Jude Muse is in the relationship business.
From her little cottage on State Street in Fondren, she has built friendships and loyalties that stretch beyond a single transaction. What began as a desire to do her own thing has tripled in growth and, in August, Muse will celebrate ten years as the owner of Treehouse Boutique.
After a career in department store retail as vice president for McRae’s, based in Jackson, Muse set out as a private consultant when Treehouse came on her radar. The original owner was looking for some advice, and later, a buyer, and a former consulting client of Muse’s convinced her this was the perfect opportunity.
Originally a much smaller gift and home interiors retailer, Treehouse Boutique has expanded their selection, retailing high-end and designer women’s wear, shoes, accessories and gifts, maintaining long-standing alliances with Trina Turk, J Brand Jeans, Vince and Nanette Lepore. Jewelers, like local Ann Blackwell’s Love, Nina Jane, have been in business with Treehouse since their beginnings.
Muse says she packs a lot into a small space — at once a 1,000 square foot residence — with every nook and cranny serving as a showcase and closets and bathrooms functioning as dressing rooms. “It’s different than anything else in the city,” she says from her basement office. “It’s like coming into someone’s home.”
And that’s the Treehouse approach to customer service. Muse says she hopes her shoppers feel like guests, even friends. “On any given Saturday, people come in and say, ‘It’s a party,’ and everyone knows everyone. Someone’s trying something on, and someone comes in to the room and they’re being called to look at a dress someone’s trying on. It’s totally different from most retail and boutiques.”
With a client list from ages 14 to 70, Muse believes Treehouse is approachable and treats every customer as if they were the only customer. “Our theory is that they may come in today for a $29.99 pair of pants, but five years down the road, they can afford something else,” she explains. “Several of our customers who bought pieces in college are now successful, young attorneys. We build their wardrobe over time and even call them when we’re having a big sale.”
New customers are constantly being introduced to Treehouse, whether on purpose or by accident. “Ten years later, they’re still walking in, saying, ‘I didn’t know you were here,’” Muse says. “As much as we complain about parking, sometimes it’s a good thing in this walkable neighborhood.” She related a story about one such accidental shopper. “She was having a tough time finding jeans. We found her the perfect pair and, when she left, she said she was so glad she finally came in.”
After a decade, boutique retail has grown around Treehouse and so has the neighborhood itself. “I don’t know if I want to say it has grown or grown up,” Muse says. “As we’ve grown, we’ve layered on different levels and, to me, everything’s gotten better. I’ve been approached to move so many times, but I don’t think I would ever leave. I don’t think I could recreate this anywhere else.”