From coast to college town: The journey of a boutique entrepreneur

Julia Fetcher

Prom dresses in almost every color of the rainbow line a wall on the left side of the store. Jewelry pieces, both brand names and not, are assembled on a vanity table.

Shoes are carefully propped up on a display table by the front of the store.

A lot of thought seems to have gone into the consignment store Deja Vu. A store where owner Jennifer Waanounou, 26, from Statesboro, Ga., did not originally intend to purchase the store.

Crossing cities and countries

Waanounou had previously worked at the Island Republic consignment store on St. Simon’s Island since 2007. She took over Island Republic in 2011 at 20 years old and managed it until 2013.

That year, Waanounou’s divorce with her husband led her to sell off the store, and her schedule became more flexible.

A little while after that, Waanounou’s daughter had the chance to go to Israel.

“My ex-husband was Israeli…he had the opportunity to go do business there. I kind of put how I felt on the backside…I was like he could go do that. He could go do that, and my daughter could learn Hebrew, she could meet all her family,” Waanounou said.

Waanounou wanted her daughter to learn about her father’s culture. Her daughter benefited from her time in Tel Aviv, Israel, doing well in school and learning to speak fluent Hebrew. One day, though, her daughter asked to go back to the United States.

“She said ‘Mommy, I want to go back to America’ and I said ‘Alright, I’ll book a flight for tomorrow’,” Waanounou said.

Making the deal

Waanounou was opening smaller businesses when she was not in Israel in a period between jobs. She brokered real estate for a summer, and even had a laundry service for workers at Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Ga.

“I was not really invested in [Déjà Vu]. But once I came and saw this store, I went on intuition. It felt right,” Waanounou said.

Then-owner of Déjà Vu, Casey Arnett, had another consignment store, The Posh Pointer, in Waynesboro.

“I went in and tried to get a job with her…we talked for about an hour, and she told me she would rather sell me her store than have me work for her,” Waanounou said.

Waanounou explained that it was a lot of work for Arnett to continue commuting between Waynesboro and Statesboro, managing two stores.

“She heard my experience, we made a connection and she made me an offer…The next day, I came and saw the store immediately and I fell in love with it. I saw a lot of potential in it,” Waanounou said.

She started dating Joseph Rodriguez, 33, from Girard, Ga., in 2016. She told Rodriguez about the store and how she was looking for an investor.

If not for the two dating, Rodriguez might not seem like the typical boutique business partner.

“I’m an iron worker…I work at [Plant] Vogtle…that’s my primary job. That would be our security…this is what I do for fun, and I love doing this,” Rodriguez said.

Waanounou gave Rodriguez her business plan so he could look over it.

“I read it three times…not that I didn’t understand it the first time, but I was in a little shock about the potential that a retail consignment shop could do,” Rodriguez added. “There’s billions of dollars in this industry that can be used and tapped into…I never thought about consignment in general the way she thinks about it.”

He started working with Waanounou at the beginning of December 2016 as she acquired the consignment shop.

Waanounou became Deja Vu’s new owner at the beginning of the year in January.

Renovating on a budget

Once she took over Deja Vu, Waanounou also acquired the 601B location adjacent to the shop. She gave the expanded area a facelift by painting the walls and building clothing racks from recycled palettes.

So far, she has spent under $200 on these projects. She wants to do more, though, like rip up the carpet and stain the concrete underneath.

“Stained concrete is under a $500 renovation…it’s a water-based stain…it’s easy and it’s good,” Waanounou said. “Using carpet isn’t even good for the environment. If you burn it, you’ll get cancer.”

She also wants to add track lighting to the shop, in lieu of the current fluorescent lighting. When those lights are installed, it will be darker in the store.

“I’ll be doing LED. It takes way less energy. I want to control the lights from my iphone. That’s my goal, in business life, to run everything from my iphone,” Waanounou said.

A vision for more

The Déjà Vu owner wants her store and the items she sells to become a lifestyle brand.

While she started selling just women’s clothes and accessories, she has also added men’s, children’s, maternity and plus size clothing.

As well, Waanounou is working on getting furniture added to the kinds of items consigned at her store.

She also wants to be very involved in the community, particularly through charities and acts of giving. One of the charities that Déjà Vu is already contributing to is Safe Haven, an organization that assists battered women and their children.

In addition, Waanounou has structured this attitude of giving through her transactions with customers.

“I go over the contract with them [customers], that things will be donated and I take what charity they’d want,” Waanounou said.

She wants to participate in charity events throughout the community, too. She is still researching with what charities she would like Déjà Vu to be involved.

“I’m still new to the community… but like I said, I’m open to any suggestions. I think it brings amazing blessings to your business and to your life to be charitable to the community that you live in,” Waanounou explained.

Perseverance and lessons learned

Throughout the process of acquiring and operating Déjà Vu, Waanounou has had to make many changes.

“Sometimes, I’d wake up with one plan…even now, he [Rodriguez] asks ‘Oh, is that still going?” and I’m like, ‘no, that was four plans ago,’” Waanounou said.

She thinks that flexibility is key to being successful at one’s business.

“You can’t be set on one way of doing something. That’s why I do things fast, too. Failure’s not an option for me. There’s always a way,” Waanounou added.

Rodriguez wanted to be sure that as Waanounou made various business decisions, she had someone to rely on throughout the process. He used to own his own computer repair business before he got into ironworking.

“I remember going through those [same] struggles, and I remember going through them alone. I didn’t want her to be alone, because that’s hard,” Rodriguez said. “Humans can’t do that. We have to have that companionship…I made it a personal goal of mine, to make sure she was successful at this.”

Some of the most memorable business lessons Waanounou learned came from people telling her “no”. Many of the banks she approached about the consignment shop turned her down for bank loans.

“If they told me no, it’d be an interview there. I’d be like ‘So why did you tell me no? What could I have done differently that would’ve made you tell me yes?”, Waanounou said. “I ended up with the bank that told me ‘no’ the hardest because I liked it…I was like ‘you guys, I have a lot to learn from you guys’.”

As Waanounou works to sort and put out new merchandise, she also has her daughter, now six-years-old, help at Déjà Vu.

“She counts the register. She puts displays out. She actually sells a lot of stuff off the displays she makes…she’s going to have her own register,” Waanounou said.

Her daughter will manage the children’s department of the store, as well as do some of the buying for it.

Waanounou said, “I’m going to let her pick some stuff [clothing] to get her going…It’s really cool when you go and pick something from all this stuff and you bring it back to your store, and then people want to buy it.”