by David Coulson
Aug. 19, 2014. When Jessica and Kenneth Wehrmann were in college, neither had any idea that they would one day be the owners of a high-fashion boutique in Blowing Rock. But since buying Monkee’s Designer Fashion Boutique two years ago, this enthusiastic, married couple has fallen in love again with the High Country and established a unique store that caters to customer service.
“We want our customers to feel like they are shopping with friends when they come to our store,” said Jessica Wehrmann, who like her husband Kenneth, grew up nearby in Wilkesboro.
“We want our customers to feel like they are getting the attention they need.”
Jess, as she is known by friends, was studying sociology at Wake Forest when she made a life-changing decision by taking a retail sales job at the Monkee’s store in Winston-Salem during her junior year.
“I fell in love with what Monkee’s is all about,” said Jess.
After graduation, Jess became a full-time sales associate before finally advancing to the manager’s position at the Winston-Salem location. When the opportunity arose to buy the Blowing Rock Store, she and Kenneth jumped at it.
About six months after buying Monkee’s, the pair made another big move – they decided to remodel the interior of the building to combine what were then separate show and clothing stores into one. The reconstruction proved to be a huge success.
Kenneth has brought to the table a background forged from a dual major of business management and economics during his days at Appalachian State University and the practical experience of work in commercial building and telecommunications into the family-owned endeavor.
“We really work well together as a team,” Jess said. “Kenneth does a lot of the back-of-the-office work and the inventory. It definitely is a team effort.”
Adding to the family is Jess’s mother, Glenda Triplett, who retired several months ago from her career and is now working in the Monkee’s store three days a week.
“She is awesome and is doing such a great job,” Jess said. “We are very close, so it is a lot of fun to have her here.”
Along with the family ties, Monkee’s has had most of the rest of its staff on board for some time, helping to add to the customer service emphasis.
“We have certain customers who come here and ask for particular sales associates because they trust them so much,” Jess said. “Customer service is No. 1, across the board with us.”
But customer service is just part of the equation. The lines of clothes, shoes and accessories account for the other half of what makes this Blowing Rock store successful.
Monkee’s was established in Wilmington in 1995, and now has 23 stores across the southeastern United States, but each individual store is unique.
“It is very important as a small business owner to have flexibility,” said Jess. “We are able to tailor our merchandise to our audience, which is awesome. We have the liberty to sell what will sell in our area.”
And this Blowing Rock boutique obviously has learned what its shoppers like.
“We have such a loyal following,” Jess said. “I obviously have my own style that I have put my heart into. I get excited by the new fashions and finding new designers that no one else in Blowing Rock has.”
The key is to have a broad-based appeal, both in fashion and in pricing, with an emphasis on clothing that is “classic, comfortable and casual.”
“We strive to have something for everyone in everybody’s budget,” Jess explained. “We try to carry a price point for everybody. We don’t want anybody to leave the store thinking we don’t have something they can afford.”
The years that jess has spent in retail and her education in sociology have taught her that, while the clothes may not make the woman, they can change the way a person feels.
“Fashion empowers women,” Jess said. “I do believe that fashion is empowering. It is creating your own style and the fact that you can change the way you feel.”
The past two years in Blowing Rock have been enchanting for the Wehrmann family.
“The community has really embraced us,” Jess said. “And we have tried to stay as involved locally as we can.”
With the road construction project that is currently widening U.S. 321 to four lanes has been controversial in this conservative, tight-knit community, the Wehrmanns are excited about the future of the town.
“I am excited to see Blowing Rock grow,” Jess said. “I have faith in Blowing Rock, or we would not be around here.”
Photos by Ken Ketchie