A little lagniappe goes a long way in New Orleans
Lagniappe: a little something extra offered to a customer to make their experience better or more memorable.
As a third-generation store owner, Monique Sobrino’s retail and New Orleans’ roots run deep. In 1992, Sobrino bought her grandmother’s Hallmark store in Lakeview and refashioned it into Little Miss Muffin, a family-friendly gift and children’s boutique.
“Originally, my vision involved gifts, home accents, ladies fine nightwear and a couple of traditional children’s lines—Feltman Brothers and Paty,” says Sobrino. “But after my son was born, we expanded the children’s section to include more lines, larger sizes and educational and creative toys.” Now she is a fixture for children’s customers.
Katrina brought an abrupt end to the business in 2005, as her shop was just two blocks from where the levee broke. “Without flood insurance, we had to rebuild on a hope and prayer. It was our community and customer support that enabled us to open a second shop in Old Metairie, and also reopen in our original location,” says Sobrino. She offered a wider selection of furnishings and clothing to fill local needs. In 2015, she added a tween shop in Metairie, called MISS Muffin.
“All our stores are in community settings and we believe in supporting those communities by whatever means we can,” says Sobrino. She sells ornaments to support the City Park, and holds trunk shows and sells the work of local artisans, including Ginger Leigh, Gabby Gumbo, Heather Elizabeth and Jax Frey. She buys products from charitable-minded vendors, such as Fleur-de-Light, which donates $1 per candle sold to the local food bank. “We give them a check for the inventory we buy, and match their contribution,” says Sobrino. “If you build your business on service and relationships, it always comes back to you.”
Little Miss Muffin is known for hosting charitable events to aid local schools and causes, sometimes partnering with groups such as the NOLARTS Learning Center, and the New Orleans Green Project.
“We also host craft parties (such as decorating holiday ornaments or jewelry-making) to make our younger shoppers feel at home,” she says. “It gives their parents a chance to get a cup of coffee or shop for themselves, which creates good energy.”
Her summer Sip ’n See afternoons for moms include wine and special sales. At MISS Muffin, workshops and events aim to empower young girls and make them stronger. “We stock journals and art kits to encourage them to use their minds and hands to stay creative,” says Sobrino. She’s used the store windows to display student art work.
Sobrino buys with her customers and possible events in mind. She averages about four events a year per store. “They offer a good return. Our customers remember, and when they need a gift, they come here,” she says.
Tips for Creating Family-Friendly Events:
1. Think of special events as an investment, a chance to get to know your customers and be a part of your community.
2. Create space before the event by moving things around. Hold a charitable event in the center of a store, a children’s event in the children’s section.
3. Use social media, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat to communicate special events and sales. If you don’t have those skills, delegate them to someone who does.
4. Plan at least a month ahead, but market close to the event, so customers don’t forget.
5. Reach out to staff and community residents for meaningful ways to give back.
For more information about the stores, visit shoplittlemissmuffin.com or like them on Facebook. Images courtesy of AWH Photo & Design.