By Smarty Cynthia Clark
Have you ever met one of those people that upon first glance you think, “She’s way too pretty to be nice?” and after just two minutes spent with her you realize how incredibly wrong you were?! Jill Pleune is one of those people. If you’ve never met Jill, she really is stunning and has the best sense of style ever, and with a heart of gold to boot! I’ve known Jill since our kids were in preschool together (our oldest are now rising 3rd graders) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in anything short of, “I wish I had that in my closet!” status. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all dresses and heels – she could be in a cute top, pair of shorts and some kicks, but has a way of making it all look like a million bucks (comes in handy when you find out what she does ;o)
What you don’t know immediately upon meeting her is that she is one of the hardest working and savvy businesswomen here in the great QC, as co-owner (along with her sister, Courtney) of two of the hottest stores, Sloan and Sloan Shoes (formerly ‘Step by Sloan’). What you also might not know about Jill is how incredibly passionate both she and her husband Ben are in raising awareness for the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) foundation, a cause that hits so close to home.
Beyond her amazing sense of style, what I absolutely love about her is that she exudes this genuine warmth and kindness that is just infectious. It really is rare to not see her with a huge smile on her face. Her laughter is absolutely contagious, and it’s no surprise when you meet the rest of her family that they all share that same trait (they are all gorgeous too – wait until you meet her Mom!). Jill would stop whatever she’s doing at the drop of a dime to help a friend. You don’t even have to finish a sentence about something you’re overwhelmed with without her saying, “what can I do to help?!” and truly mean it.
I’m so excited to introduce you to someone who truly lives what is means to be a Smarty Momma!! Smarty’s, meet my dear friend, Jill!
Smarty Mom Jill Pleune
Smarty Mom Stats:
Married to: Ben for 12 years
Mom to: Henry (8 years old) and Oliver (6 years old)
Occupation: Retail Store Owner, Sloan and Sloan Shoes
Hometown: Moweaqua, Illinois
Years in Charlotte: 14
I think it’s easy for people to lose sight of how much time and work goes into starting your own business. What was it like when you and Courtney made the decision, “we’re doing this!” and what was it like for you when you opened the doors on the very first day of business?
It helped that we made that decision from a very early age, and we have our parents to thank for the unique inspiration we gained from each of them. Our father started his own company at the age of 22, and we could not help but be inspired by his work ethic and drive. Our mother encouraged our creative side and we can thank her for our passion for fashion. While my father was working every waking hour, our mother was busy taking us to school and cleaning our house in 6 inch heels – she was a diva in every sense of the word.
After many years of dreaming and planning, in September 2000 we found one of the most critical aspects of any business – location! Courtney had gone to University of Kentucky to study accounting and I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue fashion merchandising. Once we both graduated, we moved to Charlotte in 2000 not knowing a single soul – we just felt a connection to the city and after being raised in the mid-west we were ready for a climate change. We opened our doors just 7 months later. The biggest fear was we could not depend on life-long friends or family to support us on our first day. We just had to say a little prayer that someone was going to walk though those doors.
But we made up for that with LOTS of hard work, and were very fortunate to have a successful first day…first year…and first ten years of being in business.
I LOVE me some SLOAN shopping! Everything looks so inviting and perfectly placed, but I know it took a TON of planning to get the right look and feel for your stores. What was your vision going into it, and looking back, did you imagine it would be where it is today?
Courtney and I both worked in retail from the time were 15, and in various retail environments from the mall to specialty stores. So when we ultimately decided to open a store, our vision was clear. We wanted to cater not only to the daughter, but to the mother and grandmother. If there is anything that sets us apart from our competition, it’s our level of inventory. We provide our clients with a wide array of choices from casual to formal, from t-shirts and jeans to cocktail attire.
But while we had a firm grasp on our vision, we ultimately exceeded our expectations. We could not have predicted adding “Step by Sloan” (now Sloan Shoes) just two years after we opened our doors. And we did not originally plan on jewelry, which we added seven years later with our purchase of the existing store “Montana.” Our most recent endeavor has been a partnership with Jeffre Scott Apothecary, which added a cosmetics counter in the upstairs space of our store. Even though these additions were not our original vision, we jumped at the opportunity to provide a “one stop shopping” atmosphere for our customers. We want our customers to walk into our store and be able to dress from head to toe – and our mission is now complete.
What would you say looking back, was the most difficult part about starting your own business?
The most difficult part about starting our business was understanding and learning what your customers want based on their lifestyle and personality. In the beginning, you have no idea what audience you are going to target. As much as you want to set the style curve, you have to learn about your customer and tailor your purchases accordingly. Our fist buying trip was scary. We had no clue who to buy for. So, we started by buying what we liked, and quickly learned to tailor our buying habits to our customers style.
With so many amazing people reading our blog, I’m sure there are quite a few future entrepreneurs out there. What is some advice you would give to someone contemplating starting his or her own business?
