In the 12 years since Ashely Vermillion Webb opened her celebrated women’s boutique, Vermillion, the shopping landscape has changed significantly. With more customers shopping online, Vermillion has expanded its digital presence through House Account, which specializes in bringing local retailers like Vermillion online through its e-commerce, email marketing and social media platform. More than 85,000 shoppers have the House Account app.

Customers can see in real time what’s arriving at Vermillion and how the store translates the new merchandise into wearable looks for the moment. This has enabled Vermillion to deepen its relationships with local customers while attracting new clients nationwide.

“We started using House Account to attract buyers outside of Raleigh, but we have found that a lot of our local customers are using it too,” said Jennifer Kerr, Vermillion’s assistant manager. “Locals use it for convenience. They can look through everything, and check out the details to decide if they want to purchase before they come into the store. It saves them time, and helps them make a well-informed decision about buying.”

Finding the right balance between online and bricks-and-mortar locations is increasingly challenging for apparel retailers. This year has been particularly tough, as many chains have announced store closings including Rue21, The Gap, Banana Republic, BCBG, Sears,  and True Religion – just to name a few – and The Limited closed all 250 of its locations.

But for specialty retailers who have a strong following locally and can expand their audience online, this is a time of opportunity. Webb has built her business on a highly edited collection from sought-after designers (designers shoppers can’t find at the mall) while providing outstanding personal service to clients. Kerr says the store’s online presence has not compromised Vermillion’s commitment to personalized service – instead it’s extended it to new customers.

“It’s allowing us to build relationships with customers all over the country who we could not work with as effectively without the ability to shop our store online,” she said. “Many of our long-distance customers discovered us through House Account and now text or email us directly.”

Amanda Weisiger Cornelson, CEO of House Account, says strong customer relationships are the foundation of business for local specialty retailers, and House Account brings those relationships online.

“House Account enables specialty stores to extend the special, in-store experience to customers anywhere, anytime,” she said. “That experience defines a boutique’s brand — we believe House Account is the next best thing to actually being in the store, with real staff available to help live and the products represented exactly in the way the boutique owner specifies. The boutique is the brand, and we’re here to help build that up.”

For a small business such as Vermillion, maintaining its own digital marketing team can be cost prohibitive. The idea for House Account came from a store owner in Charlotte who found that maintaining her e-commerce site was overwhelming.

“It’s difficult, expensive, and time consuming to operate a successful digital strategy, especially without a dedicated digital team,” said Cornelson. “We act as an extension of a store’s in-house team, doing all the heavy lifting on our end to make the boutique owner look like a digital sales and marketing guru. We become very close partners to bring these businesses online and help grow them.”