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Urban Minx founder ready to pass baton

After a whirlwind decade of highs and lows, trend-setting and retrenchment, Urban Minx is very similar to the company Melissa Fleet launched in Ashland, catering to fashion-conscious clients who couldn't find anything else like it in the Rogue Valley.

Urban Minx blossomed quickly to a chain of five boutiques and spiked on the Internet before the recession kicked brick-and-mortar shopkeepers in the solar plexus and mega players refashioned digital consumption.

Now focusing on a single shop in the Rogue Valley Mall, 15 miles from the original location, Fleet has decided to move on, leaving Urban Minx in the hands of longtime lieutenant and store manager Ashleigh Baumann.

"In this business you pretty much have to be a chameleon and adapt to your environment, changing with the ebb and flow of the economic climate," Fleet said. "When I first had the business in 2004, we were surrounded by an extremely healthy economic situation. Construction was at an all-time high, it was pretty easy back then to make money."

Urban Minx's online sales fired on all cylinders and in short order a string of boutiques opened in Bend, Medford, Corvallis and Sun Valley, Idaho.

Today, Urban Minx has left much of the online territory behind, preferring to reach clients via social-media channels Facebook and Instagram.

"In 2004 and 2005, there wasn't the big-store competition from Amazon, the Gap Group, Nordstrom and even Macy's," Fleet said. "European and contemporary fashion just wasn't covered by the big players."

The recession changed the cyber retailscape, she said.

"Amazon came into its own and started gobbling up e-commerce space," Fleet said. "Boutique stores couldn't compete with free returns, free shipping and general discounting of merchandise. Our share started diminishing in 2010 and has been ebbing away ever since."

The silver lining, she added, was the return of shoppers wanting one-on-one time with merchants.

"There was a return to the boutique environment intimacy," Fleet said. "There was the return of people coming in looking for style, and I was the stylist. You can't have that personal experience shopping online where you never speak to a human being. That's one of the reasons Ashleigh stepped forward. She's worked alongside me for six years," Fleet said. "It's a natural next step for the business, it made sense."

But not at first.

"When I first approached her, she was unsure," Fleet said. "I put it on the market with the broker, but as time went by, she decided she was ready to step up and take the opportunity."

Baumann, who has managed the store for five years and has been a buyer for four years, is at the Los Angeles Fashion Market this week, putting in orders for next spring.

"It's been crazy, but I'm really excited," said Baumann. "There's still a lot to figure out, but everything has gone by quickly. Definitely the price was a little bit daunting when we were talking about both the Bend and Medford stores. When it came down to making a decision whether to close the stores, we figured out a deal we were both comfortable with."

A "changing hands" sale is scheduled to begin Oct. 23 and will continue until Thanksgiving.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

Melissa Fleet, founder of Urban Minx fashion boutique, is selling her business and moving to Spain. Mail Tribune file photo