Why Coquette Couture Opened a Physical Store to Grow Their Online Presence

coquette couture

Kayleen Leonard is the founder of Coquette Couture, a Sioux Falls boutique featuring handpicked women's clothing of eclectic styles.

Find out how she started out with an ecommerce-only business (before it was cool) and why she was forced to open her own physical store despite the costs it would add to running her business.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to sell face to face when you’re not used to it.
  • What to do if you’re selling products that you’re not passionate about but your customers are.
  • What’s involved in the buying process when running a retail store.

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Show notes:


Felix: Today I’m joined by Kayleen Leonard from coquettecouture.com, that’s C-O-Q-U-E-T-T-E, C-O-U-T-U-R-E .COM. Coquette is a Sioux Falls boutique featuring hand picked women’s clothing of eclectic style. It was started in 2012. Welcome, Kayleen.

Kayleen: Hi, thanks for having me.

Felix: Yeah, I’m excited to have you on. Tell us a little bit more about your story. What are some of the most popular products that you sell?

Kayleen: Our store is definitely … For people who have never been in our store, it kind of has a very Anthropology type of vibe as far as what we kind of go for. The look of it, I would say it’s vintage inspired with modern takes on old looks. Our huge thing for us is our boots. They’re called Bed Stu; they’re an amazing brand for us. They’re all hand made which is super, super cool. You can look over on the bottom and you can see the nail marks and all that stuff. We definitely, definitely love leather and thinks that there’s certain pieces that you need to invest in, so that’s kind of our big thing that we’re definitely known for is our leather handbags and our leather shoes and stuff. Everything else, it just kind of fills in. We like to say that we’re for the free-spirited wild child and it can be anywhere from … We’ve had a 5th grader in the school and she was the cutest thing and had like $5 in coins paying for stuff and other times we’ve had like a 92-year-old woman buy a sweater. We’re kind of here, there, and everywhere.

Felix: Very cool. Just to be clear, you have obviously an e-commerce store, the [crosstalk 00:02:45] you talked about, but also a physical store. How did you get started? What was the idea? What was your background? Were you always into business? Were you always an entrepreneur?

Kayleen: Yeah, actually my dad is an entrepreneur, but his business is construction. I feel like I kind of have that bug and I think I grew up kind of getting it, for the most part. I went to college here in South Dakota … South Dakota State University … And they had an entrepreneurial program. When I went to college, I did the regular college thing where I messed around for about 3 years, and then I was like, “Crap, I need to graduate soon,” so I really got into it and I fell absolutely head over heels in love with the creative part of it.

Croquette actually started because in order to graduate college most kids have to do thesis or whatever based on their major. For my major, we had to start a business. It didn’t necessarily have to be real, but I figured if I’m doing full blown business plan with real financials, I mean everything has to balance and make sense, what’s the point in making a hot chocolate stand? That just didn’t make sense. The idea kind of started there, and then from that it was actually only supposed to be e-commerce; we were never supposed to have a store front, was the whole idea behind it. I pitched it to my parents and I’m very blessed to be able to have a really strong group of people behind me that are supportive, so I pitched it to them and I started it in college and we started e-commerce immediately almost 5 years ago. You think about it, the internet’s so different now, and I don’t think people realize how different it is and how much it’s changed in 5 years.

We started it in 5 years and after a while we just didn’t … I just did entrepreneurial studies; I didn’t do marketing, I didn’t do anything like that. Social media wasn’t that huge. Everyone had Facebook, but beyond that especially in the Midwest it wasn’t a huge thing. Then I started kind of realizing and figuring out that I needed to get an anchor. I needed to have a spot, just because that made it feel more real, so that’s what I did. I went all over. I did shoe parties with women that are friends with my parents and I went into a mall for a little bit with a kiosk which was probably the [scantchiest 00:05:20] decision I think I’ve ever made. Did that for a little bit, and then finally I decided it was time I needed to open up a store. I decided to do a brick and mortar about 3 years ago.

Felix: How much of the business did you have planned out? I think a lot of listeners might be in school, might be in business school, either undergrad or graduate school, and I think for a lot of schools like yours, they have the same major project at the end of it where you have to conceptually build a business, but you actually went further than that. How much of it did you have planned out in college that was actually useful from that program that you’re in?

Kayleen: Everything. Everything that I used in college, the business plan that I originally had in college was the one that I presented to a banker while I was still in college. Actually, the program is really great. The whole entire program, all you do is build business plans. That’s pretty much what they teach you. They have different classes that we would take and we actually pitched our businesses regardless if they’re real or fake to actual successful businessmen in the Midwest that came to this conference. I didn’t win, actually. It was all men and I’m pretty sure they just kind of laughed at me and thought it was the dumbest idea ever, which I don’t blame them. I’m pretty sure there are some farmers and I know there’s some big construction guys and stuff like that.

As soon as I had it done, I was essentially ready to go. The only thing that probably wasn’t ready is they didn’t have a focus of e-commerce; that was kind of something that I was kind of going into absolutely blind. That was the only thing. As far as the business and building that and getting that going and knowing who to talk to and financing and stuff like that, I was very solid with that, but the actual e-commerce … Again, because it was 5 years ago, it wasn’t a huge thing. When I told people, “Yeah, I’m going to do just an e-commerce,” they’re like, “That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of.” Now I feel like if you would go tell people that they would be like, “Oh yeah, that’s totally normal, everyone does that,” because it’s so common. Yeah, I was kind of at the front end of that and I think I had missed the mark. I think if I had been a little later it would have just killed it, but it’s just one of those things. As far as a program, if you can get into something like that, that’s definitely the way to go for sure.

