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As a little girl, Rachel Sauter dreamed of having her own clothing store. “I used to play ‘store’ in my mom’s closet,” she says. Six years ago, her dream became reality with the opening of Leopard Boutique, a style-savvy shop in Webster Groves featuring brands that she refers to as “fun, fashionable and affordable.” Since then, Sauter and her husband, John, have opened two more locations: one in St. Charles and its latest in Maplewood this November.

“My husband and I have lived in Maplewood the last 10 years,” Sauter says. “We love it and have enjoyed the growth and the vibe. Opening our doors in Maplewood felt like the next natural step.”

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She describes the newest Leopard Boutique as a “fun, new modern space with a slightly different feel than our other locations.” The new location also provides office and warehouse space where online orders are processed.

Sauter studied fashion merchandising and design in Los Angeles and Chicago and spent 18 years working in retail – from Plato’s Closet to Nordstrom. “I learned all I could about the business, always loving my job, enjoying customer experiences and being around fashion,” she says.

The boutique’s name was her husband’s idea. As Sauter began working on a business plan, she stalled on the very first objective – a name for the new business. While talking about her conundrum with her spouse, he picked up a leopard-print throw pillow that he had given her as a gift and said, “Well, you do love leopard.”

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“That was it. We never looked back,” she says.

Since opening the first Leopard Boutique, Sauter says buying has been the most fascinating aspect of the business. “I always keep my customers in mind, and as time has gone on, I’ve gotten to know my customer better – you know, what they want to accentuate and what they want to hide,” she says. “I’ve learned that the most important thing is that it better be soft!”

While continuing to be responsive to both trends and customer needs, Sauter notes the boutique’s denim collection continues to expand, offering brands including Liverpool, Unpublished and Kut. The online shop features various shades and styles, from skinny jeans to crops to boot cut. Jeans start at $59, with many styles available at reduced sale prices.

“Our most exciting recent addition has been Spanx,” Sauter says. “I love the leather Spanx, and they are a great addition to our leggings selection.” Leopard Boutique shoppers also find activewear, shoes, accessories and beauty products such as artisan soaps, bath bombs and facial masks.

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Product is just part of the Leopard Boutique experience. “The environment in my store has always been super important to me,” Sauter says. “I want it to feel warm, welcoming and positive. Our stylists and [I] are there for the customers 100 percent, whether it be to find a new outfit for the weekend, celebrate a work victory with a little retail therapy or kill some time before kiddo pickup.”

With the Maplewood location now open, Sauter is looking to the future. She notes that a primary concern related to any expansion plans is staff members’ satisfaction and professional growth.

“We started Webster with myself working every day but Monday, and our friend Courtney Sedano working my days off,” Sauter says. Sedano now serves as district manager of all three locations. “When we first opened, I did all the buying online, and now we go to market three to four times a year, and Molly Clark, who started as a part-time stylist on Sundays, is a buyer with me,” says Sauter, who manages the business along with her spouse. “We have grown from two to 18 employees [working in the boutiques] over the years, and we have really special people.”

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Leopard Boutique is only part of Sauter’s life, though. She and her husband have two young daughters, and Sauter is careful to balance business and motherhood. “Family is very important to John and [me] and was another big reason we went into business for ourselves, so we could prioritize family,” she says.

No matter where her customers are in their lives or what their priorities are, Sauter notes that she and the stylists at Leopard Boutique ensure that shoppers recognize the importance of feeling confident today, not simply reaching for an unachievable ideal. “We have a program called ‘Modeling Moms’ where our customers come in and get a full styling session at a discounted price in exchange for us to take some pictures of them to use in our social media and advertising,” she says. “So when you are looking at our Instagram, you see someone like you, someone like us.

“They’ll even give you a complimentary glass of wine while you shop – if you’re into that sort of thing,” Sauter adds with a laugh.

Leopard Boutique, 20 Allen Ave., No. 100, Webster Groves, 314-961-3220; 7407 Manchester Road, Maplewood, 314-279-5220; 1650 Beale St., No. 150, St. Charles, 636-757-3919; leopardboutique.com

Connie, a native of St. Charles and graduate of the MU School of Journalism, is a freelance writer and editor who contributes to print and online publications for clients throughout the region. She enjoys travel, hiking, kayaking and drinking good coffee