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Elaine reflects on 30 years in business

Mehreen Shahid

By Mehreen Shahid, Orillia Packet & Times

Long-time customers Linda Stuart and Jill Jones started out their friendship with Elaine Francoz, as customers at Just Elaine's. The business celebrated Tuesday its 30th anniversary with a special customer appreciation event. MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES

Long-time customers Linda Stuart and Jill Jones started out their friendship with Elaine Francoz, as customers at Just Elaine's. The business celebrated Tuesday its 30th anniversary with a special customer appreciation event. MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES

Elaine Francoz knows exactly what each of her customers like to wear.

"Her judgment and taste are impeccable," said Joyce Epstein, a long-time customer from Toronto. "She knows exactly what will look good on you and she doesn't force you to buy anything -- you have to feel comfortable with it."

Her friend Beverley Wise agreed. She had driven to Orillia Tuesday for the special customer appreciation day marking Just Elaine's 30th anniversary.

"She's very soft and low-key, and there's no pressure to buy, you can just walk in and wander," said Wise, who started shopping at the store a decade ago.

It's a skill Francoz has perfected over the last three decades.

"I think of the people I sell to and what is it they wear and what is their lifestyle and line of work and then decide what to buy for them," said the owner of Just Elaine's, an upscale clothing store in downtown.

What started out as a home business to occupy her time after she retired as a teacher in the late '70s, gradually picked up enough pace to force her to move the business out of her house and into a more formal establishment first on Peter Street and then on Mississaga Street in 1986.

It was a gradual uptake of the store, but it was steady. And from 1979 onward it has only grown, said Francoz.

"There was a gap in Orillia in terms of upscale ladies clothing, so I brought Toronto style to Orillia," said Francoz. "Orillia style is (also) very good, but to me it was a niche market and it was very specific, and it seems to have grown a following."

What determines her choice of merchandise depends on the experience her customers are seeking.

"First of all, people want to be able to feel things, when you touch things and they feel good on your skin, that's what they want," said Francoz. "They want something different and exceptional. Women, over the years, accumulate clothes, so if they're going to purchase something, they're looking for something unique and different, and it has to feel good."

Watching trends change over the last three decades, she notes that lifestyles are a lot more relaxed now as compared to when she first started out.

"What women want is elegance with comfort. Most of my customers' lifestyles have changed a little bit. Gone are the days of power dressing. I find even my Toronto customers, who are Bay Street lawyers, dress a little more relaxed now."

As part of the community, Just Elaine's has been actively contributing toward various charitable causes, such as fundraiser fashion shows for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Most customers have now become friends and some are like family, "When I started out, I was a lot younger and my customers were my contemporaries," said Francoz, 71. "So we've sort of aged together."

That was the case for Mardi Huften, who was a steady customer before she joined the team as a part-time employee at the store.

"When I became an empty nester, I needed something to do a couple days a week and this was the perfect place," she said Mardi Huften. "(Elaine) is great to work with, she has a great eye for fashion and you get great customers coming in."

A passion for what you do and a strong ability to relate to people and lots of hard work have made her business a success so far, but there are no plans for expansion, said Francoz.

"I've got the formula figured out and I think I'd like to keep it going as it is and just keep helping customers who are now friends," she added.

mshahid@postmedia.com

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