A Business Year in Review

Posted by Jill Erickson on

There is enough material in the first year of business to write a book.  Each month could be a chapter citing the wonderful people I connected with, the mistakes I made, the elation when things went right, the meltdowns when things went really wrong, and the evolution of the store in both space and product.  Oh, and there would a lot of pictures of my pugs.

A book would be something like phase 263 of this business...so that's a no for now.

Before opening Spoils of Wear, I worked for 2 small, independent, women-owned boutiques.  I could not have been more prepared to open my own store (insert maniacal laughter from the small business universe).  But seriously, had I not had this experience, I probably would have crashed and burned in year one. 

I'm grateful everyday for the women who trusted me to learn and play in their stores.

From opening day on September 1 to November 10, 2016 things were pretty magical. Support for my dream-come-true came flooding in from all directions.  Experience told me it would not be this way forever.  Newness and excitement would taper off.  I would see what long-term reality looked like soon enough.  Once I saw what I was really working with, I planned to buckle down and strategize growth.  Ya know, based on data and shit.

When reality punches me in the face, I say "ouch".

The day after the election of Donald Trump, I forced my tear-streaked face into work, knowing that the majority of my urban St. Paul community would be reeling for an indefinite amount of time.  In my mind, this day marks the end of my energized, easy-peasy, first 2 months.  The winds of business changed almost instantly.  I don't like blaming anything on the election.  Giving that singular event any power in my life grosses me out.  But the reality is that it has affected a lot of people in a lot of ways. 

Resist in some ways, adapt in others.

The 2016 holidays came and went with some enthusiasm, but not nearly what I had expected or planned for.  By the time January rolled around, I was fragile (a new word in my vocabulary-of-self).  January is usually the slowest month for fashion retail, so I held on tight.  I remember being out to dinner with Steve in early January, talking fitfully and cantankerously about taxes, tracking expenses, and government expectations.  He finally stopped, took my hands and told me how proud he was of me.  This was the first time I recall openly leaking tears since the store opened.  I felt in over my head.  It seemed stupid at the time, but just a few non-judgemental, loving words provided momentary relief.

I've had half a dozen greater meltdowns since then.  Poor Steve.

We went on vacation.  Twice.   A road trip from Key West to Louisiana.  Went to Europe for the first time, spending nearly a week in Italy.  Change of scenery is important.  I started to feel an upward shift in the overall vibe around the store and excited about the Spring season.  The next hurdle came too soon when I realized I had drastically over-bought and would be literally paying for my mistake for a long, uncomfortable span of time.  I talked through a lot of issues with Kristie (owner of Teeny Bee Boutique) and kept concluding that it's all survivable.

Growth isn't linear and that's ok.

Ebbs and flows.  A crappy May.  A decent June.  And I'm not even talking numbers.  Numbers don't reflect new friendships.  Or discovering other exciting brands in the Slow Fashion world.  Or a successful day of merchandising.  Or the quiet afternoons sipping coffee with Kristie on the sidewalk.  Or the joy of people's interactions with Daisy, the shop pug.  Or topping a personal best at Dr. Mario on the N64. 

Went to New York.
Turned 35.
Discovered Thunderpants.
Explored the North Shore.
Helped Steve make a music video.

September 2017 marked 1 year in business and I anticipated a fantastic fall season that (surprise surprise) I did not over buy for.  Woot!  I did something right!  Thank God.  Because it was rough.  Minnesota experienced an extended summer and warm fall.  At first the quiet seemed flukey and ironic.  Then whispers from other small retailers and news of larger companies closing before even giving the holidays a chance gave me cause for concern.  Is Amazon taking over the world?  Clearly, yes.  What am I going to do about it?  Continue to evolve my business into something Amazon can't provide: a fun, tangible experience.  Also, I'm not going to shop on Amazon for things I can buy at local stores, even if it means paying more.  That's a ranty post for different day.  Fair warning.

Business Karma.  I'm sure it's a thing.

November 9th was the Shop by Candlelight event for Selby at Snelling businesses.  It was awesome.  The best shop day of 2017 for Spoils of Wear, by far.  Live music, shoppers, a sense of community, and the first glimpse of Holiday spirit.  It brought in good energy that I couldn't seem to conjure up for myself. It has stayed pretty positive since then.  Even now, in lame-ass January, I'm optimistic.  Once again excited about new initiatives - store events, Spring product, the Superbowl (!!!), travel,  this blog, and more.

Maybe it seems like a lot of whining or negativity, but hindsight actually looks pretty good overall.  Somehow I still managed to exceed the expectations of my business plan despite a lot of setbacks.  The St. Paul community is wonderful.  The unsolicited press received in the first year was so unexpected and fabulous.  The product is becoming more in line with my vision - a vision that is simultaneously expanding and narrowing.  My employees are AWESOME (more like angels than employees).  And I feel more like I'm running this place and less like it's running me.  Today, anyway.