How did you become the owner of Lady Mae?
Lady Mae opened its doors in 1943 as a lingerie shop. At one point it was lady’s dresses with the lingerie and then they added a section of uniforms. My aunt eventually bought it from the original owner, I think her name was Mae, and opened on Johnson. At that time all the uniforms were white. Now we have every pattern you can imagine. Lady Mae, and the sister store in Vancouver called Uniform Central, is focused on hospital and chef wear.
What’s your biggest inspiration?
Customer service. It has been very competitive as other uniform stores have opened. We used to be the only store on the island, and everyone would come down to shop here. As part of our dedication to customer service we do name tags, deliveries, embroideries, and house keeping samples. We get people from all over the world from here. We have sent orders to Australia. Students from medical programs at UVic will buy their uniforms here.
We’re part of Shop Local and Debbie is part of the Chef Association. We try to support our local community.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
The uniforms don’t go out of style. With fashion, yellow might not be ‘in’ next spring but with us it doesn’t go out of fashion and people will always buy it. We carry xxs to xxxxxxL, and petite and tall. People can come here without feeling intimidated. We do special orders as well and we will make sure they get what they need.
The name ‘Lady Mae’ might be misleading but we carry uniforms for all genders.
What challenges have you faced?
This market is small. A lot of our competitors have closed down which helps us.
We always have sales and we have different strategies to bring in business. We provide the uniforms for a lot of movies and commercials in Vancouver.
What are your favourite places downtown?
Because we do a lot of chef wear we feel connected to the restaurant industry. We always want to support local restaurants.
Hotel Rialto is a favourite, the food is fantastic and the best in Canada if not the world. Usually we support people who shop here. You support businesses who support you. It really goes in a circle. I try to shop local as I can.
Do you like being a business owner?
We still like it, its fun, I wouldn’t call it work. You get to hang out with people, and no one hassles you. At Camosun college we work with the Songhees Wellness Centre helping students get outfitted to start in hospitality.
I would like to get out in the community more, its hard to get out but that’s what the goal is. People forget about you if you don’t do that. You need a marketing budget for a small business, and it needs to be constant. We are a small family and we all stick together.