In Conversation with Natalie // Pom Pom Boutique

Name: Natalie Szabo
Shop: Pom Pom Boutique
Address: 614 Trounce Alley, Victoria, BC

Clothes on a rack in a shop in Victoria, BC.
An array of beautiful things against a stunning floral wallpaper.

How did Pom Pom come to be? 

It was a combination of all things lovely over 36 years. It was a lifetime of curtain calls, many loving years of business, and marriage with a partner that can realize dreams. There were unbelievable losses both personal and financial and wonderful triumphs. Pom Pom will never be a grand salon of Paris, but it can offer a customer warmth and mesmerizing style. We know the part by heart on this business stage and hope to get a standing ovation a good deal of the time. 

Have you always wanted to own a shop? 

I was a translator for Secretary of State, I have a teaching degree, I became a printmaker, then framer, I ran bead and jewelry schools, and was involved in many juried art shows. We started the framing stores in Ottawa in 1983 and then we grew and grew; as the market changed we had to keep reinventing ourselves. We became well-known and were voted the public’s favourite stores for many years. We did a lot of corporate business with regards to art. Then the big recession hit in 1989-91 and we lost half of our sales, so we started to diversify: plants, art, giftware furniture, etc. Our son died in 1991 and that spurred a whole new trajectory. We got into the bead business in 1993. “To bede” meant to pray in AngloSaxon and that really meant something to us. Another lapse in business led to Pom Pom in Victoria and another shop, Frou Frou, in Ottawa. Then we had yet another recession in 2008. It was getting harder, with too much duplication of everything. So we closed everything and moved to Victoria to start fresh and to be with our family.

A dress on a table in a shop in Victoria, BC.
A pretty entry display.

What’s the hardest part of owning a shop?

It’s like having a child. You can never leave it. The peaks and valleys are more frequent but the valleys can stay for months and years. They always need attention!

Anything you’ve learned that you want to pass on?

Whoever goes into business has to realize that there exists a metaphorical fast-moving train that was there far before any of us. But we think we are new and better, so we get on that train, then realize that those passengers  — and there’s a lot of them — have put in the time. So now the challenge to survive really begins. My husband and I, as business people, do think [survivors] are the exception to the rule. So we forged ahead and applied demographics, creativity, intense observation, kindness and very little startup money and worked the long lonely hours hoping to succeed. After 36 years and numerous refits in Ottawa, Toronto and now Victoria we still remain standing. Jack Walsh, the ex-CEO of General Electric, always said, “The only constant in the world is change, and if you don’t adapt to it, you will not survive.” That has forever been a constant in my brain.

Clothing outside a shop in Victoria BC.
Exterior of the shop in Trounce Alley.

How have you been driving online sales using social media?

Watch the demographics! They have 75% accuracy. Don’t do what everyone else does. I truly believe in the British rule of “head, heart and hand”: a little bit of technical, a little bit of sentimental, and a little bit of hands-on. Many people are tired of tweeting, liking, etc. I try my best to deliver in the city, send out packages, send videos, and answer questions. We are launching an online store soon, but mostly I want human elements back. We really care. Every person is like a marvellous cocoon of experiences and we are there to listen.

What drives your aesthetic?

Coco Chanel said it succinctly, “Everything under the sky is architecture,” and I respect that. 

A shopkeeper stands behind the counter in her shop in Victoria BC.
Natalie in her shop.