How I almost became a boutique owner

How I almost became a boutique owner

There’s a reason I haven’t posted in the last three weeks.  The first two weeks were spent being insanely busy becoming a boutique owner.  This last week was spent being depressed that it didn’t work out.  But now I’m ready to talk about it, and even look on the bright side of things.

Here’s what’s been going on:

My mom and I decided to open a boutique.  A boutique selling handcrafted items.  I think I’ve mentioned before that my mom is quite crafty and makes a lot of things.  I do, too, but not nearly as much as her.  We’ve thought of setting her up with an Etsy account to sell her stuff online, but we’ve also sort of joked like, “you know, we should just open up a store in town!”

So, a few weeks ago, we drove around just for fun, to see if there were any places for rent on the square downtown (we live in a small town).  We ended up finding the perfect space in the perfect location, called the landlady, looked at it, loved it, and decided right then and there that we were actually going to do this crazy idea and open up a store!

For the next week and a half, we planned like crazy, and even ordered some things for the store.  It was the hardest I’ve worked on something in a long time.  Maybe ever.

We had given the landlady the deposit, but not yet met to sign the lease.  When we first met her and saw the space, she was super accommodating and awesome.  When we went back to see the space again and sign the lease, half the things she said she would do weren’t done.  (“Well I never said I would fix that!”)  And, the lease was absolutely ridiculous.  English is not her first language and there were tons of spelling errors for one.  For two, the lease contained crazy things like that if the furnace broke (the building is 100 years old) then we would have to pay for it!  Crazy.

So, anyway, between the crazy lease, going back on her word about a few things, and her changed attitude, we felt like we could no longer trust her.

And now, we are no longer going to open a store at all.  You might think that that is a rash decision, but honestly I am so disgusted at the rental market in my town (I had an almost identical situation two years ago with a different landlord regarding an apartment I was going to rent) that I am just so discouraged and want nothing to do with any of it.

We still could look around for another space, but half the appeal and reason we even decided to go ahead and open a store was because we found a space in a great location.  So without that, we worry we wouldn’t be as successful.

The bright side of all this is that it was a crazy learning experience and a great life lesson.  Here are a few things I learned:

  • Don’t give a deposit until you see and sign the lease.  And until you write down all the things that the landlord agrees to fix, and he/she signs that.  I’ve learned this lesson twice now and I think this time it’s stuck.
  • There are so many different kinds of gift boxes, bags, ribbons, and mailing envelopes.  And, you have to buy them in huge bulk quantities.  (Papermart.com was the cheapest I found, and the one we ended up going with.  I don’t even want to tell you how caught up I got in that site and how many hours I spent on it.  Which brings me to my next lesson:)
  • Don’t get caught up in frilly things.  Like colored gift boxes.  And coordinating ribbons.  And whether or not you want to offer free gift wrapping, and therefore which colors you want to offer.  All this is great to think about a few months down the road, once you see that you are successful and can afford this service.  But I thought of this right away and then spent way too much time planning it (and being overwhelmed with choices) when there were more pressing matters at hand.
  • Starting a business isn’t nearly as difficult as it’s made out to be.  It was a ton of work, yes.  And it would have been even more work had we kept going with it.  But we also learned that a lot of steps could be skipped, such as getting a business license and an accountant.  (In some states and for some business types, a business license is required.)  We just met with a consultant (for free!) from the local community college whose job is to help small businesses get started, and he explained everything to us and we were quite pleasantly surprised at the lack of paperwork, etc.
  • Getting over the mental hurdle of “can I actually do this?!” is one of the hardest things and the biggest obstacle to get over.  We literally joked about starting a business on Friday, drove around looking at spaces on Saturday, and met with the landlady, saw the space, and gave our deposit on Sunday.  And we told ourselves we’d open in 4 weeks.  It all happened so fast (in large part because someone else was interested in the space so we had to give a deposit lest potentially lose it.)  And all the while we were simultaneously excited and wondering if we were crazy.  Normally, we might have been considered crazy.  But.  I think that the fact that we went so fast was such a blessing.  Because the fact that we gave ourselves little time to think and to doubt, is what propelled us forward.  We could have easily decided we would open a store, then “research” for 6 months, then start looking for spaces, and really look at a lot to gauge the commercial rental market and find the “perfect” space, and then take another two months to choose paint colors and the store name, etc.  But what would that have accomplished except push us back another year?  We did ALL of that in two week’s time.  And while we feared that we didn’t know what we were doing, and felt that we should “research” more, I kept reminding us that there wasn’t really anything to research.  And that that was just an excuse and a delay.  And I think that so often, with myself and with countless others, we fool ourselves into thinking that we need to “prepare” because “starting a business is a big deal”, while really we are just giving ourselves permission to stall and stall and then possibly never actually take action and reach our goal.  So the fact that we just went for it is something that I am still really proud of.
  • Monthly costs add up.  This one should have maybe been a bit more obvious than it was at the time.  We had rent, which we were cool with.  But then utilities on top of that, phone and internet, and insurance – not to mention the costs of materials/stock and shopping bags, etc.  Which each new cost we remembered, that meant we’d have to sell that much more inventory each month, which got to be pretty daunting and intimidating.  But again, maybe if we had realized all this in the beginning, we would have let it delay us or even give up.  So maybe the gradual realization helped ease the scariness of the whole thing.
  • You don’t need nearly the startup capital that you might think.  Luckily we didn’t buy too much before the whole lease fiasco, but even the things we did buy were ridiculously cheap.  We bought some furniture pieces, to display our inventory, from Goodwill and other second hand places around town, and some paint.  We primed and painted the furniture to all match and look way more expensive than it was.  We also planned to bring in some furniture from our house that we were thinking to get rid of anyway.  With a bigger store, this would have been more expensive, but for our small space, we were able to get like half the tables we’d need for like $10 total!  And again, this was in only two weeks!

