Lulu of a success

Mother-daughter duo storm the online clothing world

Debra Cannon, left, and daughter Colleen Winter are the brains behind the success of LuLu’s clothing business.

Debra Cannon, left, and daughter Colleen Winter are the brains behind the success of LuLu’s clothing business.

Photo By tom gascoyne

LuLu’s Fashion Lounge was launched in 1996 by Debra Cannon and her daughter, Colleen Winter, in a storefront on Third Street before moving to Main near Second Street. Eight years later they opened Gigi’s Shoe Parlor just around the corner on the north side of Second Street.

Today the shoe store is history and LuLu’s has moved and evolved into an online clothing store located inside a 15,000-square-foot building on Humboldt Avenue, where it employs nearly 90 people and ships out about 1,000 orders daily. The annual numbers are impressive and growing. In 2010 it shipped 248,786 orders. That number jumped to 379,660 the next year, and last year LuLu’s sent out 503,539 orders worldwide.

LuLu’s currently has nearly 1 million registered customers. At 2 o’clock on a recent and typical Tuesday afternoon, there were 1,480 visitors online. The company’s own brand of clothing, which is designed in-house and manufactured in Los Angeles, is available in the more traditional brick-and-mortar business at Trucker on Broadway in downtown Chico. That store is owned primarily by Winter’s husband, Luke, with Colleen and her mother having part interests in it.

LuLu’s has had a website presence for the past eight years. Increasing online sales forced Cannon and Winter to find space to accommodate that growing trend. They found a warehouse space in a 3,000-square-foot section of a building on Humboldt that was formerly home to Azad’s Martial Arts.

“It seemed huge at the time,” Cannon said, “but it almost immediately got pretty crowded.”

The spaces next door eventually opened, allowing the business to expand to its present size. In the meantime, the women sold the downtown store, which was renamed the Fashion Lounge. Cannon and Winter kept the name LuLu’s, which was Winter’s childhood nickname.

“Basically we knew we were going to eventually get out of the brick and mortar,” Cannon said. “The thing that people don’t realize about online businesses is that they are extremely labor-intensive and eat a lot of money. There is getting started, and then the upkeep and the marketing. As Colleen says, you can have a great website with beautiful products on it, but if nobody knows about it nobody is going to shop on it. And that’s because it’s not a storefront where people are driving by.”

Inside the business there is a buzz of activity. In one section, employees sit at computers and talk on phones to process orders. Next door, employees are handling returns, and in the back, stacks of cardboard boxes sit near the loading dock waiting for the shipping trucks to haul them away to waiting customers.

Cannon is proud of what she and her daughter have achieved, yet remains humble.

“This is beyond what I ever imagined it would be,” she said. “Still, I have people saying, ‘Oh, it must be so nice to be working out of your garage.’”