It’s been years since Dema Badr was employed by her parents at Asheville Discount Pharmacy, but the more colorful interactions there still stand out. There were the tourists seeking relief from terrible blisters. Or travelers realizing they’d forgotten important prescriptions at home.
“None of the problems were fun and exciting,” Badr says, but the emotionally taxing moments were offset by an effective approach to human resources. Some employees had been with the company for more than a decade.
“My parents made a small business feel like a family business, even to the people who weren’t family,” she says, recalling her mother packing lunches for employees and her father teaching business skills to those with an interest. “I didn’t realize — until I was older and had worked at other places — that that was rare.”
While Badr says valuing employees and relationships was the greatest entrepreneurial lesson she took from her parents, a later decision to shut down her first solo venture, Zakya — a high-end boutique that operated on Haywood Street from 2006-08 — was the toughest source of growth. “It was a huge emotional and also monetary investment,” she says. “But in hindsight, it was a great thing, because it made me go off and try different things and learn a whole new skill set.”
Badr got her first corporate job at Anthropologie and later spent five years in China working at a manufacturing position with Coach International. The decision to return home (by way of New York) came after her two sisters opted to do the same — one to take over the pharmacy and the other to work at the law firm of Ward and Smith, P.A.
Surveying Asheville’s fashion scene in late 2015, Badr saw room for another specialty shop. “I grew up and had spent so much time downtown,” she says. “I was like, ‘Maybe the challenge will be to not do it downtown and to figure out a new neighborhood.’” By February 2016, she had found a location in Biltmore Village, and her second shop, Scout Boutique, opened in April.
From its post between Fig Bistro and WINK salon, the store offers what she calls an approachable selection of women’s apparel, accessories and art. “In my first store, I feel like a lot of things were unique to Asheville, but they also needed a unique place to wear them,” Badr says. “A majority of the selection in this store is buy-now-wear-now. You don’t have to wait for an occasion.”
Badr’s personal style, which informs her picks for the store, tends toward well-made pieces with a feminine edge. “They don’t have to be girly, flouncy dresses, but I like femininity to be expressed,” she say. “Because why not? We can.”
Buying from local designers, she adds even more variety to that theme. For instance, Rachel Weisberg brings hand-dyed, bohemian pieces to the mix, while Angela Kim makes more polished garments.
If curating products is the easy part of running the shop, making time to do everything else is what presents the challenge. Plus, Badr launched a “nonline” matchmaking service called Modern Blackbook in October, and it’s been growing faster than anticipated. “You have to stay on top of all these little things,” she says, admitting that social media was an acquired taste. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t updated Instagram in three days. Come here, mannequin!’”
One matter that’s not worrying Badr, however, is the presence of chain stores in Asheville. Not only do they draw customers to neighboring businesses and nudge Asheville toward shopping destination status, she reasons, but corporate stores also tend to keep doors open and lights on later, making some areas feel safer for retailers and customers. Finally, she says, chains can inspire small businesses to keep up with attractive merchandising and other standards. “It should always be a mix,” she says, noting the role of landlords and developers in keeping the balance. “They’re basically inviting a chain to come in when they set the rent at 10 grand, or spend so much money upfitting a place that that’s all they can do.”
Since Badr sees room for big and small to coexist, she’s focusing on upping her own contributions to Asheville’s fashion scene. In the short term, she aims to build more of a following among locals, and, eventually, she hopes to put her manufacturing skills back into play. “I’d love to see a product that is Scout-branded be born in this store,” she says, “and then take on a life of its own.”