Felix: This business plan that you created coming out of this program, you said that you presented to a banker. Was this to get a capital, or is it just part of the course?

Kayleen: It was to get capital. After, I was like, “Crap. Now I need money for inventory.” Essentially what we were doing in the beginning was I was going to … If you’ve ever been to South Dakota, which I’m sure you haven’t, there’s not a lot of luxury, nice brands. We don’t have a Nordstrom, we don’t have a Dillards, we don’t have a Bloomingdale’s, we don’t have a Saks, so I wanted to bring in Italian shoes, I wanted to bring in beautiful other pieces and heels and try to class it up a little bit. Not saying it’s not classy here, but just stuff that you see on the east and west coast that’s really really common you don’t see here. That was the goal, so I knew I needed to have inventory because we couldn’t do drop ship internationally.

I originally went to a banker and I honestly showed it to him and he laughed and thought it was, again … This is one thing that I came across, and I’m not being sexist at all. I think it’s just because I was 21 years old at the time and it was just this 21-year-old girl going into a bank and a man who usually … He’s my dad’s banker, so he deals with huge construction companies and stuff like that, so I’m sure me coming in I just looked like I had no idea what I was doing, and I probably didn’t. He pretty much told me and the bank told me there’s no way they were going to give me any money. I needed at least a year under my belt of solid sales in order for them to even consider it.

My next option, and they warned us in college over and over and over again, “Do not use family and friends. Whatever you do, do not use family and friends.” I feel like every book you might read about business, they’ll probably say, “Do not use family and friends,” but I used family and friends and I still have good relationships. My dad really really helped me, and to this day I’m still paying him back, but I was lucky enough to get in with him. Now I feel like they have so many opportunities. There’s so many angel investors. That’s something that I still go back and I talk to my old college and I talk to a conference. That’s one thing that they’ve mentioned is they’ve brought more people in. It’s hard when you first start off for A, someone to take you seriously, and B, someone to give you money. It’s near impossible.

Felix: You’re saying you didn’t get money from the bankers, you were able to get some money from friends and family, your dad. You took this money and you went to buy inventory. After that, was that when you mentioned that you went to these mall kiosks, the private parties, set up booths … Was that after you bought the inventory with the capital?

Kayleen: Yeah. This all happened in like a 3 month span. I graduated college in December, and then from I think it was August when I started school until December, so my last semester everything was getting done. In that time I was ordering product, ordering inventory, and then come January is when I actually went into I think the first kiosk, which was in Sioux Falls. That’s just a great story in general because I didn’t really realize importing and exporting and all the costs that were involved in that. We essentially got involved with these Italian companies and you know, there’s a huge time difference, and I think they especially thought I was kind of a joke. They definitely took advantage of how naïve I was. That’s one thing that I think … Anybody who’s listening, you’re going to learn is you may even act like you have it all together, but they’re not stupid, and so I had to pay just an asinine amount of money to import that stuff into the United States once it got to New York. I definitely was not prepared for any of that and looking back that was probably a huge mistake I made, but it’s a good lesson.

Yeah, we had all this inventory from Italy that, I mean, these weren’t expensive shoes. They were upwards of anywhere $350-$400 bucks and I’m in a kiosk in the mall trying to sell it. Looking back, the business plan wasn’t the best idea. It was more of the e-commerce thing and we didn’t really … If you look back, Shopify is just absolutely amazing and it makes A, building a site so easy, it makes using it so easy. 5 years ago they had to code everything. You had to code the cart, you had to do everything. A website back then cost, oh God, I would say 10 times the amount that it costs now. Everything that I had built up to that point, my expenses were so, so high. That’s why we left just e-commerce, because I’m like, “Okay, we’ve got to make some sales. We need to do stuff.” We were making random sales here there and everywhere, but like I said, I didn’t really do any of the marketing, so I was learning the Google analytics and ad words and all that stuff. I was kind of doing it by myself and flying by the seat of my pants. Definitely wasn’t the best planned out way to go, but that’s kind of how I started, and it went like that until … I think I did that for almost 6 months? 8 months?

Felix: What did you learn from this experience, selling in person to kiosk? A lot of entrepreneurs that I have on this podcast that I talk to, they learn a lot from starting off face-to-face with their customers. What did you learn from it?

Kayleen: One thing we learned is Sioux Falls does not like heels. The women in Sioux Falls do not wear heels; it’s not a cool thing. Not only that, they just didn’t really understand the different between … I’m not saying all of them, but a lot of them didn’t understand the difference between a nice leather hand made shoe versus a shoe that you’re going to go get at Journeyz or something. They didn’t really grasp that. I think it’s changed now, but I think that’s one thing I learned. Essentially what I had to do was master my product because going and selling face-to-face, that was a huge challenge to me. Now I’m like queen of sales; I feel like I could sell a dirty diaper at this point. I feel like I have it under control, but just starting off when I’m really insecure about it, it’s honestly the best advice I can give is just know your product.

The one thing that I’ve learned from day 1 is not … I’m not saying this in every aspect of sales, but there’s obviously different type of sales. The one that works best for retail I 100% feel is … Every customer I’ve met, I have customers that I met in a kiosk how many years ago that still shop with me today. All of us have walked in a mall and there’s people in the kiosk and they’re yelling at you to come over, and that was a huge thing to get past. How do you come across as authentic and not like you’re trying to rip somebody off? That was huge thing. Our product was beautiful, but it was just talking to people. Mom is actually in this with me. I own it, she’s … I call her like an intern, so she does all the book work, she does all the stuff I don’t want to do, and then she gets free clothes on top of it. She was with me, so our whole thing was it was kind of a mother-daughter thing. People would walk by, obviously I feel like we looked a little more trustworthy, but we never bombarded people. We never went across like that. If you wanted to talk to us, we’ll talk to you and be nice to you. We want people to feel like we’re their friend because we want people to feel comfortable with us.

