Combine a love of fashion with a love of dogs and what do you get? Jessica Smith’s Milo & Me, an upscale fashion boutique on Detroit in Lakewood. This dog-friendly boutique is all about finding trendy pieces that'll remain staples in your wardrobe. Don’t be surprised if you stop in and see customers shopping without a furry friend, Jessica works hard to stock her shop with options for dog lovers, and non-lovers alike. I was fortunate enough to be able to bring my dog Cooper in to chat with Jessica and Milo about what it’s like owning a boutique in Lakewood, read on to find out.
Haley Mills: What were you doing before you opened Milo & Me?
Jessica Smith: I attended Kent State University and graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design. I always wanted to be involved in fashion, that was my end goal. I tried working in New York City, and it was not for me. It was very fast paced and it was like this endless ladder that you climb - a status game. I wasn’t really into that. I got hired by Heather Moore Jewelry right out of college and I did marketing and jewelry design for her. I ended up falling in love with Cleveland; I never saw myself staying here but I really did love it. I loved the women and I loved the little boutique atmosphere that was going on. So, I wanted to serve the women here and contribute something unique to the community.
HM: Are you from Cleveland?
JS: No, I am from Maine. I grew up in Maine from age 10 to age 18. So I have a big appreciation for the outdoors. I never really grew up with a dog; it was never something that I had around me, but I just kind of naturally fell in love with dogs, got my own, and then got two more. So yeah, I came from Maine to go to Kent State and that's how I landed here.
HM: What led you to open the shop?
JS: I worked at another boutique in the area to understand the market and where I could fill a gap. I learned a lot there, and I kind of just felt like it was now-or-never. I was in a place where I don’t have kids, I’m not married, it was a good time where I had control and there was nothing holding me back. I was confident, I had done my research and I took the leap.
HM: How did you land on this space?
JS: So this space actually became available around December of 2017. I opened in April of 2018. It popped up and I came to visit it and see the space and it felt like the perfect starter space for me. It was not too big, but big enough. There was one next door that was a lot bigger, but you’ve gotta fill that with something! Twice the investment for twice the space. So this was the perfect starter space for me. I love Lakewood - I live here, it's very walkable, people have dogs, a lot of millennials. Also, still close to the Rocky River clientele that I wanted to reach. Everything was pointing to yes, there were a few things I had to do like build the fitting rooms and what-not, but I went for it. I sat on the space from December until April when I opened. I had a lot of time to work on it and figure out what I wanted to do.
HM: How do you decide what to bring in?
JS: That is the hardest part, for sure. The dog stuff is always fun to buy. There are always new things on the market and it’s great to bring those in. It is harder to find products that are not already in your Petco or PetSmart. I want to be able to provide something that's unique and more of a boutique-y, upscale feel. It's been really fun stumbling upon the humorous toys. I’ll go to SuperZoo once every couple years just to see what's new on the market. They have pretty much the ins and outs, all the new technology, everything trendy for the dog. That’s in Vegas. The women’s apparel is a lot harder because I am still learning my customer, it’s only been a year. I try to not go too trend-heavy, but things that I think are classic yet fashion forward. Something that's going to stick in her closet for a while but still make a statement. I started with a lot of casual stuff because I wasn’t sure, I was like, ‘cozy stuff is good.’ I started with one idea and then I started to learn her and what she liked and that she was more edgy than I thought and I was like, ‘this will be fun.’ This spring season was exciting to buy for. I got some chunky stripes and brighter colors knowing that my customers were looking for something a little more out there. So while the apparel buying part is stressful, it’s my favorite part and I love to see it evolve every season.
HM: Where do you order the clothes from? How does that process work?
JS: The pet stuff is just order as you go. The women’s apparel needs to be purchased a whole season in advance. The stuff that I have in my store now was purchased during the holiday season last year. I just went to a show in January in Chicago and I was buying all of my apparel for fall/winter, so I already have that planned out. There are some brands that I’ll order on a whim to fill in some gaps, but for the most part everything is already ordered and it’ll start coming months before the season starts. It actually helps me a lot, being a season ahead like that, but you are always thinking about the next season. Your reps are constantly emailing you, “We’re showing Spring/Summer 2020” and you're like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ It takes a minute to predict what you're going to want that far in advance, but you’ve just gotta trust your instinct and go off of what sold well the previous season. I’ve also learned to think about a wide range of customers so that I don’t pick things that are going to be too cropped or too tight fitting. While I enjoy bringing in trending pieces, like a fun bodysuit that you can layer with, I stick mostly to styles that are going to flatter every body type.
HM: How do you not just take all of the clothes home?! How hard is that?
JS: I try! My boyfriend Rob is very observant of my outfits and he’ll be like, ‘oh is that from the store? Is that Milo & Me?’ He catches on, so I’ve cut back quite a bit. I wear a small and the small is our top selling size so I try not to, but sometimes I’m like, ‘I need a little something.’ I shop a lot less now, so there are no bills from other stores anymore, haha! Milo probably has more things from here than I do.
HM: Where’s your favorite place to have brunch in Cleveland?
JS: Ugh. I work every Sunday of my life, soooo I don’t get to go to brunch often, but if I had to choose somewhere to brunch, I would say Nano Brew. I really like sitting outside on the patio, when its nice out, and it’s dog-friendly so that's always nice! I like that spot for brunch, I think it’s nice you can look over the city.
HM: Where is your favorite place to take your dogs in Cleveland?
JS: I love just walking around Lakewood, I have this circuit I do from my house. I like walking along Lake Ave because you get to see all of the big houses. Edgewater Park is great too. My dogs don’t like the beach or swimming so we don’t get to experience that part a whole lot but I love walking along the lakeshore. Makes me feel like I’m back in Maine. Oh, and McGinty’s in Lakewood. My boyfriend plays on a softball league that is sponsored by McGinty’s, and they are dog-friendly, so we usually circulate the dogs when we go up there, showing up with a different dog every time.
HM: Where is your favorite place for dinner?
JS: I like Sarita a lot, also a Happy Hour pick… their dishes are just great. I really love their stuff. Obviously I like Pier W, their crab legs melt in your mouth and they are amazing. Love Angelo’s for pizza. I actually really enjoy Brown Sugar Thai as well. I’m obsessed with their Pad Thai and they do sushi, so I love that. I order takeout more times than I’d like to admit.
HM: Is there anything else you’d want people to know about Milo & Me?
JS: Well I want them to know that you do not have to have a dog to shop here. When we first opened, we got most of our traction from dog lovers, and that’s amazing. But women’s apparel does make up nearly 70% of the store, so there is a big emphasis on the clothing. I have customers who come here just for the clothing, some just for the dogs - it has been nice seeing the shift in customers and how they are buying. I’d say both are getting equal attention. While you don’t need a dog to shop here, we are extremely dog-friendly and LOVE seeing dogs strut into our shop on a daily basis. So basically if you ever want to borrow someone's dog to come shop with you, that’d be 100% acceptable!