A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cheryl “Coko” Clemons and Tamiya Davis, owners of C & T Shoe Bar in Virginia Beach. In case you didn’t know, Coko is the lead singer of Grammy-nominated R&B group SWV and has lived in Hampton Roads the past ten years. I had the chance to chat with the ladies about their new venture for a Bossy Magazine feature. You can check out what the ladies had to say below…
ON HOW THEY MET AND C & T SHOE BAR CAME TO BE
COKO: Tamiya used to have a kiosk in the mall selling jewelry. I love jewelry. Living out in Virginia, you don’t get that kind of stuff out here. So when I saw the kiosk, I was like, Oh my God, somebody has some jewelry out here! She wasn’t at the kiosk, her niece was at the kiosk and told her, ‘You know who that was at the kiosk?’
TAMIYA: They were like, ‘That’s Coko!’ And I was like, What?! (laughs)
COKO: I would always come to her kiosk and shop with her. We just became friends and started talking. Then we went out to dinner. We just realized we had so much in common. We hit it off right away. It hasn’t even been a year yet. It happened so fast. We just clicked.
TAMIYA: Our first night at the dinner, I was nervous. I’m going to dinner with Coko. I’ve sung her song in the shower, so many times. So I’m getting my voice right, like as soon as I sit as this table, I am going to let her know I can blow, “Weak.” We were sitting there and she was telling me a couple of stories of her past and when she was a teen. I was like, I did that! And she was like, “What?!” I was like girl, you ratchet like me! (laughing) And it’s been on since.
TAMIYA: Then she invited me to the Grammy’s. To do the jewelry for them.
COKO: SWV was nominated for a Grammy and she came and dressed us in her jewelry. We just had a ball.
TAMIYA: Then she asked me, If you ever opened up another business, what would you do? I said I wanted a she store. And she was like, ‘Oh my God, I always wanted to do that!’ She asked me, ‘Are you ready right now to do something like that?’ I was like yeah.
COKO: And I said Let’s do it!
TAMIYA: Let’s do it.
COKO: It happened quick, everything fell into place. We knew we wanted to work in here. That’s my nephew over there, her sister works in here, her niece works in here and a young lady from a church I was attending, she works in here.
TAMIYA: We are one big family and we just make it work.
ON WHAT THE STORE OFFERS AND THEIR VISION FOR EXPANSION
COKO: We have vendors come in. These pursues are handmade by designers that live in VA. We have hats by a young lady, she’s Virginia’s own. Jesse Powell’s sisters, Trina and Tamara, one of the sisters makes jewelry, she has jewelry in here as well.
COKO: We want to open up another location in Atlanta.
TAMIYA: Hopefully, the first of the year, no later than next summer. So, we told you the first secret! (laughs).
ON THE LACK OF SUPPORT FROM THE 757
COKO: We didn’t want to make the shoes too expensive because you know, not everyone can afford $1000 shoes. When we go out, we love Red Bottoms, we go out and will drop $1000 on a pair of shoes and that’s not everybody. So we wanted to bring something affordable to Virginia Beach…And I don’t know. Some people were offended.
TAMIYA: Some people were like, that’s Coko, you don’t think she would have more?
COKO: She (a customer) was like I can afford this and that, and I was like ok…
TAMIYA: We just wanted everybody to be able to shop. We have the Zigis, we have the London Trash, you know..
COKO: We are working on getting Steve Madden and Jeffery Campbell now.
TAMIYA: Anybody can spend $50-$60 on some shoes and you still look good. So hey, why not?
COKO: We have those that are $100 and up. We have something for everybody. It’s slow. It’s only been two months or something so we aren’t tripping.
ON BUSINESS PROBLEMS
COKO: We have had a few crazy customers…
TAMIYA: Very rude. First of all my sister doesn’t know all the time that she is a celebrity…
COKO: I am down to earth but I will knock you out. I tell all my employees, if they are disrespecting you badly, then you do what you have to do. We had a young lady come in that didn’t understand what 10% off was. She thought it meant $10. So, she got mad and went up to the register and was like ‘What, this is the same price.’ When she walked out, she kicked the table and knocked the shoes over. We do have people come in and try to act out. That’s the most problems that we have had.
TAMIYA: You can’t make everybody happy. We’re not in the “make everybody happy business” because nobody is in that. We just want to bring nice flavor shoes to Virginia. We have our regular customers, like this young lady, Candice.
COKO: Oh yeah, she’s number one.
TAMIYA: She shops with us all the time and she brings the flavor. When she rocks her shoes, she sends us gorgeous pictures, so we have our regular customers who support.
ON WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE
COKO: What shoe to pick! What we think is hot, others don’t think its hot ( laughing). She [Tamiya] picked a shoe and I was like that is the ugliest shoe I have ever seen. That shoe sold out!
TAMIYA: Sold out, I did that! (laughing) I get a call [from Coko], ‘Sis I think we should get it in another color.’ I said, which shoe? She said, ‘The ugly shoe!’ (laughing)
COKO: I bought a shoe, and I said I was going to send the shoe back. And it sold out. It was crazy.
TAMIYA: It took us two weeks to even pull the shoe out from the back. I told her we are putting this shoe out and they were buying it. I said listen, it’s not always what we think.
COKO: So now when we are picking a shoe, we like to get the employees involved and get their opinion.
I thoroughly enjoyed my chat with both ladies. They are both very down-to-earth and real. One thing I came away with from the interview was my disappointment with the lack of support for local businesses in the Hampton Roads area. We chatted briefly after the interview regarding how Hampton Roads will complain about the lack of diversity/availability in a variety of areas, but when the opportunity presents itself, no one wants to support it. I have said before, and I hate to say it again, for a state that is known for its “Love,” we seem to embrace “Hate,” a lot more. I hope we start to do better!