One year ago, my mom and I opened a children’s boutique. Entrepreneurial hat alert!!
The location was perfect. When we spotted the “for lease” sign in the window in late September we knew it was fate; after all we had contemplated opening a shop for a while now. We signed the lease within a week, paid first and last month’s rent as well as a security deposit (my bank account was shell-shocked) Yes, it’s safe to assume that this totaled a small fortune.
Then came the day that we got the keys...it felt similar to getting the keys to your first home or your new car. This was our baby now and we were SO excited. We had 16 days until our projected open date from the day we get the keys. We needed the borough’s approval before we could operate. This meant all of the random cords and electrical outlets needed to be tended to, the giant 4x4 foot hole in the wall repaired, exit signs installed, working smoke detectors placed, painting completed, floor repaired, emergency lights installed. The list was extensive but we knew as soon as all items were checked off that we could officially open and begin operating!
Sooo we were off! Running to and from home depot, buying shelving, nails, drill bits, drywall, paint...yes another small fortune. We weren’t sure if we were over or under-estimating ourselves when it came to the work that needed to be done. What I was sure of was that I wasn’t going to pay a professional for a service that I could do myself. We were on a tight budget because we didn’t want to go bankrupt if this venture failed.
So here is a list of the things that my mom and I attempted…
Electrical wire removal —— HIRED A PRO (Don’t try to do this stuff yourself)
Drywall —— WE DID IT! It was far from perfect but it was done
Refinishing the floor —— Nope...this is a ton of work. Hire a pro for your sanity
Removing wallpaper (Layers and layers) —— WE DID IT!
Painting...so much painting —— WE DID IT!
Moving and moving and moving things around —— WE DID IT!
Our list was massive but we tackled it, with our own two hands for the most part.
Then came purchasing inventory for our store. We found tons of amazing brands that we wanted to carry so desperately, but our budget was getting even tighter after all the unexpected repairs. Mind you, when we signed the lease, we had no idea how much work needed to be done, most of it came to the surface when we got the keys. We ordered from all over the US. Many items we received were indeed “Made in China” which was mind-blowing for us. We assumed that if we ordered products from US wholesalers that meant they were made in the USA. Wrong. We wanted to offer unique and funky gifts, apparel and accessories and we needed high quality. We moved from supplier to supplier, never really finding one that fit us perfectly.
Aside from our product quality being a bit less than we hoped for, we were moving in a good direction. We found a local to us supplier for decor and gifting items called Primitives by Kathy (https://www.primitivesbykathy.com/) and we fell head over heels for all of the amazing things they had to offer. With a store full of merchandise, some crisp apple wine and some luck….we officially opened.
Our grand opening event was extraordinary. The store was packed to the gills! I for one was so overwhelmed. My mom looked like she had just been through a whirlwind but we were so happy. We made more revenue during that opening week than we made in any entire month for the remaining months we were open. During month three we were approaching Christmas...huge shopping time right? Wrong again. The store was like a ghost town. Two or three customers a day, at most, some days less. It was heartbreaking. We did everything we could to keep it afloat, but eventually decided that we would close our doors. Around this same time the landlord decided to raise the rent, about $600 more per month, It seemed that since we were already struggling we certainly wouldn’t have been able to survive a massive rent increase. We bowed out gracefully before it destroyed us and I’m glad we did.
Just like months before we began moving and moving and moving shelving, fixtures, registers, furniture ...but this time it was out, not in. How depressing right? I mean we were bummed but we were ready to be done. Done losing money, done wasting time, done pouring our hearts into something that just wasn’t going to happen for us right now. We moved out faster than we moved in. We sold all of our merchandise at a fraction of what we paid for it (we basically gave it away). But at least we can say we tried, right?
I'm not all sunshine and rainbows. I know things aren't always going to go my way, I'm not always going to succeed. I also can recognize that I/we learn something from every experience, whether it be good or bad.
What did we learn during this venture you may ask?
1. You can learn to do anything... how to hang drywall or operate a new register system for example.
2. Working as a team makes just about everything easier.
3.Our lease was flawed from day one. We signed a lease for a beautiful store that needed little to no work. We were given the keys to a store that was significantly unsound in so many ways. Lesson learned...never let your optimism or focus get in the way of your gut feelings.
4. Don’t expect anyone to do you any favors. Ever. Whether it be your friends, landlord, neighbors...it’s not going to happen.
5. Money is only one part of running a successful business. Your own health and life is just as, if not more important. If something you thought you would love turns out to be less than, it’s okay to “quit”.
6. Brick and mortar stores are just that. Brick and mortar. You get the experience, not so much the effortlessness of shopping online.
7. More than 50% of small businesses fail within their first year. I learned this when we first discussed closing up the boutique. That’s insane, right?
8. Every venture is worth a shot, whether it gets out of the planning phases or not. Before we committed to the boutique we said “if it doesn’t work out, it’s okay.” We meant that.
But...we didn’t think we’d actually have to face going out of business but we did.
Where we are now you wonder? We still run two rather successful (small scale) businesses. We are happy with what we are doing but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard to see Facebook memories pop up with photos from our grand opening. All I can say is it is what it is and were going up from here, Lord willing!
My advice...give it a go but make a plan. A plan that will not allow for financial destruction but will allow for some bumps in the road. You never know, you may end up running a gold mine.