That’s just how it is, and I think sales that’s anything beyond that and is anything beyond authentic, I just don’t see anyone ever coming back. I think the thing that I loved and that I learned the most is that literally customers are key. I think everyone knows that and says that, but I can say for a fact because I have 5 women who took a chance on me in Sioux Falls. I have a couple when I had a kiosk in Des Moines that still come and shop with me either online or in store. It’s still kind of cool that I have a couple of those girls that just kind of trusted me.

Felix: For anyone out there that is thinking about this or maybe is forced to I guess sell face-to-face at first and are not comfortable with it, that haven’t got started which sounds like the situation you were in, any tips on how to, I guess not necessarily build up confidence, but just to get over that mental hurdle?

Kayleen: Talk to people like they were your friends. I think that was the biggest thing. I think when I first started I was like, “Oh, I gotta sell and I gotta sell.” The thing is, when that’s the first thing on your mind, people, they know. People know when you’re trying to sell to them and unless they’re in the mood to buy, they’re just going to brush you off. I think that it really helps to be a people person and be really personable. That’s number 1. If you don’t have that, that’s something that I’m not saying that you won’t be a good sales person, but you’re going to constantly have to work at it in order to get to that level where you kind of just go talk to anybody and if they don’t want to buy from you, that’s totally fine. They may not want to buy from you today, but if you keep a good relationship, they may come back and buy tomorrow. I think the biggest thing is you may feel so uncomfortable, but try your hardest to just pretend they’re mom. You know what I mean? Pretend they’re a friend and you’re just talking to somebody else and it’s not you want to make rent at the end of the month. You can’t put that pressure on yourself because it’s not going to come across authentic. Customers can tell. 100%.

Felix: That makes a lot of sense and I think when we talk about sales it seems to be like a high pressure activity where you’ve got to get something out of the person and is almost like a game where you have to win something from them. That really puts the wrong kind of tense on the experience. You’re saying you want to be authentic. You don’t want to put that pressure on yourself because it will spill out and [inaudible 00:18:29] in your mannerisms and all that, so I think that’s great advice. Authenticity was one thing you mentioned. The second thing you mentioned about being able to sell in person well is to really know your product. What does this mean exactly? You’re not talking about knowing how it’s made and knowing … What exactly do you mean by knowing your product? How deep do you have to get? What does that mean to you?

Kayleen: Knowing your product, yeah I think it’s really important. This has gone over time … I can sit there and show you how a boot was made. 5 years later, I can sit and show you: This garment puckers here, well this is why; the zipper … I mean, there’s multiple things I can do now, but what I’m saying is … For instance, for me every item that comes in the store, I try it on. That way when I’m putting stuff online I always say, “This item’s true to size, size down, size up, do a half size down in this shoe. For instance, our denim: If you dry your denim, go ahead and don’t size down; go with your regular size. When I say, ”Know your product," it’s so much easier to sell something that you love than sell something that you have no intention. I have so much respect for people that can sell something that they absolutely hate. I don’t know how you do that. I worked in men’s fashion for a little bit, and it’s not that I hated men’s fashion, it’s just that I didn’t have a passion for it and I guess I didn’t really care. There wasn’t a driving force. Whereas for me and what I do, knowing my product is helping me A, make a sale, but B, I just think women can really tell.

When we get an e-mail in saying, “Hey, I saw this online, how does this fit?”, I can personally say, “Hey, I’ve tried that on. I’m 5’6”, I’m this build …“ Depending on that, that’s what I would compare it on. I know a lot of online boutiques, for instance, they put it on models and they base it on model sizes. One thing for coquette is we don’t do models. Any girls that you see on our site, they’re all local girls. They’re all friends of friends. They’re not these big models. We don’t really pay them; they just kind of do it for fun, and that’s the type of thing that we want. We want people to see a normal person and how it’s going to fit. I think when I say, ”Know your product,“ you need to know the ins and outs of how it’s going to fit, how it’s made. You need to know the whole overview of it, not just, ”This is the stitch and this is the fabric," but that does help.

Felix: Knowing your product, is this more so that you’re confident in selling? Are people actually coming up to you and asking you, “How is this made?” Do they come to you and ask you all these details about this product, or is it more for yourself to know and then that helps with your selling internally?

Kayleen: Honestly, you’d be surprised at how many questions I get of women asking fabrics. I took a textiles class, for instance, in college, so I know the very very basics, but I think there’s so much … There’s so many questions that I feel like knowing your product, it sounds so much better when you actually know the answer rather than saying, “I don’t know.” It sounds like you don’t care when you say you don’t know, so I think that’s why it’s important to know your product. Yes, internally it does help you sell because you’re confident, but on the outside when someone asks you a question, “How does this fit?”, I don’t have to think off the top of my head and try to lie. I can flat out say, “I think this item fits better on a woman that doesn’t have as many curves. I think this fits …” You know what I mean? I think yes, internally I think it does help with confidence and I think it does help you sell it better, but I also think it makes you look more credible if you know your product. If you don’t know your product, I don’t know how you would expect to sell anything unless you are literally the best BS-er ever.

