I recently sat down with Kelsey Perrault, founder of Red Jacket Boutique (RJB), an online women’s fashion boutique that has been in business for almost three years. We discussed how she started and grew her brand. At the end of this post, you can find ways to connect with her as well as a discount code for her online boutique!
Kelsey lives in the northern part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the boutique was born out of a serious void in her local area. The nearest mall was close to four hours away and given the fact that it snows a LOT (we’re talking 200 inches or more per year), it’s not always an easy trip to make! She has always been drawn to boutique shopping and the unique selection they offer their clientele. Craving a creative outlet for herself, starting a boutique of her own seemed like a perfect fit for her and her community.
How it all began
It all started in August of 2017 with a small, private group on Facebook with close friends and family. Within a few days she had 1,000 members but it was all word of mouth growth because people were excited to have an option to shop locally. From the beginning, besides filling a void in the community for great fashion options, she wanted to give her customers a personal shopping experience rather than just going to a site to browse. She also knew she wanted to do some in-person events so people could get to know her as the face of the business.
The biggest challenge in the beginning was finding vendors to work with that had the quality she was looking for. She began by googling vendors and signed up to work with as many as she could, as a retailer. She would find one or two that would fit her style and then would order an item or two from them to see if the quality was what she was looking for. After she found a few vendors with quality items, she placed big orders with them which was scary. She did make some expensive mistakes in the beginning but her perseverance would pay off.
The road from side hustle to full-time business
Truth be told, when Kelsey started RJB it was never her goal to do it full-time. It was just a fun hobby and creative outlet for her. If anything, she was nervous about the growth because she was also working full-time. Over the past year, it kept growing and growing to the point where she knew she had to make a decision. In fact, she turned down a promotion at work to focus on her business full-time. This last year of growth, says Kelsey, was made possible by the support of her husband who learned how to pack orders and take photos of her modeling the items.
Consistency has been key to sales growth, especially with promotions in her group. She does a Sunday sale and a Wednesday deal of the day, every week. Her members have become accustomed to these and are ready (and eager!) to shop with her. It’s oftentimes a race to the checkout because she doesn’t always restock items. Once it’s gone, it might be gone for good! Having new, seasonally appropriate items arriving often helps to keep customers coming back to buy again and again. These consistent promotions and arrivals of new items, keeps her group active and engaged which also helps growth. She did recently launch a website because she wanted to give people an option to shop with her that didn’t have Facebook. However, her group remains the main driver of revenue.
Advice to other entrepreneurs
I asked Kelsey if she could go back in time and give herself some advice, what would it be? She said she would tell herself to just go for it and not to worry about what people think. Putting herself out there in the beginning was difficult. She’s a pretty private person and was really nervous but her nervousness was really the only thing standing in her way.
Something else she would tell herself is that it has ups and downs, just like any other job. When she first started she only thought of the “fun” stuff that you see as a customer: hand picking pieces, in person pop ups, getting to host fun events, setting your own hours. She didn’t really think of the back side of things like taxes, accounting or inventory that’s not moving; but those things will make or break your business if you don’t give it enough attention.
In terms of what she would tell others in her shoes, she said to not force growth. It’s something that will come naturally if you offer quality products, good customer service and are consistent. The key is knowing your customers and knowing what they want. She recommends not doing the same thing every other group and boutique is doing. Being authentic and genuine is key to success and what works in one group, may not work in yours. She’s learned that people love personal experiences and being able to get to know the person they are buying from so do in-person pop up events if you can.
Another piece of advice for other entrepreneurs is: get ready to work your tail off 24/7 and not make any money for a long time. You have to pick something you really enjoy because it might be a long time before you see any profit. Being an online business, customers are shopping,emailing and messaging at all hours of the day and night. So it’s important to set boundaries for yourself and find a happy medium of a timely response and not being glued to your phone. She says she is still working on that balance, three years after beginning.
She also wanted to let readers know that you don’t need business experience to start and grow a successful business. Kelsey has a BS in Medical Laboratory Science and worked as a Medical Lab Scientist for 5 years before going back to school to get her MBA. After that she was a Course Instructor and Clinical Coordinator for a Medical Lab Science program, and that was when she felt the need for a creative outlet and something to keep her busy while her husband worked a lot of nights and weekends.
She has plans to open a permanent pop-up shop in a coffee shop local to her. She’s looking forward to changing out items weekly and giving people a consistent place they can shop and try items on in person. She doesn’t have any plans for a storefront at this time but she has learned to not rule anything out.
One challenge that she is facing with her growth, like so many other small businesses right now, is finding vendors that are still shipping due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus in the United States. She went back to square one trying to find vendors that aren’t in LA and are still shipping out items to retailers. It’s a challenge and time consuming, but necessary for the growth and health of her business. She did say that she’s grateful she has built up relationships with vendors. It’s been invaluable especially in times of unexpected crises like now.
Kelsey says she is grateful for not only her local customer base but for people also in urban areas that have other options, but continue to support small businesses like hers.
You can find her website here, join her Facebook group here and follow her on Instagram here. She is also giving readers of this blog post 15% off your online order with code social15. You can input it at checkout on her website. Plus she has free shipping on all US orders!
- Consistency in marketing and promotion efforts are key to growth.
- Give people a reason to come back and buy from you again and again.
- Persevere through challenges. You have to pick something you really enjoy because it might be a long time before you see any profit. Being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs, just like anything else.
- Growth is something that will come naturally if you offer quality products, good customer service and are consistent.
- Know your customers, target market and what they want.
- She recommends not doing the same thing everyone else is doing. Stand out while being authentic and genuine.
- People love personal experiences and being able to get to know the person behind the small business.
- Start a business that solves a problem or fills a void. Those are the brands that stand the test of time.
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