So, after this whole experience, I feel a few different things.  Pride.  Happiness.  Anger.  Disappointment.  Confusion.  Disgust.  Shame.  Curiosity.  Relief.

Relief because I don’t have all that work to look forward to!  But in the end, I am glad that at the very least I can take away multiple lessons from this – ones that I do think will serve me well in the future.  And the fact that I now have experience starting a business – and the awareness of what it takes and what it doesn’t take – will be a great head start for my next business.  Whatever that may be.

Those darned epiphanies…

I read a really interesting blog post this week, by Peter Shallard, “The Shrink of Entrepreneurs”.  This guy has some really neat stuff on starting a business and the psychology of those who try.  This week’s post was about why epiphanies will destroy your business.  (Not starting a business?  Don’t worry, this article will apply to you, too.)

 

Peter Shallard opens by presenting the familiar picture of one who is waiting for the next big realization:

“You’re just one big aha moment away from figuring it out. Right?

Isn’t everyone.

They spend their lives having one epiphany after another, always telling themselves that they’ve finally figured out what’s holding them back. An epiphany strikes and they think they’re finally going to be productive and creative.

At last, they’re going to turn their life and business around!

Except they don’t.”

Why?  Because epiphanies don’t work, according to Shallard.  Firstly, they tend to happen quickly – not a good sign.  Most entrepreneurs, he says, have reached success through a slower process.

And here’s an idea I especially like:  Shallard points out that what happens during an epiphany is that we tell ourselves a myth; we trick ourselves into believing something.  “A big epiphany gives you cause to believe you’ve broken through and that things are about to change. You pat yourself on the back and promptly do nothing.”

I can personally attest this.  I’ll have some big realization that life should be lived a certain way, or that money doesn’t matter, or one of those other bright ideas that most people will stumble upon at some point in their life, before ultimately rejecting it.  Or, to relate it to business and entrepreneurship: I have had a few ideas in recent years for genius business plans and super lucrative start-ups that I might buy a domain name for, and then proceed to leave untouched until the domain expires.

So I guess Shallard is right – when you have some big epiphany or the universe magically sends you an ingenious idea – its good to be aware that it might not work out.  Similarly, my business ideas and life philosophies that have actually developed a bit more were the ones that came not by epiphany but by a more careful thought process.

Shallard continues his post to relate epiphany-tripped entrepreneurs to schizophrenics: its when they appear most out of it that they actually experience the greatest sensation of clarity.  And that’s pretty much how my epiphanies go:  I may think that hipsterbible.com is a great idea, but I am in actuality going through a moment of insanity mistaken.

Shallard concludes his argument by foreseeing the negative outcome of having (and taking seriously) an epiphany, which is that we’ll stop growing.  I’ve got it all figured out now, so why waste time thinking?  I know how the world works, so I’ll stop listening to others.  I have a new and better business idea, so I should scrap my other projects for this one.

Check out his post to learn which positive qualities to look for in the opposite of an epiphany.  And tell me what you think of his post!

How has your luck been with epiphanies?