Felix: Yeah, some people are.

Kayleen: Some people are and that’s great, but I’m not; I’m too honest.

Felix: No, I think for most people, especially people that are listening, are going to have to pick something that they’re actually passionate about. Speaking of that, you mentioned that all the produdcts, all the brands that you store, that you have in your catalog are products that you like and that you’ve tried on, but what about products that you think your customers would like, but maybe you’re not so much of a fanatic about it? Would you still stock that? How would you approach that situation?

Kayleen: We do carry stuff in the store that it isn’t my style I’m not saying that I would never wear it, I’m not saying that it’s ugly, I’m just saying it’s not my style. I’m a jean and t-shirt girl all day every day, so the really pretty dresses, that’s not me. I think we have so many customers, and I’ve listened to our customers and I kind of know what our customers really want, as well as the trends that are in the industry. Now, in that same breath, the trends in the industry don’t look good on everybody, and I feel like with our store, when I say that I can’t sell something I don’t like, it’s I’m not going to sell something just because it’s a trend. I’m not going to sell something that I can’t stand behind that I don’t feel that our customers would want, so it’s a little bit of both.

Like I said, my mom, she goes buying with me. I’m only 26. She’s going to kill me … She’s upper 50’s, so we have a nice blend. I’ll go a little trendier and she goes a little more conservative and we have a nice mixture in here. I’m not saying, “Only buy what you like,” or, “Only buy what you want,” because like I said, there’s a lot of stuff in the store that aren’t in my closet. It takes a little bit to get to know your customers, but at the the same time you need to have your own authentic look where people who love how you look and how you style things is the main focus. On the side I do styling for people and I’ve styled every age and I’ve styled every body type, and again it’s that type of thing where I can’t pick out for them what I would wear unless that’s their style.

It’s really about seeing the big picture of it all which is the hardest part, and seeing, “Do I think my customers will like this?” if they don’t, you’ve just got to suck it up and put it on sale and get rid of it; learn the lesson and don’t buy it again. It’s kind of hit or miss; it’s gambling for sure. I have it mastered at this point, I feel like, but there will be times that I buy stuff and I’m like, “People are going to go crazy for it,” and there’s just still 4 sitting on the shelf and I’m super confused by it. You just never know for sure.

Felix: Let’s talk about that. I think that this is a situation that a lot of store owners get into where they maybe haven’t done a ton of market research, or maybe they have but they still end up picking the wrong products to add to their catalog and they’ve just got to search around for a long time in their warehouse, in their apartment, wherever they have it on the site itself. How do you know when it’s time to discount the product, then sell it or get rid of it really quickly and then move on? What criteria do you look at or what I guess feeling, or hopefully there’s some kind of quantitative thing you can look at to determine that it’s time to move on?

Kayleen: We’re kind of blessed to the point where we sell … I’ll put it this way: We carry a very limited quantity, and we do that on purpose, and that kind of make us different. Some boutiques carry a lot of one thing. We want people to have their own unique style; we don’t want a million other people to have the same thing. Sometimes that comes back and bites us in the butt because we might sell out of something literally in 3 hours and I refuse to rebuy it because I don’t want to upset the customers who bought it. I might go get it in another color, but I’m not going to go get the same exact thing. A lot of the time we end up in a situation, and this is more common than not, is we end up with a piece and we only have 1 size left, and that is the most annoying thing for anybody in retail, when you have 1 piece left.

What we try to do is I have a 30 day rule. In 30 days if we haven’t seen any traffic to it, if we haven’t seen it moving, what we’ll do in store is we’ll move it. We have to do the same thing online; we might take it and hide it for a little bit and then put it back on. A lot of it is based on timing; it’s not necessarily the product, it’s just what people are buying. You might have 10 really amazing items and people are only gravitating to 3 of them, you know the other ones are going to sell, it’s just you need to put them in at seperate times. We won’t mark things down after 30 days, but after 30 days we have to go back and look and see what’s going on. If it makes it 30 days. Chances are it’s not going to. Chances are, after 30 days we’re going to have 1 piece left and when 1 piece is left after 30 days, we put it on discount just to get rid of it and then we move along.

The main thing in retail that people have to realize and the main thing that I think my biggest lesson was: It’s all working capital. You’re not making any money whether it sits there 30 days or whether it sits there for 3 months because it’s not selling. You need to do what you need to do to get rid of it. I’m not saying you need to lose money on it, but if it comes to that point where you’re going to need to lose a little money on it to get rid of it to get working capital, you’re going to have to do what you have to do, and that’s just business.

That’s kind of what it comes down to. I don’t think there’s a quantitative … There’s not a formula you can do because it’s all based on the product itself. Sometimes you put stuff out at the wrong time or sometimes you put stuff online at the wrong time. You really have to … I’m not saying mess with your customers, but you really have to change it up and keep it fresh. There’s been multiple times where I’ll put something online and it’ll sit there and no one notices, I’ll take it off for a week and I put it back on, and it’ll just sell like crazy. There’s little things like that that you can do, and it’s almost … People are lazy. I’m not going to lie. Anybody who’s going into retail or getting into business is going to find that out when they’re selling products. People are lazy. You constantly have to keep putting it in their face.

Also another thing, we do a lot of Instagram. Social media is huge for us, which I’m sure we’re going to get into. If something’s no selling, it’s usually because A, the picture wasn’t good. B, they need to see it styled, or C, they simply don’t like it. Those are kind of the things that we need to go through in order to figure out whether we’re going to put it on sale or not.

