“The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of Sugarplum Dreams danced in their heads.” While it is true the luckiest recipients of exquisite items from baby boutique Sugarplum Dreams are parents and their babies up to age 7, it is grandparents who say Sugarplum Dreams is like a “candy store”’ Sugarplum Dreams is not only a must-visit store for local parents-to-be, but also both the boutique and its owner/designer, Ellen Cotton, have gained national recognition. Today, Sugarplum Dreams is recognized as one of the top baby boutiques in America, and last spring, Ellen Cotton was recognized nationally as Superhero of the Year by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). Cotton says, “In mid-2010, the day we hit a very large, unimaginable sales figure and, coincidentally, the same time we were recognized by two national magazines, was the day I felt like I was truly onto something. That recognition also gave me confidence, knowing we had made a mark.” Recently reopening at 5934 Broadway in Uptown Alamo Heights Shopping Center, Sugarplum Dreams is set to embark on a new era of collaborating with parents to create magical nurseries for their babies. “We love our new location,” says Cotton. “We opened this location in December and the new space is a jewel box that will allow our design team to serve each customer in an intimate, home-like environment. Over our 15 years, all four of our locations have been in ’09. We started at 5800 Broadway, then Brees Boulevard. And, in 2008, we moved to Lincoln Heights. Later, we realized that location was too large for the personal feel we wanted.”
PERSONAL TOUCH AND POISED FOR GROWTH
“I have always strived for this store to convey a personal feel and that we are here to help parents create a sense of magic in their homes. Moms come to us with their own ideas and ask us for advice, realizing that we are in it to make lifelong relationships, not merely to sell products,” explains Cotton. “I call our retail staff the Sugarplum Dream girls. We always try to get to know each customer’s name, make them feel welcome, and often become part of their lives,” said Cotton. “We like to do our custom work on a one-on-one personalized basis, focusing on our customer’s needs so we can ensure their satisfaction. We even offer special events and classes throughout the year for them. We want our customers to know that not only are they getting the products they love, but they also are, in turn, getting a partner in us and at the same time, building our community by supporting local business. A portion of every purchase at Sugarplum Dreams is also donated to charity,” Cotton said. Recently, Sugarplum Dreams began to see growth among parents who are adopting and among people desiring concierge-type services. “It is exciting that we are now serving an even wider variety of customers,” shared Cotton. Customers can call the store and request a gift basket. The store will send the customer pictures of items in the gift basket for approval and provide delivery options — either delivering to the person who ordered it, shipping it or even delivering it to a baby shower. “No one else in town will do that,” says Cotton. “Sometimes parents decide they don’t want to know the gender of their baby. They want to be surprised!” cheers Cotton. “ In this case, the doctor will provide a sealed envelope to Sugarplum Dreams featuring information about the gender of the baby. Parents make selections of boy and girl items at the store ahead of the birth. The store, knowing the selections and gender of the baby, will set up the items in the house while the parents are at the hospital. We are taking personalized service to the next level, and customers trust us to deliver that service in the best possible way,” delights Cotton.
Cotton graduated from St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in 1986. She began working retail in high school and continued until she graduated from Ole Miss. She has always loved children and dreamed of having an originally designed store that was different and featured custom merchandise. “I started this project on my own with my savings,” she explains. “I love designing and have designed many of the products at Sugarplum Dreams, including clothing, jewelry and accessories. We are just now receiving a new set of furniture called the Haven Collection that I was instrumental in designing. It should be available at more than 300 independent specialty stores by now,” Cotton says. She also designs traditional or modern nurseries too, by tapping into the store’s great selection of coordinated fabrics for upholstery, layettes and bedding as well as offering custom monogramming with Sugarplum Dreams’ exclusive set of custom fonts. She is always looking for products and making sure she is staying in tune with the clientele. She gets ideas at market and says, “It fuels my inner core for design. We also keep up with changes in product regulations. Safety and practicality are always of utmost importance, and all of our products have passed rigorous guidelines before we bring them into our store.”
ONLINE ON HER MIND
The website, sugarplumdreams.com, was launched in 2005 and features some 50,000 items in stock in conjunction with many of the items and services they offer in store. The colorful website is easy to navigate, includes registries and serves as a convenience for Sugarplum Dreams’ local and out-of-town customers.
GRATEFUL FOR THE LITTLE THINGS
While Ellen Cotton has certainly mastered all things baby, small and delicate at Sugarplum Dreams, she has also mastered the art of noticing all the little things everyday life brings. Two years ago, on her husband Bob’s birthday, Cotton was diagnosed with brain cancer. Since then, she has fought bravely, undergoing surgery and chemotherapy that ultimately required her to relearn how to walk, talk and do many other things that people take for granted. Incredibly, throughout this difficult time, Cotton maintained the store and the devotion of her employees – many of whom have been with her since the store’s first days. Today, Cotton is not only glad to be back at work, she also embraces life by skydiving, listening to music, gardening, cooking and volunteering. She holds membership in numerous organizations, including Head for the Cure, which raises funds for research and treatment for patients with brain cancer. Ellen Cotton is an equally devoted wife to her husband, Bob, and mom to her children and two rescue dogs. Cotton met the love of her life, Bob, when they were members volunteering at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, where they later married. They now have four children. Their oldest, a daughter, is at Texas A&M University, and their three sons are in Alamo Heights schools. Today, they enjoy living in their home overlooking the Quarry golf course where “the most spectacular views of sunrises and sunsets occur – truly heaven sent.” Cotton says her family “loves living in ’09.” She continues, “We can find everything we need and enjoy supporting local businesses like Bird Bakery, Cappyccino’s and Paloma Blanca. I love shopping in locally owned stores and boutiques that have their own style and feel. I am also lucky to be surrounded in Uptown Alamo Heights by the best shopping in ’09. How can you walk down the sidewalk without drooling over the beautiful windows and eye candy in each of these stores? “Most of all, I am so grateful for every single day. It is the sunrises, sunsets, spending time with my family, and serving other people that have been my best medicine,” shares Cotton.
By Carolyn Seldon Lay
Photography by Casey Howell