Give us a little background on Cats Like Us.
Cats Like Us (CLU):
Well the Cats Like Us background starts with my background. I grew up loving rockabilly before I knew what it was. I was a little girl obsessed with big puffy skirts and saddle shoes as a result of being raised on Happy Days and Shanana. I couldn’t understand why everyday people didn’t wear the fabulous outfits found on these TV shows.
Everyday was Halloween and dressing in theme was my new passion. Some days I wanted to be Bettie Page, some days Marlene Dietrich, maybe a 60s go-go dancer, or June Cleaver, it just depended on the mood I was in. As a hobby, I would rummage through the thrift store to find the saddest looking vintage garment I could, and visualize what it was like in it’s heyday. I would lovingly take it home and recreate all of it’s splendor with a dye job and new buttons. Ta da fabulous new clothes!
My husband, Andrew, and I enjoy dressing in vintage and retro clothes to go out swing dancing, to car shows, to tiki bars and concerts and have long been fans of vintage and retro clothing. A few years ago we had the opportunity to attend the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender in Las Vegas -- basically the Lollapalooza of the rockabilly / pin-up / classic car culture world. We had such a great time that on the plane home we started talking about creating our own store to bring those fashions to Western New York. After doing some research and realizing there are no other similar stores in Western New York, we pursued the idea and made it a reality.
Lots of times people ask about the name, here’s the short of it… funny story, the name was one of the hardest parts of opening up our store. We had a running list of possibilities ranging from “Shindig” (which I still like) to “The Black Cat”, but none of them seemed right. We wanted something Kitschy and vintage-cool but nothing really came to us. Until one day we were listening to Cats Like Us by the Hillbilly Hellcats, one of our favorite bands, and the lyrics described what we want our store to be about. Then we thought what a great name for our store, and it was settled. The Hillbilly Hellcats know about Cats Like Us, the retro clothing store, and we met Chuck H. the singer, and he was really gracious about it. They haven’t been to our store yet, but hopefully someday they’ll stop by.
(CLU):Yes, it’s just the two of us. I do all the customer service, answering the phone, emails. Run the store on a daily basis, opening, closing, cashing out, deposits. Monthly accounting. Modeling for the online store. Packing and shipping web orders. Buying new merchandise, receiving merchandise, descriptions for merchandise, tagging, displays, folding or hanging and steaming merchandise. Creating purchase orders and receiving vouchers. Restocking merchandise. Making facebook, twitter and pinterest posts. Coming up with monthly in store events and marketing them. Working with local designers on exclusive products. Being the street team and going to related retro events.
Andrew maintains catslikeus.com and fixes any glitches that come along. He designs all the ads both print and banner. Is in charge of sponsorships and marketing. Can run the store, pack and ship orders, and also makes posts. He is always looking for new ways to be more efficient and save time and money while keeping up on technology and can do practically everything I do as well.
the same day. We answer the phone and return emails the same day. We're real people and like to help customers.
My business experience and Andrew’s marketing and web experience have allowed us to do almost everything needed to run Cats Like Us. All we need to do now is continue our winning formula and grow.
(SP):What's your favorite part of your business? And the worst?
(CLU):People and people. Hahaha!
Seriously, It’s wonderful being your own boss, but on the flip side YOU are the one that can make or break the business. To be successful you have to work hard. We both work almost 60 hours a week--that’s a personal challenge. That’s probably the “worst”, but it’s really not that bad. I like what I do, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it.
(SP):Do you sell any vintage clothing or do you focus on new retro inspired styles?
(CLU):Before I opened Cats Like Us I spent some time working in a vintage clothing store. Vintage clothing takes time to find. Plus, it's hard to find it in good condition and the sizing was much smaller then. So you repair and clean it, but it doesn't fit anyone. What are you to do? The solution: retro clothes. They are classic styles in modern fabrics that stretch and can be found in XS-XXXL.
We stick to selling retro clothes, partly because its a more manageable business model and because we love all the available styles and brands (like Sourpuss), especially ones that add a little humor or kitsch to the classic style. I do collect vintage--I love my spring-o-lator shoes and I’m still on the hunt for the perfect Alfred Shaheen petal bust tiki dress.
(SP):What's it like to live in Tonawanda?
