Michele Gudmundson and Wesley Uthus, co-owners of Primp Cheap Chic Boutique, saw their business double in size last year, taking their affordable fashion boutique from three locations to six in just nine months. Gudmundson reflects on the brisk pace of expansion with a smile. “All the right locations freed up at the same time,” she says. This included a corner spot at the heart of Woodbury Lakes.
Gudmundson sums up the new Woodbury store’s design concept as follows: “Let the clothing do the talking.” Neutral tones, abundant mirrors, furnishings that grant luxury without taxing the senses, airy fitting rooms and un-crammed racks all contribute to a true claustrophobe’s dream atmosphere. In addition to its ideal exposure to natural light, the Woodbury store has a certain special significance to Uthus. Having grown up in Woodbury, she had been hoping for an opportunity to plant a store in her hometown since 2010, when she and Gudmundson first launched their business.
Looking back to the start, Gudmundson says, “The first three months were a blur.” It all began with the grand opening of the St. Paul store on Selby Avenue. The event was to run from 4–8 p.m., but the store was cleared of merchandise by 7 p.m. “The shelves in our storeroom broke because we were grabbing things out of there so fast,” Gudmundson says. “Complete mayhem!” Uthus recalls, “The checkout line was out the door. A great problem to have, of course. We had to overnight a bunch of stuff, just to get through the weekend, and we were there the next morning at 6 a.m., tagging everything. We realized we had to figure out our buying plan right away.”
Half a decade of growth later, the two reflect on their vibrant success, suggesting it is due in large part to the character of their clientele. “Minnesotans are so loyal,” Uthus says. “We’ve gotten so much support from our friends and family members.” Gudmundson adds, “And our customers, who become friends.”
Another reason is Primp’s commitment to customer experience. “We pamper our clients,” Gudmundson says. The all-ladies boutique is concerned with keeping non-shopping companions happy as well. Husbands and man-friends benefit from the cozy armchair seating as well as an offer of complimentary beer or wine.
Primp co-owner Wesley Uthus assists Ricky and Brenna Sabo with a purchase.
“[A visit to Primp should] feel like playing dress-up, or getting ready with your girlfriends,” Uthus says. Shoppers get special attention from stylists who are well versed in the best looks for every body type. While the selections appeal to a broad spectrum of ages, sizes, shapes and lifestyles, they all share one important commonality: Nothing is priced over $100. In fact, most prices hover around $50.
The “cheap-chic” concept is all about encouraging and enabling clients to take fashion risks. The devoted fashionistas are the first to admit that personal style is always in flux. “Haven’t we all tried a look that didn’t work for us?” Gudmundson says. “We are all still learning what looks good on us.” Uthus says, “Like for me, it’s finally accepting the fact that I just can’t wear mustard.”
“And for me, it’s taupe,” Gudmundson says.
The affordability of Primp’s selection is partly due to the fact that 15 percent of their wares are designed in-house, as part of either the store brand or the pair’s Henry + Martin label. Uthus and Gudmundson promote figure-flattering, feminine looks in particular. “We want our clients to look their very best. We don’t encourage hiding under a baggy sweater, even if that’s the trend on the west coast,” Uthus says.
Husbands and man-friends benefit from the cozy armchair as well as an offer of complimentary beer or wine.
Trend-scouting in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York is a large and frequent requirement of the co-owners’ job. The pair goes on “buying trips” every four to six weeks. “We don’t want our selections to be the same you’d find anywhere, so we’re always seeking out up-and-coming lines,” Gudmundson says.
“But a trend has to be wearable,” Uthus says. “Girls in L.A. might be wearing oversized sweaters with cut-offs and combat boots, but we have to go with what works for Minnesota. There are certain things we just do not try.” “Mesh crop tops,” Gudmundson says. “Not in Minnesota, nope. Doesn’t work,” Uthus says.
Ultimately, it’s the shoppers who dictate what’s “in.” Primp’s co-owners take Facebook comments and in-store feedback into thorough consideration when designing or buying pieces. “A good spring piece is one that can transition to winter,” Uthus says, suggesting that versatility is key in the Midwest, where the specter of winter haunts even our spring and summer fashion decisions.
When we broach the subject of warm weather wear, Gudmundson’s thoughts go immediately to her obsession of last summer: “I can’t wait to take my silk print kimonos out again,” she says: “I wore kimonos over everything last year.” Uthus says, “They are a great alternative to a cropped cardigan. Let’s face it, you can only wear short sleeves for a few months here, so it’s nice to lose some layers, but at the same time, cover up.”
Heading into spring is easy with the addition of a scarf. “A colorful scarf is a great transition piece, too,” Gudmundson says. “You start to get sick of black and gray by the time April comes around.” Adds Uthus, “Plus, it helps to hide your winter-white chest; we’re all so pasty in the spring.” At Primp, you can find this quintessential spring accessory in innumerable styles, colors and materials, priced at just $16. Primp also sells a range of lightweight jackets to help you transition from winter to spring, such as their khaki- and navy-colored cargo jackets, as well as denim jackets and cropped bomber jackets for under $50.
One item they hope to see their clients wearing this season is the new line of Minnesota graphic tees. “You can dress it up with a skirt and blazer or wear it with jeans,” Gudmundson says. In terms of denim, Primp’s trend-spotters note some deviation from the skinny. Uthus says, “We’re seeing some flare this year.” In the pattern forecast, gingham seems to be eclipsing plaid. “I love it in a button-up, but there are a million ways to style gingham,” Gudmundson says.
What about color trends? “We are interested to see what designers will do with the [Pantone] color of the year,” Uthus says. Gudmundson notes it’s a strange choice. “Marsala is so… Autumn,” she says. “In terms of go-to spring colors, we always like emerald.”
“And you can’t go wrong with neutral tones,” Uthus says with a laugh, noticing that she is wearing head-to-toe black on the day of our interview in mid-December. “In spring, white on white is classic. Nude is a great look, too.”