November 21st 2003 - The Daily Record

Securing a place on Cloud 9 was not all that easy

By Andréa Cecil, Daily Record Business Writer

Husband-and-wife team Randy Shayotovich and Priya Rayadurg admit that before they started in retail, neither one of them had much of a background in anything. They simply learned on the job, beginning in the early 1990s when both gave mall kiosks a try. "We just sort of learned on the way," Shayotovich said. "It could have gone smoother. We made mistakes along the way." His wife agreed. "We never really did anything by the book and sometimes I wish we had," she said.

Still, by 1997, they had started Cloud 9, a hip and trendy women´s clothing store/boutique that has earned a recognizable name in the Baltimore area with minimal advertising. In the past year, 37-year old Rayadurg and 38-year-old Shayotovich opened Cloud 9´s second and third locations in Hampden and Canton while still operating the flagship store in Towson Town Center. Although prices vary with the merchandise at each of the three stores, which cater to distinct clientele, jeans run from about $50 to $120, blouses from roughly $15 to $40 and slacks are about $70. Cloud 9´s accessories, including jewelry and handbags, are reasonably priced with some earrings as low as $5 and some handbags at $16. Plus, the store offers a wide selection of jewelry from Nepal.

But before they began pricing Dollhouse and Red Engine jeans, Shayotovich started helping a friend with her kiosk in the Columbia Mall during the holiday season in 1991. The following year, the same friend discovered that the Towson Mall was seeking kiosk vendors and passed the word along to Shayotovich. "So if it wasn´t for her, nothing would have happened," he said, pensively. "So I guess that´s really how I got introduced to retail."

For five years, Rayadurg and Shayotovich operated all sorts of kiosks - from ones that sold beanie babies, to others that sold plants or jewelry. "We´ve done so many of them, I can´t even remember," Rayadurg said while manning Cloud 9´s Canton store at The American Can Co. on Boston Street. But it was the "Tie Dye Daze" kiosk - where the two sold peasant tops and hippie skirts - that sparked an idea. "People loved it," Rayadurg said. "And I had an idea for other things I wanted to carry...trendy, hard-to-find stuff. It was something that I always wanted to do when I was younger - some kind of boutique or clothing store."

After locating in a temporary spot in the mall, the two eventually signed a long-term lease with the Town Center and watched sales grow by at least 20 percent each year. "We could pretty much predict the future of Cloud 9," Shayotovich said. That is, except for the failure of the couple´s now-defunct second store in White Marsh. That store opened in March 1999 and closed that same year after the holiday season when sales were not as high as the two expected. Originally, the thought was to keep duplicating, own 50 Cloud 9 stores, go public and then file for bankruptcy, Shayotovich said with a laugh, but the closure of the White Marsh store "sort of...took the wind out of our sales."

The couple then focused on the Towson Cloud 9 and the Top Shop, another store in the mall where they sold t-shirts and novelty items. But the Top Shop saw its final day three years ago, and thatĺ─˘s when Rayadurg and Shayotovich began expending all energies on Cloud 9. After years of eyeing Hampden´s Main Street/36th Street from their adjacent Stone Hill neighborhood, the couple finally leased a spot there last October for their second Cloud 9 shop.

It was soon afterward that they realized "there were sales to be had outside the mall," Shayotovich said. "In general, we wanted to open stores outside the mall. Sales in the mall have gone down over the last year." Next was the Canton location, which they opened in May. "We knew that Canton would be a good spot with the growth in the area," he said. Now, both Baltimore stores individually surpass sales at the Towson store, growing by about 20 percent each year, Shayotovich said. Rayadurg and Shayotovich are looking to expand not only within the state - perhaps to such places as Annapolis and Bethesda - but also outside Maryland with the help of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, a Baltimore - based developer who leased the couple space at the Can Co.

"I would definitely say we´ve been successful without really putting ourselves out there," Rayadurg said. "Itĺ─˘s one of those things that could be better, but...I have to admit, it´s an easy life."

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