Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, sisters Laura and Cristie Merritt always wanted to have a business together. In 2010 their dream became a reality when they opened Shop Bella C in the small university town of Searcy, Arkansas.
Both graduates of Harding University, Laura (now Walker) graduated in 2009 with a degree in Marketing. Cristie earned her degree in fashion merchandising in 2011. Harding is a Christian college 50 miles northeast of Little Rock and continues to rank as one the best universities in the South. (I’m biased – I went to school there, too).
Prior to opening the shop, Laura worked as a business manager for Dillard’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She went on to work for a multi-line showroom in Dallas called Colletta. Working in fashion markets in Vegas, Atlanta and Dallas, Laura held the position as their southeast rep for their multi-line showroom.
Once Cristie graduated from Harding, she also went to work for Colletta briefly before officially opening Shop Bella C in the fall of 2011. They began with trunk shows, then added their online boutique and finally opened their storefront. Their online business makes up half their business, which ships nationwide and to Canada.
A Shop with International Flair
Laura’s attention to detail and sharp business mind combined with Cristie’s creativity and style have made for a booming business. “Bella” means beautiful in Italian. Cristie fell in love with Italy while studying at Harding University Florence one semester, so it was the perfect name for their shop, which also draws inspiration from Paris, Toronto and even Cabo San Lucas (the photo above of Laura and Christie were shot in Cabo by Amy Bennett Photography).
They showcase their merchandise through Facebook and Instagram, which have proven to be their best ways to reach their target market. Offering free gift wrapping in the store and online has been important for their business as well. Laura says, “We have completely fallen in love with Nashville Wraps’ gorgeous products like wrapping paper, shopping bags, tissue paper and jewelry boxes.”
Big City Style in a Small Town
When asked why they stayed in such a small town instead of going back to Atlanta or another major city, Laura explains, “The university is very special to our family. We have a long legacy of family members who have attended Harding. But the main reason is because my husband is the assistant coach of the women’s basketball team.”
SBC has a huge presence of student shoppers along with many locals. “Half the fun of shopping is the experience you have while finding the perfect new wardrobe piece, and Shop Bella C was created to do that,” says Cristie. “We want our shoppers to have just as much fun buying their new clothing or jewelry as they do wearing it out for the first time.”
Palm Beach Flavor in Lilly Pulitzer
Dresses and tunics are their most popular lines, with Lilly Pulitzer’s Palm Beach prints being their biggest sellers. (Lilly’s “classic shift dress” shot to international fame when her old classmate Jacqueline Kennedy was photographed wearing a “Lilly” while on vacation. From Essentially Lilly, A Guide to Colorful Entertaining, Lilly explains how she got started, “Jackie wore one of my dresses – it was made from kitchen curtain material – and people went crazy. Everybody loved them, and I went into the dress business.”)
These best friends are very close and share the same values as business partners. “We love that we can be completely honest with each other and secure in knowing that above all we have each other’s back, no matter what,” adds Laura.
“Our parents are our biggest influence. Being entrepreneurs themselves, they taught by example that having a hard work ethic, passionate spirit and prayerful heart are what it takes to succeed,” says Laura.