What It’s Like to Open a Fashion Boutique With Your Friend

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When Aliza Zelin Neidich and Alissa Jacob became best friends 29 years ago in NYC, they had no idea they’d also one day own a business together. But that dream became a reality when they opened Reservoir, a cool-girl LA concept shop for high-end clothing, accessories, and home goods.

Now in their 30s, they’re living the glam life traveling together for Paris Fashion Week, curating a boutique of their favorite things, and running a gorgeous Instagram page. But they’re also bonding together as they wear the many hats that come with being a business owner. Basically, they’re not too proud to clean the bathroom, if needed.

Here, we caught up with them about what it’s like to work in fashion and be business partners with your childhood best friend and how they transitioned from Manhattan to Hollywood.

POPSUGAR: What made you guys want to do this? When was the idea born?

Aliza Zelin Neidich: Of course, when we were younger, we thought we’d do everything together always, as you believe when you’re 6 years old. But that changes when you grow up and realize that scenario is more of a dream and less of a reality. . . . It wasn’t until I moved to LA and Alissa moved shortly after that we realized there was an opportunity to create something together and each bring something totally different to the table.

Alissa Jacob: Once I moved here, Aliza and I agreed that LA shopping was missing something: a unique destination shopping experience. We wanted to create it using a brand-new perspective than anything that already existed in the market.

PS: What made you think your BFF would be a good business partner?

AZN: Alissa is much better with the financial and operational side of the store, and clearly that’s necessary when starting any business. There’s also an inherent trust when you’re as close as we are, so even though we knew that mistakes would happen, we also knew that the other person would be there so we could fix them together as we went along.

AJ: We have been friends for so long, which allows us to fully trust one another and be completely honest with one another. I don’t think I could have done this with anyone else.

“It feels much more accepted here to do what you want to be doing vs. doing what you feel you have to do.”

PS: You both moved cross country from your hometown of Manhattan to Los Angeles. What was the transition like?

AZN: I originally moved to LA because my husband got in to CalArts for his MFA. I had a really easy time with the transition, actually. . . . I found the people to be kinder and the lifestyle easier. I love that I can wake up every morning and eat breakfast outside 12 months a year. There are less pretenses about what you “should” be doing, especially career-wise, a feeling that I believe trickles down to make everyone a bit more passionate. It feels much more accepted here to do what you want to be doing vs. doing what you feel you have to do.

AJ: When Aliza and Stephen moved to LA, I would visit them all the time and be like, “Why don’t I live here?” I finally took the plunge and haven’t looked back! I never would have tried to open a retail store in NYC. It’s such a saturated and difficult market for a small, unique boutique like ours.

PS: How did you decide the concept of the store? What makes it unique in the shopping market?

AZN: When I moved to LA, I realized there wasn’t a great one-stop shop, which seemed silly for a city that’s actually such a sprawl. Alissa and I started talking about what we thought could help this void and what we would want in a store personally, and that’s how the idea was born. It feels unique because you can buy anything from a set of dishes to an evening dress or a great white t-shirt or a new coffee table book or a handbag, necklace, perfume, hostess gifts — the list goes on. . . . It’s all been sourced by Alissa and I personally. We’re almost always there, so we’re able to meet the customers and tell them the stories behind the product.

AJ: We also merchandised the store to feel like a home, including art, furniture, etc. We had a lot of fun with it and don’t take ourselves too seriously. I love listening to customers as they walk through the store discovering new pieces, just having a truly good time.

“When you have a new start-up business, you wear so many hats, and you can’t be above any task. We’ve both cleaned the bathroom more than we would like to admit.”

PS: What is your day-to-day like working there? What tasks do you do from start to finish?

AZN: The mornings are usually spent assisting our manager in getting overnight orders sent out (we sell on our own ecommerce in addition to Farfetch and Lyst) while simultaneously helping customers. . . . We also constantly get deliveries of new inventory, so we will also unbox the product, inventory it, and enter it into our retail system so everything can be properly tracked. A few times a season, we have a photo shoot for our website to get all the product up on reservoir-la.com, so if that’s the case, we have some extra staff on hand so Alissa and I can be styling and changing the model to get as many shots as possible in what ends up being a 12-hour day itself. Our busiest hours happen between 3 p.m. and closing, so we’re usually on the floor running around and helping customers for the rest of the day.