(CLU):Tonawanda is a small city located about 15 minutes north of Buffalo, NY where there’s a tight knit group of rockabilly fans who are huge supporters of the retro and pinup scene. There are actually a lot of retro events in Western New York during the summertime. Sadly, the good weather only lasts four or five months and that’s when much of the events take place. So it’s easy to go from one to the other. They include swing dances, car shows, concerts, burlesque shows, movies, CD releases etc. Plenty to do around town!
We like to encourage people to explore Main Street when they visit our Cats Like Us storefront and to really make a day of it. There are a lot of cute antique stores and restaurants just down the street and a lot to see and do in our area.
Here’s a little blog Andrew wrote about Tonawanda with some pics of our neighborhood: Blog.
(SP):Do you have a lot of Canadians visiting your shop?
(CLU):Yes, after all it’s only 20 minutes away! The Peace Bridge goes right from downtown Buffalo to Ft. Erie Canada. Toronto is only a 2 hr drive and we end up there quite frequently. We have some regulars that come down from Canada for the weekends. And while there are a few retro stores in Toronto that sell some of the same items we do, our retail prices are a fraction of what they would pay in Canada because the Canadian dollar exchange rate is really favorable right now.
We also have an option on our website called “In Store Pickup”. If you are shopping on our website and are ready to check out, Canadian customers (and shoppers from New York State) can choose “In Store Pickup” which means they don’t pay any shipping--Cats Like Us will then hold the items until they can come in to our storefront. It’s a nice little perk for being so close by.
(SP):How would you describe your customers?
(CLU):I have worked in retail a long time and have never had better customers. Our customers that shop with us are pretty down to earth and stylish. They range in age from about 25-45 and are roller derby girls, tattoo artists, pinup models, classic car lovers, tikiphiles, swing dancers, photographers, burlesque performers, punks, goths, hipsters, and everything in between.
Andrew and I always joke that “Cats Like Us brings people together” and it’s true! People that are looking for something different find it Cats Like Us.
So many of my local and on-line customers have become great friends that I would not have known otherwise.
(SP):If I were to look at your IPOD, what are the top 3 most played bands you listen to...and be honest!
Julie Ann:This is a very difficult question and changes a little depending on my mood. I would have to say I always have The Stray Cats, The Von Drats and Siouxsie and the Banshees nearby.
Andrew: Hillbilly Hellcats, Cult of the Psychic Fetus and Adam Ant. No wait: The Royal Crowns, David Bowie, and Louis Jordan. No wait, Mozart, Dick Dale, and Apoptygma Berzerk. This is hard.
(SP):Would you rather go back in time or to the future?
(CLU):If I were to go back, it would have been great to live in the excitement of the post-war 1950s America. Times were a little simpler then and there was a lot of prosperity and pride in workmanship. Rock and roll was in its infancy and it would have been great to have lived through the beginning of it.
If I were to live in the future, I think I would jump way ahead to, say, Star Trek. My guilty pleasure lately has been watching all the Star Trek series; I am currently mid-way through Voyager. Yepper, I’m a little nerdy. Shhhh….
(SP):Cats Like Us is often involved with events and sponsorships, is there a particular event that you look forward to more then others?
(CLU):My favorite in-store event is “Cats Like Treats!”. We paired up with the SPCA Serving Erie County and did an in store event called “Cats Like Treats!” back in Feb 2011 and it was so successful that we will plan on hosting it every year. For every bag of treats you donated, you received a discount at the shop. Then all the treats were donated to the Tonawanda SPCA. The SPCA was so impressed by the outpouring of donations they contacted us to be a virtual location. This means that we have a digital frame of the adoptable animals that gets new pictures added each week. Here’s a little recap from this past Cats Like Treats!
Our favorite sponsorship is Ohana: Luau at the Lake and it’s coming up pretty quick--- at the end of June. Andrew and I don’t get out very much, but this is an event we wouldn’t miss! We have come to love the kitschy fun of the Polynesian tiki lifestyle and have found the perfect event to celebrate it – Ohana Luau at The Lake. It’s very close, at the Tiki Motor Inn in Lake George, NY, about 5 hrs. from us. It will be our third year attending and not only do all the tikiphiles gather for a good cause, the Easter Island Foundation, they gather for the memories and friendships that are made in this three-day event. There is a silent auction, fabulous drinks, live surf music and traditional Hawaiian Luau fire show – amazing! Can you tell from our Sourpuss display contest we like tiki-ing? We event have a special tiki section on our website that stays up year round.
Here is the link.
(SP):Any future plans for Cats Like Us that you would like to mention?
(CLU):Sponsoring some local models and bands – stay tuned!