Kathy Savage (left) and Sissy Harris opened Peter Kate in 2001. // Photo by Leslie Barbaro
Sissy Harris got a taste for retail as a child. In the 1970s, she spent afternoons and weekends in Frances Boutique, the high-end women’s clothing shop that her mother, Kathy Savage, owned in Centreville. While Kathy sold fashions by Oscar de la Renta and Chanel, Sissy worked on her homework or chatted with customers. Kathy sold the business in 1980.
Fast forward to 2001. Sissy, who’d recently graduated from law school, was a young mother with two children in need of a flexible job. Kathy thought Greenville was ready for a shoe store. They joined forces to open Peter Kate, which is named for Sissy’s children. (Since opening, she’s welcomed another daughter, Margot.)
Peter Kate quickly became known for shoes and jewelry. That is still the case, though apparel—added in 2009 when Peter Kate doubled its space—is a strong segment. “We’re a mini department store,” Sissy says. “The size of our boutique allows us to focus on the customer.”
The personal touch has helped Peter Kate compete in a marketplace that includes online sales and major department stores. “We know our customer, and we know the area,” Sissy says. When Sissy and Kathy go on buying trips to New York, they often take employees, who can suggest ideas based on what customers have told them.
When it comes to daily operations, the partners stay flexible and fill in for each other whenever needed. Generally, Kathy focuses on sales while Sissy handles the business end. Because they’re related, they are comfortable suggesting new ideas to each other. They can call one another out on a mistake, and in the next breath, make plans for dinner.
Kathy says the only thing better than being a successful business owner is seeing her daughter succeed. Sissy can’t imagine being a partner with anyone else. They have a succession plan, but mum’s the word for now. Perhaps the next generation will express an interest. Like Sissy, they are off to an early start. Three to four days a week, the children are in the store. As an added benefit, they are spending time with their grandmother. Says Sissy, “It may be one of the most gratifying parts of being in a family business.”