Felix: Okay, makes sense. Let’s talk about the buying process. You mentioned that you and your mother go out and just start looking for products. How do you begin to look for things and new products to carry.

Kayleen: The beginning is probably the hardest part because you’re finding new brands. There are shows in retail specifically, but it’s not even clothing; there’s accessory shows, there’s text shows, there’s shows all over that you can attend whatever your specialty is or whatever your business is. [inaudible 00:30:16], for instance … Gosh, I think the Las Vegas show has like 80,000 people; it’s just a huge thing. You essentially just walk around and go and find brands that catch your eye, and then once you find that brand you have to check price point and make sure the price point is right. Once you check price point, you have to find out if … For us since we have both the brick and mortar and the online store, we have to find out if there’s anyone local that carries it to see if we can carry it.

There’s a lot of zip code issues that run into it; a lot of brands you’re zip code protected; same brand as you within a mile radius or something like that. When you have an online store and an in store, it kind of crosses over. They won’t sell to you even if you’re like, “Oh, I’ll just put it on my online store.” Some might, but you’re going to run into a ton of issues that way, so I recommend just not even getting involved. There are so many brands, and if you find one you love and you can’t get it, chances are there’s going to be another brand that’s launched that you’re going to want just as much. That’s kind of what it is. You go figure out what brands you like. For us we try to hit every girl. Every brand I think we have in here hits a different … A different woman speaks a different voice, so that’s the huge thing for us, was finding those different brands and finding those different women, but still tying it all together. It’s definitely exhausting.

I think that’s probably my least favorite part of this job. Any girl that listens to this or any guy that wants to get in retail is like, “Oh my gosh, that sounds like the most fun.” It does. It does sound like the most fun, but you’re going to end up hating it just because it’s such a pain. The nice thing is, once you get your brands, once you go to the shows and once you feel like you have a good flow going throughout your online store and in-store and all of that, then you can just go … Your reps will send you line sheets. I can just sit at my computer. We’re ordering for next summer right now. I’ll just sit at my computer and go through and yes, no yes, no. Then i’ll e-mail them and we’ll do it that way.

The beginning, yeah, it’s hard. A lot of the time in retail, you’re going to have to deal with switching stuff up. If you first start out, you’re going to find out some brands do not sell that you thought were going to smell amazing. That’s just smeh you have to change. That’s why a lot of the time when you can do a minimum order, do a minimum order, see how it’s going to go, and then move that way. I’ve made that mistake. We had a brand and I went crazy over it. This was when we first started off, and it was my style. It was just a t-shirt, and I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is great.” I went crazy and we’re still … It is completely discounted now to nothing, and we’re still trying to sell some of it, and that’s a mistake that you’re going to make in retail, and that’s just how it works. It’s a process. It’s a lot more work than people initially realize it actually is.

Felix: You said that you should always start with the most … I guess the minimum order that you can get get away with, even if you’re paying more for it, and then see what happens?

Kayleen: Yeah. Honestly, I would rather pay 50 cents more a top. A lot of the time they’re not going to … Unless you’re a huge company, they’re not going to give you that great of a deal. They might give you free shipping. Free shipping’s awesome because if you have to pay for shipping, you have to figure that out and the price of your item. Unless you’re [inaudible 00:34:08] or Anthropology or Nordstrom, they’re not going to give you a huge discount. For us like I said, we order very limited quantities, but we order multiple styles. Just to start off, yeah it makes more sense. If you get a brand in and it just blows up, then yeah, have at it. Go crazy with it. I know that there are certain boutiques that only carry one brand, and that’s perfectly fine for them and they found a niche; that’s essentially finding your niche, and it’s taken off.

To be on the safe side, I think it’s just best to start small. I feel like the biggest mistake you can make in business is getting in over your head and then what do you do then? I’ve learned that and I think a lot of people, if you ask a lot of business owners, they’ve learned the same thing. You start getting a little cocky and you find a couple brands that work [inaudible 00:35:07] and you’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m really good at this,” and then all of a sudden you’re like, “What did I just do?” Start small.

Felix: I wanna talk about this, about getting in over your head because in the context that we’re talking about right now is about buying too much inventory up front, but are there other examples that may be not be related that when you get in over your head … Do you have any examples that you … I guess lessons you’ve learned about I guess diving in too much, but maybe not necessarily around buying inventory?

Kayleen: Yeah, you can do the same for instance with a retail space. For us, if you’re going to do brick and mortar, you can do the same thing online. For instance, with Shopify there’s so many apps and I love apps. I get really excited over apps. It’s like, "Oh, this is going to make my life super easy. The thing is, and what I have to calm myself down on, is: Can I do this myself? Do I really need to pay this much a month when it’s something super silly? There’s a bunch of shipping ones for us when you can use UPS and FedEx and all these different shipping options and it weighs it for you and all that stuff. I get that works for certain businesses, but for us I’m small enough where I can do that either all by myself or maybe me, my mom, and maybe 2 employees. That’s definitely stuff that you can do.

Even, I know a lot of people who do subscriptions or anybody who has a store front. They have all these business associations, for instance, you can join. You have to pay all these fees up front and then you’re part of this association. The thing is, what I learned is I think when you go into that you’re like, “Oh, this is a great idea,” and you don’t utilize it and you’re wasting all that money on stuff that you could be putting in inventory or revamping your site or marketing. You know what I mean? There’s multiple things that you could be doing other than pretending to meet up with people. That was a huge thing for us too, is there’s a bunch of … Chamber of Commerce is a big thing, and I know they have online groups that you can do too. My whole thing is if you have to pay for stuff like that, just don’t do it. Especially as a startup.