LEARN YOUR INDUSTRY!!! Developing a business is like raising a child – you need time, patience, understanding and most importantly, experience. I worked in retail 7 years prior to opening Sloan and I sometimes still feel like I needed some more time.
Since so many of us covet many of your outfits, what are some tips you could give those of us who can’t seem to get over the jeans and t-shirts rut?
As my mother always taught me, you never leave the house without looking your best – although we are now in a completely different generation. We are living in the “yoga” generation which seems to have completely taken over the fashion industry. Don’t get me wrong, when you see me at car pool on Fridays, I will be sporting some yoga gear, but I only allow this twice a week (typically Friday and Saturdays). If you feel yourself falling into the yoga rut, start limiting yourself and start “dressing” on the opposite days. You will feel better about yourself and quite frankly you will be more productive – as you won’t have to hide from your friends in grocery aisles….
Pile on good accessories – scarves, sunglasses, hats, statement jewelry to instantly transform your most basic outfit.
Lastly, organize your closet –which means cleanse it at least once a year. Take a look at your clothes and asses what you wear the most, least and not at all. Donate the clothing you haven’t worn in a year or more.
You put so much time, energy and passion into everything you do…your family, friendships, businesses, not to mention causes that you hold close to your heart. Can you tell us a little bit about how you became involved with the Cystic Fibrosis foundation?
My youngest son, Oliver, was diagnosed in utero with Cystic Fibrosis in 2008. This diagnosis caught us by complete surprise as we had to research even what the words Cystic Fibrosis meant. Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tract and other areas of the body. It is a life threatening disorder, with the current life expectancy in the early thirties.
Once we read those last words, Ben and I immediately started researching how we can learn more about the disease and how we can help find a cure. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and the wonderful people that work for this organization were our saviors. They led us to the right doctors, we found a wonderful support group with other parents living with CF children, and most importantly, they taught us how to become involved with raising funds so CF can stand for Cure Found.
What were some of the challenges that your family faced early on with Oliver’s diagnosis?
Oliver was a thriving infant who showed no symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis until he was 2 years old. Between the years of 2010-2011, Oliver was hospitalized numerous times for lung infections that required intravenous IV medications that we would administer at home 8 times a day. Each hospitalization lasted from 5-10 days.
Fortunately, (and unfortunately), Oliver will never know life without taking 30 pills, 2 nebulizers treatments, three inhaled antibiotic meds and two compressions vest treatments everyday. It is a lot to stay on top of, but we will do everything we can to keep Oliver healthy. And it’s working – he has been hospital free since September of 2011! Woo hoo!!
Our oldest son, Henry, has also had to learn to adapt to the constant pressures of having a sibling with Cystic Fibrosis. Although, it has taught Henry something very special – unconditional care for his brother – he has had to understand a lot about the meaning of life for only being 8 years old. Henry does an unbelievable job entertaining Oliver while he sits on his hours of daily treatments and Oliver could not ask for a better big brother.
What are some ways that people could get involved with the foundation?
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation hosts lots of different events every year. Because both Ben and I sit on the CFF Charlotte Board of Directors, we try to attend as many as we can. One of our favorite events is the Extreme Hike for a Cure. It is a 32 mile hike on the Appalachian Trial in a day – this grueling event usually takes us 12 hours. Sounds brutal, but nothing compared to what Oliver has to endure every day of his life. There are so many wonderful events to become a part of and we are always looking for new volunteers! Please visit www.cff.org for additional information.
How do you balance time with everything you have going on, i.e…family, work, etc….
I am a girl who juggles her life better when I have too much going on…literally. Therefore, organization and keeping with daily routines keeps my life in balance. Simply doing one load of laundry a day and running the dishwasher once a day relieves a lot of household stress on the weekends. Because I work full time, I like to spend as much quality time with my kids when I get home from work every evening until they go to bed. My family always has been and will be my greatest life achievement.
My four life rules:
– Don’t sweat the small stuff – life is too short
– Don’t ever sit down – there is always something to do
– Drink lots of wine – it makes the top two way more fun
– Dreaming……………..never stop………………………………
Favorite place in Charlotte for a date night? Soul Gastrolounge on Central
Favorite website? www.sloanboutique.com – duh ;o)
What’s something that most people don’t know about you? I am from a small rural town of 1,000 people – no stoplights or wine.
Favorite thing to do with your family. Relaxed dinner at one of our favorite restaurants
Who is your celebrity crush? Matthew McConaughey
Household chore you despise the most? Mopping floors, because I am “old school”, I still scrub on my hands and knees.
Behavioral trait your hope you’re children don’t inherit from you? My temper – sometimes I call it “my passion”
Household appliance you couldn’t live without? Washing machine
Favorite cocktail? Chardonnay or Titos & soda – depending on the mood
*** Although it hasn’t been announced to the masses yet, Jill wanted to give you Smarty readers a little heads up that Sloan is having a HUGE (I mean, bigger than EVER) sidewalk sale next weekend, starting Thursday, June 5th and ending on Saturday, June 7th! Mark your calendars ladies!!***