As some of you know, for the past three years I have worked on WM GOODS, a women’s-focused lifestyle boutique in Downtown Portland. As of August 31, 2018, I will be saying goodbye to this project and refocusing on a few new things (all to be revealed soon). While I just publicly announced this decision at the start of August, I had been thinking about it for some time. Still, with only two weeks left to go, I’ve grown increasingly nostalgic and am still processing what this change means for me.
Owning and running a small business is a challenge, particularly when that business is open virtually 365 days a year, for set hours. There’s no ‘off-switch’ and that means that even when you’re not physically there, you have to be on-call, by your phone all the time. I was lucky enough to have an incredible team of employees who were immensely helpful in running the ship damn smoothly, but the stress doesn’t disappear just because you aren’t there. I am looking forward to regaining flexibility in my schedule and my life.
All that being said, the three years that we’ve been open have been such an incredible learning experience and growth period for me. I 100% do not view myself as some business-guru or that I even know much, if at all, but I can speak to my own experience and perhaps that might be helpful to you. With that, here are the three most valuable lessons I’ve learned through starting and running my own retail business.
Lesson 1: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
I consider myself to be an introvert by nature, but working in sales pushed me to develop the ability to talk to anyone about anything (and trust me, I’ve had some really weird conversations with customers). In the sales world (as I’m sure is the case in many businesses), you’ll deal with people that are rude, condescending, and pushy. Develop a thick skin quickly and know that the negativity someone brings into your space has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. On the flip side, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with every amazing person that walks through the door. I have made some of my best friends and met some of the most inspiring people in my world just by striking up a conversation. Give out positivity and kindness, and you’ll attract it right back (and don’t let the negative Nancy’s get to you!!).
Lesson 2: Know what you don’t know.
When I first decided to start WM GOODS, I researched all aspects of opening running a retail business independently. I had hardly even worked in retail before, so this was a steep learning curve. As someone who likes to play by the rules and hates getting in trouble, the first thing I did was hire a lawyer and bookkeeper. While these are expensive line items, I figured that the potential for me to accidentally commit tax fraud and go to jail (I kid, I kid… but not really…) would ultimately be more costly.
As the years went on, I did my best to understand the financial aspects of the business as best I could, but I am simply not a numbers person by nature. After about two years, I hired on a financial consultant who took all of my sales data, compiled it in a way I understood, walked me through it, and answered all of my questions. They gave me suggestions of brands & categories to invest deeper in, and when I wrote my next orders that season, I used their suggestions. We had the best sales we’ve ever had and I just wish I had worked with them sooner. Yes, it cost me money to hire on a consultant, but I ended up making much more by educating myself and bringing someone on to assist with a spot that was a weakness for me. Even if you can’t afford to hire someone, talk to your smarty-pants friends and ask them for your help in exchange for a nice meal. Give yourself time to focus on your strengths and let someone else fill in the gaps.
Lesson 3: Understand Your Intentions.
I’d be lying if I said that the purpose of opening up my own business had nothing to do with making money, but that was not my primary goal & intention in starting WM GOODS. My main goal was to create an authentic space for people to connect and get inspired. In my eyes, this not only meant getting inspired by the beautiful makers that we work with, but also to create a community around the store that was real and honest. From the very beginning, we hosted events like the amazing night we raised money for Ronald McDonald House while Alison Wu & Shannon Sims created the most incredibly beautiful spread of food you’ve ever seen. Or the Create+Connect series I (selfishly) started to invite inspiring entrepreneurial women to lead a conversation about their truthful experience in running their business, self-care, and so much more. When I decided to close, I wasn’t at peace with the decision because I had hit a sales goal, but rather, because I genuinely felt I had helped forge relationships between amazing people that perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise known each other, gathered inspiration from the incredible people I’d met, and made lifelong friends. This is what I want to carry with me into my next endeavor and this is what I am most proud of.
While I am definitely continuing with my branding/marketing consulting business, Well Made Consulting, I’m looking forward to not knowing exactly what the future holds for the first time in my life. I know there are components from running the store that I want to bring into whatever I do next, but I’m still figuring out what that will look like, and I’m really okay with it.
Cheers to new chapters, new adventures, and new unknowns.