If you have to pay a certain amount of money to do a simple task … I’m trying to think of a simple task. Prior to Shopify having USPS available, you had to go seperate and go to USPS, the site, and make your own labels. That’s just a thing they just started offering like 6 months ago, maybe. They had apps that you could buy and they were anywhere from $20 a month to $200 a month, and I think you don’t think about that. When you think of a whole year $20 a month, all of that adds up when you can just sit there and suck it up and do it yourself. I think a lot of it is, when I say “Getting in over your head,” there’s just so much that you can just do. The thing is, this is what I learned: Keep it simple. Keep it as cheap and as simple as possible because when you start out as a business, you need every cent. That’s just how it is.

Felix: What if you are going too slow, though? What do you ask yourself when you’re approaching a decision to pay or invest in something or not, if it’s actually necessary or not. At a certain point, your time’s going to be more valuable than sitting there and putting together packages, right? How do you make that determination that it’s time now to pay up?

Kayleen: I think that there’ll be a time when you realize it. For instance, here’s my example: for the longest time, I did all the marketing here. I did all the social media, I did everything. I did the blog post, I did everything. I took the pictures, I did the editing, I did everything myself, and I got to a point where I felt like, “You know what? This isn’t my specialty.” This isn’t something that I … I’m okay at, I’m not fantastic at it, though, and I think it came a point where I would much rather pay someone to do it and not have that headache. For instance, even shipping and stuff, there’s going to be a point where you’re going to get so busy, and for us there’s been points where I’m like, “You know what? I can’t do this anymore,” and you have to delegate it.

I think that’s a huge thing for business owners. I feel like a lot of the time business owners all have the same mind where they’re very micro-managers, and it’s a huge trait that I hate of me. I’m very much a micro-manager. As far as getting an app and doing stuff like that or paying for a service, I think you know when to turn it over when you feel like you’re not giving 100% to everything. You know what I mean? For me, I couldn’t give 100% to being in the store and being in sales because I was worried about being at the computer editing because I had to put stuff up online. It got to a point where I was like, “You know what? What am I good at? What are my specialties? What is my gift, and what do I need to pass off?” That’s kind of what it is. It could be something you pass off to another person, it could be something you pass off to an app.

Again, if you’re that busy where you’re that kind of frazzled and you’re everywhere, then yeah, you probably can afford to get either a marketing firm or get an app or get another employee. You’re going to see that across business. For the longest time I worked here in the storefront for a year straight, didn’t have an employee, didn’t take a vacation, didn’t take a day off. It got to the point where we were making enough money and I’m like, “Okay, I’m going crazy. I’m going to lose it. I seriously need to have at least 2 days a week where I can clean my house or do something.” You’ll get to a point where you just know.

Felix: Let’s talk about the physical store. What was that transition like? You went through this phase where it sounds like you did offline first with the kiosk and everything, went online, then you went back offline again. What was the thinking behind that? I think earlier you said something really interesting, which was that e-commerce didn’t feel real enough, where you didn’t have something that you could walk into that you could hold in your hands and see product in front of you. Tell us about that. Tell us about why you made the decision to transition into … Obviously you have both now, but what made you open a store and what was the process like?

Kayleen: Right. When I say initially we were really e-commerce, we were e-commerce this whole entire time. We’ve never not had a website. When we were in the kiosk we even had a website. It was up there, it just wasn’t bringing in enough sales. We had this website and we had it designed and at the time it was just this beautiful thing and I was so proud of it. Realistic wise, then all of a sudden mobile started becoming this huge thing of being on your phone, being on your iPad, and shopping via that way instead of on a computer. 5 years ago when we did it, that wasn’t a huge thing for a website to be mobile friendly, so we had our website, it wasn’t mobile friendly, it wasn’t inventory friendly. It was with another company, obviously. It wasn’t with Shopify. We had this store for about a year and a half, and then when I figured out the store can kind of stand on its own, I don’t need to baby this as much anymore. We need to focus online. I then found Shopify.

Last June was actually when … It was probably May … We decided to go Shopify. We had someone build our site and they used a theme, built our site, literally it took them like 2 weeks, and then we went up and running. The nice thing is, before our inventories didn’t mesh. I would actively have to go in and look at the sales that day and then take it out of inventory prior to Shopify, which was the biggest pain in the world. When we decided to not focus so much online, I think prior it was because we weren’t seeing sales because we weren’t seeing sales. Again, our site wasn’t mobile friendly, there was so many other sites. Our site scrolled left to right for some reason because I think we thought it was really cool, instead of up and down, which was really confusing for people. We definitely took a hiatus. There was still stuff up there, but we weren’t focused on it. Whereas, as soon as June hit … And this is when I started getting help … As soon as June hit, I hired this amazing group of women to help me with my marketing and PR and all that stuff. They kind of came in and helped me build this beautiful site that I’m absolutely obsessed with now and we’ve had it ever since.

Since then we’ve really grown online versus what we were before. I don’t think there even is a percentage of what we were selling online versus what we were selling in the store. I do think that we missed the mark a little bit. 5 years ago I think that like I said, it wasn’t a crazy thing to be online. It wasn’t a thing to do, and I think probably like 6 months later it started to blow up a little bit, and I think if we probably would have stayed with it it would have been better, but for the simple fact that we weren’t mobile, we would have had to pay for … I think it was like a crazy number. I think it was like $6,000 or something at the time to have them code it in and make it mobile friendly. It was just crazy. It just made sense for us to completely trash the website that we had, which broke my heart because it cost so much money, and to get a new site.

