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What I Learned (& Lost) About Opening a Men's Boutique


I found out I couldn’t handle running a business all by myself. I mentioned it shortly in the last post, but ultimately, Oxn is closing because I couldn’t run an entire brick and mortar retail business completely by myself. Before I opened a retail store everyone told me, “You know this is a lot of work?” and “You know this is a hard thing to do?” And I would say, “So they say."

I didn’t want to live my life wondering, “What if I had taken that chance?”. I knew I didn’t want to regret it. And as Chuck Klosterman said, “The biggest element in life is going to be chance. You have to be ready to take the leap through the window of opportunity.” He goes on to mention that you may not know when it comes and you may not realize the opportunity is there, but when it’s there you have to have the nerve to jump through it. They may be hard to see, but these chances are going to come and it’s up to you whether you take the shot or not. I didn’t want to live without taking the shot.

I Figured Life Out by Living It

I took the chance, and next thing I knew I had to write a “business plan” to be chosen to get a shop. I didn’t  even really know what a business plan was. I had never taken a business class in college, or anywhere else for that matter. So it was many trips to the library and Google searches to figure out how to write a business plan. I used guidelines and help from other store owners to figure it out. And even then, I had no idea what I was doing. I ended up with a 30 page document that described what I believed Oxn is and what it stands for. In this business plan I had to put financial projections in and I had nothing to base my ‘projections’ off of. I sent tons of emails to Cabby from The Classroom and Ben from Snake Oil Provisions, and they really helped me a lot with structure, business ideas, and ways to look at the outcome of Oxn. And yet I still thought I could handle all of this by myself.

I ended up opening Oxn with less than $50,000. I had the chance to open it with around $50k, but I used less because I had to take out a personal loan. I was $0 in debt before this store. That certainly changed. To run a clothing store, you have to order your clothes six months before the season starts. So if you want to get prepared for the fall and the winter, you have to place those orders in March. I didn’t even know if I’d have a store until April—but if I did get the store, I had to make sure I had product in it. So I placed orders before I even knew if I had a space (I could cancel if need be). I had orders before having a space, fixtures, lighting, a dressing room, a point-of-sale system, and any license or legal document I was supposed to have. I placed orders before I knew anything.

I worked my ass off on this business plan, on sweeping, hanging lights, moving furniture, building my website, adding products, writing product descriptions, taking pictures, laying out the store, getting my business resale certificate, and all of the other things that go into opening a retail store. I went through 8 months of running a retail store. I sold merchandise. I did marketing (but not enough). I did taxes and accounting. I went to trade shows. I sat in the store day in and day out, doing my best to figure out how to build Oxn as a business.

Luckily, I am fortunate to have creative friends that really helped me out along the way. I have a good friend who’s a graphic designer who built my logo, my ads, and helped with my website. I had a girl who took amazing photos, and another friend who wanted to take photos because he loved the shop. So while I did have to do all the administrative part myself, the creative side came with a little help, for which I am so grateful.

I could tell you about the day-to-day business side of it, which involved sitting in a room over 40 hours a week, but that’s just boring. What I will tell you is what I learned. And what I lost.

Don't Do Stuff You Don't Want To Do

Don’t be forced to do stuff you don’t want to do. The stuff is going to have to be done, but hire someone for for the stuff you don’t want to do. I wish I learned that earlier. Ideally, I would have done that right off the bat, but I didn’t have the money for that. I had to do all business things entirely by myself.

To be successful, you have to quickly learn how to delegate the tasks you hate to people who either like them or are good at them. This is where my creative friends came to the rescue. If there’s a task you don’t like you’re just going to avoid it for as long as possible. Bookkeeping was this task for me. This task may be cleaning, organizing, buying, throwing events, working in the shop, whatever it is—if you don’t like it, don’t do it. Now, “don’t do it” doesn’t mean avoid it. That definitely won’t work. Just hire someone. Plan to have enough money going in to pay someone for a service. You may not know what you don’t like yet, but trust me, there will at least be a thing or two you don’t like to do, or aren’t very good at. Be ready for that. I learned that too late, and by not learning this lesson fast enough I lost money.

On the flip side of that, remember that you can’t grow and learn if you’re always in the store. Being the only employee, I had to man the shop all the hours I decided it would be open. Early on I had an inkling that this would lead to partial insanity. Sitting in a room, over 40 hours a week, waiting for people to walk in the door, would eventually lead to going crazy. I compared it to solitary confinement, but with slightly more freedom. It wasn’t that bad, at all, but it did dampen my creativity and my growth plan for Oxn. When someone didn’t come in all day, no online sales, and having to spend money on new product would fog up my brain about how to develop Oxn. I couldn’t think outside the box because I was always stuck in it, literally. This hurt my business, and hurt myself more than I thought it would.

Thinking outside the box and outside the store is one of the best things you can do to grow your business and develop the brand. Make sure you have enough money to think about growing your business. Maybe that’s business trips outside of your city, or maybe going to NYC for market shows and visits to other stores. Whatever sparks your creativity and your forward-thinking progress—make sure to make time for that. Before I opened Oxn I was always thinking, being creative, looking at blogs, developing a voice for my store and the idea of what I wanted my store to be. That started to deteriorate throughout the summer and into the fall. Slowly but surely, it was happening. I noticed it, but I didn’t know how to fix it. I didn’t have enough money, again, for an employee. While I learned a lot about the things I should have done, I lost the creativity to keep pushing through because of the situation I put myself in.

While it seems all the things I learned are for “next time I give this a shot,” there’s a lot more to it than that. While I can take what I learned and apply it to next time, I can also take what I learned and apply it to right now.

What Now?

If you told me on January 1, 2015 that my year would consist of opening a store, running a brand, going to NYC, and going into debt I would have made a bet—and ended up going more in debt. If you told me that on December 31, 2015 that it would all be over, I would think you were the ghost of Christmas future that doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

But that’s what happened and I’m ready for what’s next. I grew in 2015 more than I’ve ever grown in any other year, faster than any other job I’ve ever had. I developed skills I didn’t know I needed to develop, and I grew self-confidence more than any other role at any other job.

I grew the job titles of buyer, accountant, business plan writer, salesman, janitor, and most importantly: entrepreneur. With these job titles, I have the possibility to do anything and go anywhere with the right people. So while I’m excited to get back into a routine, and to have weekends off, I’m also excited about what Oxn became, what it might become, and where the experience has the potential to take me.

If you want to do something? Do it. People always say, “Time is money,” and while that may be true for a professional skill, when you’re an entrepreneur that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Because money comes and goes, and that’s something that time will never do. Take chances, and jump through windows of opportunity, because you never know when the next window may open. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Something not working out and something failing are two completely different things.