YEARS ON THE JOB: 5
How she got started: : Zia Boccaccio, a native of Cuzco, Peru, easily remembers the first time she became interested in alpacas. She was 6 or 7 when she spotted an alpaca on a trip with her family to ancestral land in the Andes Mountains of Peru. She describes the animal as aloof, delicate and beautiful.
When she was 21 years old, she married an American and moved to Washington.
For about 12 years, she worked as an operational manager for Steilmann European Selection, a German fashion company. She said it was here that she learned the ins and outs of the retail industry.
When the job ended, she decided to open her own store specializing in alpaca wool garments and took an eight-month research trip to Peru. Here she formed a partnership with a garment producer. She created her own label and opened her first store in Annapolis on Main Street in 2004. Boccaccio has since opened stores in Chevy Chase, Cuzco and Park City, Utah. Her sights are now set on opening a fifth store in Chicago.
Typical day: : Boccaccio always starts her day with a workout to get herself prepared.
She runs the entire operation of Alpaca International, a distributor, retailer and wholesaler of alpaca garments, from her Annapolis retail location. She remains hands-on with the day-to-day operation and is often on the floor of the boutique assisting customers. She also frequently visits her other retail stores and manages to get back to Peru about three or four times a year.
Boccaccio distributes her own line of alpaca goods under the Alpaca International label, relying heavily on customer feedback for inspiration and ideas. She has partnered with an employee-run garment production company in Peru where her high-end products for men and women are manufactured. She oversees a staff of 20 retail employees and about 50 employees at the manufacturing plant in Peru.
She attends the ENK International trade show in New York three times a year, which allows her to wholesale her products across the country and in Canada. She's also often working on expanding the business and designing new clothing lines.
Boccaccio said she puts in long hours and has not had a day off in about eight months but adds that it's a labor of love.
The economy: : The slumping economy has been challenging, she said, adding that she has had to cut prices and reduce business costs by renegotiating contracts for products and store leases.
Alpaca: : Selling the upscale, high-quality, durable product is easy. "It comes naturally to me, working with this beautiful product that is alpaca. I love telling the story of alpaca and of our products. Once they try it, they become long, longtime clients."
The good: : "I love the challenge and pressure of creating an idea that becomes a product," Boccaccio said. "And putting that product into my store and having women comment on how beautiful it is."
The bad: : Boccaccio said the time commitment for running her business has taken a toll on the amount of time she can devote to her personal life. She is also disappointed that goals such as opening the Chicago store have had to be tabled until the economy rebounds.
Philosophy: : Hard work, customer service and quality products. "Three ideas that are very old but also very today. It has allowed us to set ourselves apart."