That was a huge transition we made a little over a year ago, was to give up on what we had that wasn’t working, wasn’t making money, wasn’t doing what it needed to do to switch, and I had to bite that bullet. I mean, I’m happy I did, but that was a huge thing of switching from e-commerce to kiosk, from kiosk to brick and mortar, from brick and mortar back to e-commerce, back to brick and mortar. It’s just been this huge cycle and I feel now it’s evened out a little bit. We’re starting to get in a groove.

Felix: How about the transition from the e-commerce side to opening the brick and mortar for the first time? What were things that you … Maybe not missed along the way, but what were some of the issues that might have come up that you might want to shed light for to other entrepreneurs that are thinking about opening up a physical store?

Kayleen: The whole reason why I didn’t want to open up a physical store in the first store was overhead. I was thinking overhead is just crazy and it doesn’t make any sense. I can just do this from home. The thing is, and this is now, not then. We weren’t seeing the sales online that we needed to to have just an e-commerce store. I knew that the overhead was going to be higher, but I also knew I could not figure out at the time how to figure out how to get more customers online. Also, again, I was doing this all by myself. I didn’t have any help from anybody. I didn’t really know anything about social media as far as websites and stuff like that. I absolutely knew nothing about coding.

Switching from the e-commerce to the in store, it was definitely a financial switch because I knew we needed capital and I knew we needed customers. I think looking back I wish that I would have started off brick and mortar over e-commerce and built it. Let’s be honest. I started backwards; a lot of people don’t do it that way. They don’t start e-commerce and then open up a store. That’s not super common. It’s usually they start a store, decide to go e-commerce, get rid of their store front. Since we switched, we created a branch I wanna call it; we created a lifestyle here. We have a look about us. It’s been a long time coming and it’s really … The one thing that I focused on was being as authentic and original as possible as far as building this business. I don’t pay for likes, I don’t pay for customers, I don’t pay for lists, anything like that. We definitely have done word of mouth from day 1, and I think that’s why our growth has been slower, but we definitely have more authentic customers because of that.

Again, if I had to do it all over again, I wish I would’ve done the store front from the beginning. Now you see so many online stores; it’s like everyone and their dog has opened up an online store. It doesn’t even matter what it is, whether it’s jewelry or clothing or whatever it is. E-commerce is such a huge thing, but I do think people want to shop now for a lifestyle. If you go to Instagram, I feel like now you don’t go look at a picture of a top and it says $34.99 and you click on it. You go and you look at a blogger and you see how a blogger wears it and you buy it that way. What we wanted to do I think and what made me change my mind is we wanted to create a place where people could physically go if they wanted to; where there was a look behind it, where it was more believable. We didn’t want to put off that perception that we were out of an apartment or we were out of a garage. You know what I mean? I think that was the huge transition is, “Crap. We do look like that. We don’t look legitimate at all and that’s not what I want.” Coming in the store I think helped build this lifestyle and build this look and build …

You know, our marketing team really did help with that too as far as our online. Our Instagram and our Facebook is … People wanna buy into a lifestyle. They don’t wanna just buy clothes anymore. You can go anywhere and buy clothes. You can go to any e-commer- … You can just type it into Google. I think the big thing for us was [inaudible 00:50:26], and I think why we’ve been successful up until this point is that has been a focus. We wanted to be more like an Anthropology and less like a … I mean, H&M obviously is successful, so I’m not thinking that, but like a Forever 21; that was in their focus.

Felix: This idea of creating a lifestyle, I think you mentioned this previously too, I think in the pre-interview, where you said that you focus on creating a lifestyle instead of just pushing a product. This idea of creating a lifestyle first, I wanna say is just recently possible, but it’s been shown to be a much more successful, a much more defensible way to build a brand. How does it actually play out in a day-to-day basis? When you wake up, on your to-do list does it probably doesn’t say, “Keep on building a lifestyle.” On a day-to-day base, how do you make sure that you maintain this lifestyle?

Kayleen: How this whole thing started off, and this is how the whole lifestyle idea kicked off. We’ve done … this was kind of just an idea of mine is I wanted to do these killer look books and I wanted people to see a small comp that can do such vivid, beautiful pictures that you would see on [inaudible 00:51:44], that you would see on Anthropology, that you would see on [inaudible 00:51:48]. We wanted to do that, and so I came up with this idea prior to getting a any website that we wanted to make this look how it feels to us. We wanted people to look at pictures and be like, “Wow, that is so cool.” I think that’s kind of how it started.

I think our first look book, my mom and I, we’re very handy, so we like do it yourself projects and stuff like that. We wanted to show that. We wanted to show how creative our store is and not only what to expect from a store, but what to expect from our clothing. We created this huge thing. It was like a gypsy tent. If you go on a couple of sites, they have our pictures up there. I don’t think they even know that those are our pictures; I’m pretty sure they just pulled them off the internet. That was the huge thing and as soon as we released this work book and I had this idea of doing these wild horses and having this whole entire look of the wild child and the free spirit, we just had such feedback on how beautiful it was. They loved the pictures and they loved the look.

After we kind of got that feedback, it was like, okay. People wanna see that. They wanna see a cute styled girl either going about her life or hoes with a pretty background. People wanna see that versus someone just hanging out against a white wall. Granted, you have to have those photos, especially for online. That’s kind of how the whole lifestyle aspects started. Then we started to grow every season and it was like, “Okay, what look book are we going to do this year?” People started looking forward to our look books. Everyone who’s going to listen to this needs to Google the Badlands. The Badlands of South Dakota is by far the most beautiful place I honestly would say … I mean, I’ve never traveled the whole entire world, but it’s got to be top 5. It’s this beautiful atmosphere, and so that was the next one. We did a shoot with a Jeep and kind of made it this cool rugged look, but still these girls are wearing clothes that are from the store. These aren’t super fancy clothes, we’re just showing a cool way to style an outfit with a killer background.

