By Elizabeth Harris
October 16th, 2020
One night back in 2013, three generations of women sat on a porch in Wanchese sipping cool drinks and dreaming. Matriarch Patty Steinau, her daughter Rheanne Byrd and Rheanne’s four daughters, Lacey Apple, Molly Kinnisten, Maddie Kinnisten and little Sydney Byrd, conceived the idea for an income-producing creative outlet that would allow them to express their shared love of shopping, styling, designing and DIY projects – a women’s clothing and gift boutique. Best of all, it was a place where they could work together.
It wasn’t just idle porch talk. Lacey, 20 at the time, was home from college and tired of working in restaurants and retail stores. She had always wanted to create a boutique, and her grandmother and mother were on board.
And Grandma had come up with the perfect name: Sisters.
Patty created a business plan, and “Pops,” aka patriarch Ed Steinau, supported the idea in many ways, as did friends.
“The people who supported us in starting this venture and believed we could do it mean so much to us,” Rheanne says. “Those are the kind of people you want on your team in life.”
Lacey, Rheanne and Patty found a retail space in Manteo. The women had experience working in re-tail clothing stores, but they had a lot to learn about opening and running a business. “It was literally trial by error,” Lacey says. “Everything. But it was fun. We were just trying to figure it out as we went, and little-by-little it started falling into place.”
The easiest part for them was stocking and setting up the store. Shopping and decorating are collective family hobbies, so going to markets and placing orders is part of the fun. Rheanne handled the merchandising and store decor, including building display items.
The first winter was tough. “It was a cold, lone-ly winter with just the UPS man coming through,” Lacey remembers. But by the spring of 2014, locals had discovered Sisters and appreciated that it was a year-round place to shop. Thanks to positive in-store experiences, word-of-mouth and Lacey’s dedication to the store’s Instagram account, Sisters has developed a regular following, including a band of loyal online shoppers across the country.
Delegation of duties is based on what each woman is best at. Lacey handles social media, correspondence, packaging, shipping and book-keeping. Rheanne does the merchandising, cleaning and steaming. They make decisions together on ordering. They love the roles they’ve settled into. Lacey describes her job as “playing dress up,” especially since she models many of their clothes on Instagram. Rheanne loves decor and DIY. “I could do this the rest of my life, I just love it,” she says.
Patty was involved more at the beginning and is less so now, though she still works in the store a few days a week. Maddie and Sydney are starting to pitch in more, especially now that Sisters has a second location in Duck, which opened in July 2019.
The downtown Manteo waterfront location is moody, warm and artsy, with warm colors and a black accent wall, while the Duck location in the Scarborough Lane Shoppes is airier and light-er, with shiplap walls. Both carry a similar line of goods, including clothing, leather handbags, shoes, jewelry and accessories, home goods and personal care products. Sisters is trying to focus on American-made goods and to support as many other women-owned businesses as possible.
Lacey and Rheanne say they find it easy to work together. They get along well and have a similar vision for their stores and goods. The only time they can remember disagreeing is when Rheanne wants to move something in a store and Lacey doesn’t want to do it. “I just move it when she’s not here,” Rheanne says, as Lacey adds, “And it always looks better.”
What they’ve learned about running a store is that customer service is the most important thing. Adaptation is key. “You have to be able to adapt and do things on the fly and make things look fresh,” Rheanne says. “We buy things we love, but we also have to know what people want and stay on top of trends. It’s not always about us. People have different tastes.”
Lacey says giving the business a personality on Instagram has been the biggest gamechanger. She is the face and voice of Sisters online, and she’s frequently making videos of the clothes, the ones that look great on her as well as the ones that don’t. Showing customers how the clothes look on all body types is important to her, she says, as is connecting with them.
Over the past seven years, the owners have met new challenges. Lacey has had a baby, Matilda, and since there are two stores, they now have employees outside of the family. Their biggest challenge is ordering enough inventory to make both stores look full while still satisfying their online clientele. “Being organized and staying on top of things is so important,” Rheanne says.
Outside of work, the women in this close-knit family spend their downtime together. They live on the same street (except for Molly, who lives in Wilmington) and still sit on the porch in the evenings, only now that their dream has been reached, they’re just coming up with ways to make it better.
Sisters Boutique & Gifts
Where: 207 Queen Elizabeth Ave., Manteo; 1171 Duck Road, Duck
Contact: 252-305-8582, 252-715-5536;email@example.com
More info: @sistersofmanteo and @sistersofduck on Facebook and Instagram