Julie Jennerjahn’s sense of adventure has led her through some interesting career choices.
She started out with a degree in teaching, but only used it for three years as a substitute teacher in Steamboat Springs, Colo., while she was also a ski photographer. Then her love of travel led her to Hawaii, where she learned to sail in the roughest waters in the world. From there, she sailed to Micronesia and spent a year there, then lived in the Caribbean and was captain of a charter yacht for several years.
Jennerjahn eventually moved to Taos to do ski photography, but ended up in a different business altogether. She had only been here three months when she opened Steppin’ Out in the John Dunn Shops because there was no shoe store in town.
“We just saw a need and jumped on the opportunity,” she says.
That was 25 years ago, and Steppin’ Out is still going strong.
Jennerjahn started out carrying shoes and accessories but after less than two years, had expanded into clothing and taken on an additional space four doors down. For the past five or six years, Steppin’ Out has offered a full spectrum of women’s clothing options in two adjacent storefronts that are merged.
“We cater to just about every woman from 18 to 80,” she says. “We have everything that a woman could ever want.”
Steppin’ Out carries high quality clothing lines from Europe, Canada, and the U.S.; Jennerjahn says she tries to carry as little from China as possible, keeping it to 3 or 5 percent of her total inventory.
“I have many, many lines that are cut to order, things that we carry year-round,” says Jennerjahn, adding that this means she has to order four to six months in advance. “A lot of our clothing is made in the U.S., cut to order. So it’s unique.”
The biggest thing Jennerjahn looks for when choosing lines to carry is comfort, and she has clothing for all sizes. She carries fleece-lined leggings, for instance, that are very popular, and is now carrying Oprah-endorsed Miraclebody jeans, which are both comfortable and slimming.
“They have a stretch to them and they have a nice rise,” says Jennerjahn.
Also, quality footwear and accessories are still a staple at Steppin’ Out.
“We have beautiful scarves, beautiful handbags that are durable on the inside as well as the outside,” says Jennerjahn. “We’re right up there in all the fashion trends in jewelry too. We have probably six different jewelry lines.”
However, Jennerjahn knows that great customer service is just as important as tantalizing merchandise, and she focuses on making the shop a place customers can enjoy.
“We’re totally hands-on with customers,” she says. “It’s a real fun experience for them.”
Jennerjahn also makes it easy for customers to special order, have items shipped, and return unwanted items.
“I don’t think there could be better customer service; we want the customer to be happy no matter what,” she says. “We don’t get that many returns because everybody’s usually happy, but at least they know they have the option and they’re not going to be stuck with something.”
In addition to locals, many of Steppin’ Out’s customers are visitors to the area or have a second home here, so Jennerjahn will soon launch a shopping website. “A lot of our customers are not here all the time, and they know our lines,” she says.
Steppin’ Out is almost always hopping.
“We’re always busy, busy, busy,” she says, adding that she tries to keep five employees on the floor. Jennerjahn herself is usually there nine hours a day, six days a week. Even when it’s closing time, she’ll keep the doors open if there are still customers. “If someone comes in at six o’clock, even in the winter, we’re not looking to close our doors,” she says. “As long as people are in here, we’re open.”
Susan Carpenter Sims writes exclusively to create awareness of the critical role entrepreneurship plays in our community.