photo courtesy of the lambs

photo courtesy of the lambs

Raleigh Classics for A Quarter Century

This Couple Knows Style

By Jane Porter
Banner photo by Ray Barbour

Jenny and Marshall Lamb, the genteel owners of Cameron Clothing Co. in North Hills, are perched in rolling chairs in their store’s spacious back office one blustery May morning.

The couple’s black English Labrador, Teala, watches them from a crate under a desk, rousing only to follow Jenny when she leaves the room. A television is on softly in the background, and Jenny and Marshall speak vivaciously of their life’s work, often finishing one another’s sentences.

The Lambs are together 24/7 and this room is where they and their ten sales associates answer phone calls, log inventory, plan trunk shows, write thank you notes to customers, and prepare for each busy day ahead.

It’s been the North Carolina natives’ routine six days a week, for 25 years.

“We’ve both been in this business all of our lives; it’s the only thing we’ve ever done,” Marshall says.

“Forty-eight years, so you know we’re old,” says Jenny, laughing. “We’re kind of a dying breed, to be honest.”

The Lambs, married since 1991 and friends for more than ten years before that, opened their first store together in Cameron Village in 1992. Marshall worked as a men’s clothing wholesaler and Jenny worked in ladies’ retail before they started Cameron Clothing Co., which specializes exclusively in women’s clothing, jewelry, and accessories.

photos by joe reale

photos by joe reale

In 2005 the couple moved their store to the Circle at North Hills and closed up shop in Cameron Village the next year. They still see many of their original customers and many who travel from the eastern and western corners of the state to shop at their long-established store.

“It’s a lifestyle center, it truly is,” Jenny says of North Hills. “A lot of energy. It’s very people-friendly. It was a good move for us.”

“There’s just so much activity,” adds Marshall.

But they’ve seen North Hills, and greater Raleigh, change tremendously over the years and have witnessed the slow-but-steady shift from locally-owned stores, like theirs, to more and more national chains.

“There are not a lot of specialty stores this size anymore,” says Jenny. “Most specialty stores are 1,000 to 1,500 square feet,” compared to their 5,000 square foot space.

“Most of the ones out here [in North Hills] are contemporary stores, and they carry [limited sizes],” Marshall says. “We do the whole range.”

That range includes sportswear, office wear, and clothes for special occasions, timeless pieces that fall between pricing categories once commonly known as “Bridge” and “Better.” Cameron Clothing Co. carries 150 brands, and the Lambs work with premier labels mostly based in New York City, such as Lafayette 148. The clothes aren’t sold quite at designer prices, but price points favor a more well-to-do customer, in her early-to-mid thirties and older, Marshall explains.

The Lambs buy for two seasons several times a year and hold sales twice a year, as well as a few trunk shows. The pieces they aren’t able to sell over the span of two seasons they donate to Dress for Success, a nonprofit that provides professional clothing to low-income women.

The couple credits hard work for their quarter century of success in a retail market that sees near-constant turnover.

“We’re here all the time,” Marshall says. “Our customers expect to see us.”

“Since we’ve been in this market so long we know who our customer base is, and we have always catered to that market,” Jenny says. It’s her institutional knowledge, “a combination of experience and gut instinct,” that she says she brings with her when she travels to buy new pieces. “We never tried to be everything. It doesn’t work when you do that. You need to have a niche, stick with it, and service it every day. Hard work is the bottom line.”

The Lambs say they are grateful to the market that has sustained their business and they give back to the community, especially to local museums. Though they’d like to take the occasional day off a little more often, they’re happy working together, doing what they love.

“We’ve had a good time, it’s been a great ride, and I hope it lasts a lot longer,” says Jenny. “We get up every day, as Marshall says, put our feet on the floor, and are happy to come to work. Most people can go a lifetime and not really find what it is that makes them happy in their work environment. But we have always known.”

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