‘I have an idea, I’m going to open it up and people are just going to come,’ are going to run into trouble. I opened Covet when I was 26 – I didn’t have a family or any other responsibilities, so it was now or never. If you’re young and it does fail, then at least you learn a valuable lesson.
Images via Hanadi Hamzeh.