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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2007
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Annette Dean, owner of Nettie’s Place, with one of her collapsible mannequins that she takes to a client’s home.
Daily photos by John Godbey
Annette Dean, owner of Nettie’s Place, with one of her collapsible mannequins that she takes to a client’s home.

Taking care of business Online
Petite boutique now exclusively on Internet after Hartselle shop closes; owner also makes house calls

By Danielle Komis Palmer
dpalmer@decaturdaily.com · 340-2447

When Annette Horton Dean of Hartselle was young, she assumed that she would grow to be tall like her dad and her grandmother.

In middle school, she had a growth spurt and shot up from 4 feet 11 inches to 5 feet 3 inches. But it was to be the last of her growth spurts, and at age 47, Dean still stands 5 feet 3 inches tall — the same height she hit in seventh grade.

“I’ve had a lifetime of fashion crises,” she said. “I could lecture on the frustrations of the petite woman for hours. I’m not a Barbie doll size, so it’s always been difficult to find clothes.”

Last year, hoping to help other petite women, Dean opened Nettie’s Place in Hartselle after moving to Hartselle from Birmingham. The small shop offered a variety of petite clothing lines that were different from the typical petite suit many department stores sell. By fashion standards, a petite woman is any woman under 5 feet 4 inches.

Now, what Dean called her “petite boutique” will soon be an “Internet boutique.” Two weeks ago, Dean moved out of her bricks and mortar store on Main Street in Hartselle. Her merchandise will soon be strictly online — a move that few local small businesses have tried.

“She’s the first (in Hartselle) I’m aware of,” said Susan Hines, president of the Hartselle Area Chamber of Commerce. Many local businesses have their physical locations as well as a Web site, but few are strictly online, she said.

“More and more people are shopping online these days, so I think it’s nice to have their physical store as well as shop online,” she said.

New Web site

Dean’s Web site, netties-place.net, is under construction and will likely be finished in mid-September.

The new site will look different and allow customers to purchase items online. However, Dean expects that some women won’t use that option.

“Petites are really sick and tired of buying something over the Internet and then trying it on and it not fitting,” she said.

For those women, Dean travels to them — whether at their home, office or another location where they’re comfortable, she said. When her Hartselle location was open, Dean also offered these trunk shows to individuals and women’s groups, but now she’ll have more time to offer them.

“Not having that expense (rent and other overhead costs) will allow me to fund coming to your house,” she said.

With collapsible mannequins and plenty of trunk space in her car, Dean says she has never turned down a trunk show request, though she typically sticks to the North Alabama area.

A rare product

Nettie’s Place offers clothing from Ingenuity, such as this two-piece suit.
Nettie’s Place offers clothing from Ingenuity, such as this two-piece suit.
Petite women are often extremely grateful to have found a place where clothes will fit them, she said, especially because department stores have cut back or eliminated their petite departments in recent years. Few of them offer much variety in the department.

Suits, for example, are a common staple in women’s petite clothing because they’re more likely to fit a petite woman than a one-piece garment such as a dress. Dean says she has struggled to find dresses to stock since few manufacturers will make them anymore because they are so difficult to fit.

Along with offering clothing for petite women, Nettie’s Place also offers clothing for non-petite women, as well as accessories and antiques.

Changes

While Dean is excited about the changes in her business and looks forward to drinking her coffee in her sunroom office at home and working on her computer, there’s a downside.

“I will definitely miss the foot traffic in and out of the shop,” she said. “When I moved here, I knew 10 people and now I probably know thousands.”

While her customers have told her they’ll miss the shop, they have also told her they’re happy to gain the extra time on their lunch breaks, she said, laughing. She plans to promote her Internet site to current clients by sending them postcards in the mail alerting them to the change, she said.

While some may consider her business’ switch to the Internet unusual, she’s never been one to do what the other boutiques are doing, she said.

“A lot of boutiques don’t have Web Sites, don’t advertise, and aren’t members of the local chamber of commerce,” she said. “I’ve done all of those things.”

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