That slowly lead into bloggers: “Okay, what bloggers should we work with? What girls can we get these clothes on?” Stuff like that. Every once in a while, we started seeing people wearing our clothes, tagging us in our clothes, and then we’re like, “Okay, well now we’re going to push people: Tag us in our clothes. We wanna see how you style it. We wanna see your life in our clothing.” I think slowly but surely, I mean really this has been going on for a couple years, we started to create this look. Girls now, we have these girls called coquettes. A lot of the coquettes you’ll see are models on our site, and again they’re just regular girls who live in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and they want to be a part of it; they want to be coquettes. They wanna do the looks. That’s what our goal was. We want people to see not only clothes, but we want them to see the creative artistic side of it all. Honestly, that was my biggest win.

It’s super weird because people who are really entrepreneurs, and I’m not saying I’m like the coolest entrepreneur ever, but you get inspired by weird things. For instance, ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’, that movie from like 1985 or something, I was inspired for a photo shoot by ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ one night when I was watching it with my nephews. Weird things like that. Just taking something that I love and I wanna recreate was something that was really cool for us and people really really responded, so it turned into not just clothing for us. It turned into people wanting to be involved with us and wanted to be friends with us and wanted to wear us for that succinct reason.

Felix: This all comes down to … It seems like a lot of it is around photography. Is that the goal of the Instagram? Is that the strategy? To create this kind of style look on the Instagram?

Kayleen: Oh, yeah.

Felix: Are you also working with influencers on Instagram? Tell us about your strategy on Instagram.

Kayleen: We were working with influencers for a while. We were working with some bloggers and we were doing some smaller ones. We did some really up and coming ones that were really really great. From what we found, honestly it’s mostly our photography is what sells and what gets people to our site. If you go to our site, a lot of our models are white background. If you go to our Instagram, we try to have pretty pictures. We try to have women in their every day lives. We try to do … We call them lifestyle photos … A woman in a coffee shop wearing something or things like that are things that we love. I think for a while bloggers were huge and influencers were huge. It’s still big, but I don’t think people were necessarily buying off that; they just had girl crushers. I have so many bloggers that I follow that I’m like, “Oh my gosh, you’re so pretty. Be my best friend,” but nobody goes and buys it. We have definitely backed off from that. We still occasionally will use a couple, but we mostly just focus on being what we think people would like.

I think everyone likes seeing someone who’s not a model and not absolutely perfect wearing clothes. It makes them feel like, “Okay, I’m not a model either, I can wear that. I’m not a size 0 either, I can wear that.” I think that was the big thing that we’ve done and we’ve tried to focus on is putting pretty clothes on every day women who are just as beautiful. I think that helps people who see our page are like, “Okay, I can wear that.” The biggest thing that I think the lifestyle and Instagram and our bloggers and everything like that comes back to is just relatability. I think Coquette is just very, very relatable. It’s a feel-good brand; it’s a feel-good look, and I think that’s something that we’ve definitely done right.

There’s so much planning that my girls at the [Samson house 00:58:49] do and that go into just an Instagram post. I mean, you have to worry about the copy an the tags and the hashtags; there’s just so much that goes into it. That’s something that I would definitely tell people if you wanna get into retail, is: You need to get into the social media aspect of it. You really, really need to master that. If you can master that, you can have someone do sales if you don’t want to do sales and you love to style. That’s what I mean going back to finding your niche, finding what you’re good at and really killing it there. Just because you don’t like sales doesn’t mean you can’t necessarily do a store; that’s not it at all. Especially online, you don’t really talk to anybody. Let’s be honest; it’s not like you have to sit face-to-face with somebody. Yeah, I would say the more relatable you are, the more people are going to shop you, I think.

Felix: Makes sense. What do you have planned now? What are your goals for the next year?

Kayleen: Oh, gosh. Right now as far as online, we’re really just trying to focus on growth. I’d say right now we’re about 25%. Just even last month, 25% of our sales came online versus our store. Our store, it’s obviously the money-maker for us, so I’d love to push that in the next 6 months to a year to at least 50, if not 75. We are going to be moving locations, so our actual store front’s going to be moving. We’re kind of moving into a cool, hip area of Sioux Falls and it kind of fits our look, and that’s kind of what we’re focusing on. Yah, I’d really really love … I would be the happiest girl in the world if honestly online was supportive of in store. Honestly I’d probably be jumping up an down and I don’t know, buying everyone copiers or something.

Felix: Awesome. Thanks so much, Kayleen. CoquetteCouture.com again is the website. Anywhere else you recommend the listeners check out? They wanna follow along with what you’re up to the next while?

Kayleen: Yeah, just follow us on Instagram. Instagram’s a great way for followers to see what we’re up to and see where we’re at and what we’re doing. That’s the best way probably to get ahold of us.

Felix: Cool. It’s the same as the website; Coquette Couture. Again, C-O-Q-U-E-T-T-E, C-O-U-T-U-R-E. That’ll be linked in the show notes too, so [inaudible 01:01:31]. Thanks so much for your time, Kayleen.

Kayleen: Yeah, thank you!

Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com/Masters to claim your extended 30-day free trial.

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