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Ode to the Great Outdoors

If a sport involves a mountain, Breck Kidz in renown ski destination Breckenridge, Colo., has the gear for it.

Owner Michele Dubois

Walk into Breck Kidz, and you’ll immediately feel welcome in the space and by the people who work there. You can’t miss the giant wall of wood—from native Aspen trees—letting you know you’re in the right place for all things outdoors. One of the shoppers, a mom, has forgotten bathing suits for her kids, who have been begging to go in the hot tub at their Airbnb after a long day of snow tubing. Owner Michele Dubois, who’s also a mom of two, knows what it’s like to need the right items for your family when you’re on vacation. Dubois takes a quick look at the kids and guides them to racks of cool swimwear.

Dubois always dreamed of having her own store and in fact spent most of her career in retail and manufacturing. After majoring in business with a minor in fashion and merchandising, she worked for Bebe and then a startup car seat company. Many trade shows later, and while pregnant with her first baby, she developed the buyer bug. “I would be shocked by everything I saw that I never saw in stores. It was then that I knew I wanted to be a buyer, and I wanted a place to introduce everything I was finding to other pregnant women and new moms,” she says. Dubois wrote a business plan and opened Breck Kidz on August 4, 2014 and her second baby was born just 18 days later: “My kids were raised in Breck Kidz and I’ve never looked back.”

The boutique is located in the heart of downtown Breckenridge, one of the most visited ski resort towns in the world and therefore ideal for foot traffic, Dubois explains. Approximately 5,000 people live here full time, but hundreds of thousands visit; the summer brings hikers, bikers and those who simply enjoy the mountain lifestyle and the winter attracts skiers, snowboarders and ice skaters.

In the beginning, Dubois’ buying strategy revolved around souvenirs and toys with some clothing but she evolved along the way as she observed the customers’ needs. “People did want souvenirs in a tourist place, but they wanted something different, so I started looking for higher quality and more unique items,” Dubois says.  “The way people dressed their babies and children evolved as well. Organic, higher-end fabrics and trendier colors became priorities. Buying the fashion and accessories was my passion, so growing that section of the store was a no brainer. I also became focused on the items that people were forgetting to pack such as swimsuits, underwear and socks.” In the summer, kids love to play the river that flows through downtown Breckenridge. But, as Murphy’s Law would have it, they often fall in the river right before running off to another activity or dinner and need dry clothes—and Breck Kidz is right there.

Savvy European brands for tourists and locals alike

One top-selling brand is Mayoral “because the quality is great for the price point, their attention to detail is amazing, it’s unique, and it’s a style that both the parents and the grandparents love.” Dubois also loves contemporary brands such as Miles, City Mouse, Minymo, Creamie, Feather 4 Arrow, and Deux Par Deux as they fill the needs for young and trendy moms looking for high quality, safe and eco-friendly fabrics and little to no prints. For the baby section, she offers Kickee Pants, Magnetic Me, Angel Dear, Kissy, Coccoli and Petit Lem. “I’m very focused on the fabrics and convenience in the baby section. The trends are always evolving for details such as zippers and magnets and in the category of convertible footies.” She mixes in brands like Joules and Hatley for their bright colors, prints and high quality. When it comes to finding the right salespeople to hire, Dubois favors personality over prior retail work: “I don’t look at experience as much as someone who genuinely likes kids, interacts well with families, and has a great work ethic. Staffing in a tourist town has been my greatest struggle but finding genuine people has been the trait I’ve looked for most.”

Dubois’ staffing challenges really didn’t measure up to what she had to manage during the beginning of Covid in 2020, which hit Breckenridge hard. She explains: “I fully stocked Breck Kidz the first two weeks of March to prepare for the spring break weeks ahead. March 15th was the day we found out the town was shutting down at 4pm— the ski mountain shut down all operations that day, all stores and restaurants were to be closed by Monday, all second-home owners were to be out of town and back to their primary residents by Tuesday. I remember people driving in for their spring breaks only to be told the town was shutting down and they had to turn around and go back home. The town went from the busiest week of the year to a ghost town overnight.”

Not-your-average Breckenridge gear

Dubois had many moments thinking that she would have to close her beloved store. But within a few days, she had people calling and messaging her on social media. This support motivated her to keep going. Dubois flew into action and shifted her store into an e-commerce one. “Every day, I was in the store taking pictures and shipping orders out for people—people who just wanted to see me standing at the end. It chokes me up even saying that.” She ran business that way until June 1st when Breckenridge opened back up. Despite the restrictions, she and her staff were able to keep everyone safe, and that wound up translating to her bottom line. “The love for small businesses was alive and well,” she says. “People made a point of supporting us and 2020 ended up being a great sales year for me. The pandemic made me realize that I do have an amazing customer base and I have so many people cheering me on. It’s humbling to know that they made a choice to shop with me and to support me. The appreciation and gratitude I felt for my community and my customers led to a passion that truly evolved the store into what it is now.”

Her store now reflects her approach to buying, merchandising, greeting and working with each customer. “I love working with other small business owners, selling their products and being a small part in making their dreams come true too,” Dubois says. “I love the relationships I’ve made with all my reps. It’s a joy to visit them in their showrooms and I always leave a little more inspired after a visit.”

Her customers, especially first-timers, can’t help but feel inspired in the store with that amazing wall of Aspen wood. It turns out that Dubois had to put up a bit of a fight prevent the landlord from removing it and selling it to a new buyer. Of course, she prevailed. Aspen trees, Dubois explains, turn to a brilliant gold in September/early October and create a glow over the Colorado mountains. That glow is much like Dubois’ energy that she brings every day to Breck Kidz. “I truly want to learn and know what my customers want, and I will take the time to find it. I have a passion for small business, children’s retail and connecting with people. My customers become family and I truly think people can feel the love when they enter the store. I have raised my children in the store, and I want each and every family to feel welcome like it is their home, too.”

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