Nestled in a quaint area of South Tampa is a children’s boutique unlike any other. Named for her daughter’s love of butterflies, bugs and buttery soft bamboo clothing, Butter Bug Boutique is where you’ll find Courtney Vermette, sharing chemical-free products and brands that helped her daughter overcome skin allergies. More than a storefront, Butter Bug Boutique has become a place where parents can test the latest developmental toys, support purpose-driven mom-owned brands, and even discover solutions for kids that struggle with sensory issues. Vermette has become a friend to all families seeking better for their children, offering a space for welcomed answers, and lifting the community up one mompreneur, one meaningful cause at a time.
TBPM: We talked with you in 2020 when you first started Butter Bug Boutique to learn what motivated you to combine your school counseling background with your passion for better baby and children’s products. How has your business and vision developed over the last two years?
Courtney Vermette: I think if anything, I have learned so much more about the needs of parents – from sensory challenges with clothing to toys that help with developmental disorders. Since 2020, I have discovered so many more products that are developed by moms who found solutions to overcome these challenges, and I love being able to offer these unique items to parents in need.
TBPM: Because much of the world was forced online in 2020 and many remained in that space, how does this continue to affect retail shopping? What is the key to survival in this business?
CV: I do agree that a lot of people still prefer to shop online, but I also have learned that customers absolutely LOVE to come into the store to see the products in person. It is a different experience seeing something online like a bamboo pajama set and actually feeling that buttery soft texture in person. I often hear “I love coming in to feel and see everything. It is all so soft, and a lot better in person!”
However, it can be very challenging to compete with direct brands that may offer more online, or a sale that I cannot match because I do not have the margins that they do. This affects small retail shops everywhere, but I am incredibly grateful for the loyalty of my customer base. They know that they get a personal experience and 1:1 attention that you may not get from direct brands online. Having loyal customers both online and locally is the key to survival, and I am so fortunate for those that even just spread the word about us. That means everything.
TBPM: Tell us more about your latest project- Butter Bug Boutique’s own brand! From children’s toys to clothing, we need the details for this launch and other happenings at the store.
CV: This has been a work in progress for over a year! My focus for this brand is to offer sustainable toys that are purposeful, hand-crafted and developmentally driven. This brand will also offer sensory friendly bamboo basics for everyday wear, uniforms and even lineless socks! All apparel items will be released by season but will coordinate with every line so that you can mix and match. Offering tag-less, comfortable bamboo basics that are affordable is something inspired by my own daughter who has a sensory processing disorder. I know that there are other moms like me who struggle with kids who have texture challenges or are in general just “picky” about what they wear. For these reasons, this brand will be the perfect solution! Brand name and launch date to be announced in the coming months.
TBPM: As you are someone who decided to pursue your dream of owning a boutique and go all in, what advice can you give other women who have similar visions for their future?
CV: If what you are doing is not meaningful to you or causes you too much stress or any type of decline in your mental health – try something new and don’t let anything stand in your way! If you are someone who aspires to start your own business, there will be many times that you will want to quit and give up and I think that is such a normal feeling. When I feel this way, I remember my purpose, redirect myself and start over the next day. The road is rough, but the journey is so rewarding.
TBPM: Social good and social marketing have really taken off over the past several years as more brands recognize their responsibility to give back as they grow. How has the “Buy with a purpose” slogan you adopted early on resonated with your customer base? Do most of the brands you carry still support nonprofit missions?
CV: My social media manager really works hard to promote our brands that give back and the purpose behind all of our products. Marketing this is very important to me because I want our customers to know that their purchases ARE meaningful, and yes, most all of our brands give back in some way. One of our favorite brands, Emerson and Friends, is located in Clearwater and the founder gives back to different non-profits every month such as CASA, a domestic violence shelter. Laree & Co., another brand we carry and love, donates portions of sale proceeds to medically fragile children, and sends bereavement packages to mothers. We carry a lot of brands that give back nationally and world-wide with each release of a print. For example, Bellabu Bear releases prints that give back to national foundations; the Ocean PJ Set that we carry, funds the removal of 1lb of plastic from our oceans with every purchase.
We recently collaborated with one of our brands to have an exclusive “Butter Bugs” print and the collection released a few days after the Robb Elementary tragedy. I wanted to be excited about having my own exclusive print release, but the tragedy weighed heavy on my heart. I decided to take a small part in helping those families, and donate 10% of sale proceeds towards the school’s GoFundMe. Even today, we are continuing to donate with every purchase.
I love that we are all collectively supporting social good – it becomes more than just buying clothes for your kids. We are all paying it forward with each purchase, and I will do whatever I can to continue to support my brands’ missions as well as my own.
TBPM: As back-to-school shopping is imminent at the end of this month, what do you have planned in-store to prepare for the new school year?
CV: We will be announcing a back-to-school drive to collect donations such as school supplies and uniforms that will go directly to a few local Title 1 schools. Everyone who donates will receive a gift card to our store. We will also be hosting a pop-up with Wee Macree, a local mom-owned kids brand where each shirt partners with a nonprofit to benefit a different child in need. The pop-up will launch a Tampa-focused campaign that helps prepare and promote school readiness among children that are homeless.
TBPM: What are some of your daughter Lucy’s favorite things to do in Tampa Bay (besides see her mama at the store)?
CV: Lucy loves going to museums! Specifically, her favorite place to visit is the Tampa Bay History Center and she goes almost weekly with her dad. It is their special bonding time! It is connected to the Columbia Restaurant, her favorite restaurant. We live close to Armature works and she enjoys spending time there with friends, exploring and walking along the river. Since Lucy was very young, she has aspired to be a wildlife/aquatic veterinarian, so going to Zoo Tampa and Florida Aquarium are both frequent favorites also! Out of everything offered in the Bay area, her absolute favorite thing to do is shell hunt. She loves going to Treasure Island to find shells to add to her collection, and she can tell you the name of every single one – it is quite impressive!
Originally published in July 2022