AJ: When you have a new start-up business, you wear so many hats, and you can’t be above any task. We’ve both cleaned the bathroom more than we would like to admit, for sure.

PS: How do you utilize social media to promote your business?

AZN: We started our Instagram (@reservoir_la) before the store opened as a way to hype up the excitement and generate traffic to our ecommerce site. We were able to accumulate followers and direct them to the store and website when it opened. It also helped us better define our image and let followers know what they could expect from us.

PS: What do you think is the most useful social media vertical for business owners right now and why? Any advice on using it/growing a following?

AJ: Instagram feels like the most influential, and it’s the social media tool we use most frequently. All business owners would like to monetize their following, and it’s interesting to think of the new ways that could happen. In terms of growing a following, having a unique voice, unique content, and being consistent are the perfect storm.

“Something you learn quickly when you start your own business is that you will work harder than you ever have before.”

PS: What has surprised you most about being a business owner?

AZN: I think what surprised me the most is how many hats you have to wear at all times. Alissa and I have to be our own HR department, billing department, marketing team, creative team, web designers, and more at the same time. A lot of this was trial by fire so we had to figure it out as we went, which in a way is the best way to learn.

AJ: I think something you learn quickly when you start your own business is that you will work harder than you ever have before; it’s your baby and you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t love it. We are so proud of what Reservoir has become in the almost one year since we opened. It’s amazing to take a quick pause and really acknowledge what we have created together.

PS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a business owner?

AZN: Seeing your ideas come to life!

AJ: I love when I run into a customer somewhere and they are wearing something from Reservoir. The pieces we pick for the store are special to us, and it’s so special when someone truly loves the items we purvey.

PS: What are some of the biggest struggles of owning your own business?

AZN: It’s sometimes difficult to realize that when things don’t go your way (and they won’t), you have to be adaptable and change course even if it wasn’t in your original plan. We struggled with our location and had to change a lot of our original model based on that, but you have to trust that it’s going to work out as long as you’re putting in the effort.

AJ: It’s nonstop work. You can literally always be doing something to make the business better. We have a great team working with us, from marketing, social media, sales, etc., and we are so grateful to everyone who has supported our efforts from the beginning.

PS: What do you think is the most important aspect of growing a successful business?

AZN: Customer service has always been our number one priority — if your customers who you’re catering to aren’t happy, then you really don’t have a viable business.

AJ: We treat customers like our friends; we never sell something just to sell it — we want them to be happy and really feel great with what they buy.

PS: What is the most difficult part of working with your BFF?

AZN: We occasionally need to have tough conversations that are strictly business, and it’s hard to separate that from the way we would behave in our friendship. It can feel a little strange, but I think it’s important to look at the business as a separate entity that requires separate decisions.

AJ: It was definitely an adjustment for us, but I think at the end of the day we remember that we have been best friends/sisters for almost 30 years! No matter what happens at work, we both want the other to be happy and will support each other.

PS: What’s your philosophy for being “the boss”? And how would you describe the company culture? How do you make it a great place to work?

AZN: We treat our employees the same way we would want to be treated. I was in a cutthroat office environment previously and there isn’t any benefit to belittling your employees or creating a hostile workplace. We trust our employees completely and give them a lot of responsibility, and we’re always open to suggestions for how to improve the business.

AJ: I’ve had some great mentors in life and some terrible ones. I think it’s so important to support your employees and help them grow. I’m so proud of how our current team has flourished; trust and respect are really important in the workplace.

PS: What is your advice for dressing like a boss lady when it comes to retail/fashion?

AZN: Be yourself! If you’re confident, you can pull anything off.

AJ: Never dress for anyone besides yourself!

PS: Whose careers in the industry do you look up to and why?

AZN: Denise and Dawn from A’maree’s are huge inspirations. They have an amazing store and their buy is always super interesting.

AJ: I also really respect Lauren Santo Domingo and what Moda Operandi has done to change the retail world. Innovation in any industry is very inspiring.

PS: Any advice for young women looking to become business owners?

AZN: Talk to as many people as you can beforehand. We asked to be put in touch with other small-store owners and talked with as many as we could to find out what practices work best for them and what mistakes they made as they started. Being proactive and prepared for conversations like those can go a long way.

AJ: Network and listen. You meet such amazing young female entrepreneurs in LA and the number of opportunities are endless.