What a week! I just returned from Las Vegas and I have had a whirlwind of thoughts in my head about our store, the story and how in the hell we ended up here!
So I get asked a lot of questions about the store, some are like “are you the owner”, “how did you start”, “where do you get these clothes” so I am about to spill ALL if the details below. Let me warn you now, I don’t have all of the answers. If you want to start a boutique, GO FOR IT. But, just know that EVERY story is different.
When I was younger I was the BIGGEST tom boy ever and really I still am. I like sports and athletics and TBH sweatpants are the greatest invention on earth. BUT I still had every fashion video game you could buy, and playing The Sims is only fun because you can style them head to toe right?
When I was in high school, Pinterest was on the rise and I was kind of an outcast at school (well in my opinion). My parents had sent me to catholic school in 9th grade and never got to see my public school friends. I hated my school (at first) and I lost the love of sports. Why? Well, I had all new coaches, teams and the catholic league sports have different rules too. I grew up playing ball with a lot of the same kids so when I had the big switch, it was huge no.
Pinterest became my BEST friend and I knew how to sew, knit and craft better than anyone my age (thanks to all of my grandmas)! I spent so much time and money at Joann Fabrics, I had built up enough “inventory” to sell headbands and jewelry at a local festival. In 2014 (right before graduation), I popped up a table at The Peace Festival and I sold $8 flower headbands. I was SO embarrassed because all of my friends we going to come and what if I didn’t sell anything? I had to pay my mom back for the $50 check she wrote to enter the show and displaying your creative work in BALLSY AF!
Fall 2014, I went off to college in St. Louis and again I had to start over. I received a Powerlifting Scholarship and I LOVED lifting. But, being a college athlete requires so much time and dedication, marking it hard to meet new people. And its really hard to have a college experience with the bars and frat parties when you have to train 6 days a week. So I started an Etsy shop. It took me 6 months to set it up, because I was avoiding going public and facing the rejection from my friends on social media.
CoCo Grand was the name of the Etsy shop that launched spring 2015. I had came up with the name the summer before college when I was working at a local tanning salon melting my summer away. Starting my Etsy store was the true beginning of CoCo Grand. I learned so much that first year on Etsy. I created, packed and shipped every single item in my dorm room.
After a year on Etsy, I launched Shopcocogrand.com in March 2016. I had previously met Kat, a fashion truck owner in the St. Louis area and she had introduced me to this entire new world of retail and e-commerce. It was amazing! I pledged a sorority that spring semester and my Big introduced us. This was the first time I had met someone who was interested and knowledgeable about fashion, retail and business in the way I was.
Kat and I connected so much and she directed me to the Boutique Hub. I used this to network with other owners and sell some of my handmade jewelry at wholesale to build a little capital. I had saved up about $400 to purchase a small amount of inventory to launch my own website. I decided to stay on Etsy for a few months to fund the website but since Etsy is only handmade products I couldn’t sell any clothing on there. Along with the website I popped up every weekend with my products at different craft shows and fairs to move inventory quicker.
After that, everything blurs together. I was going into my junior year of college (August 2016) and my business was growing every week. It had been a year and a half since the Etsy launch and about 6 months since our website launched. I moved into my college apartment with 2 racks of inventory, a mannequin and my old Mac desktop (which we still use today). I spent my weekends driving from state to state to pop up at new markets to grow my email list and social media. While all of my friends were out exploring college, I had depledged my sorority to grow a business.
I turned 21 and I told my friends and family I was moving home to Michigan. I had decided to take the leap and see what this business could really be. It was January 2017, my business was selling $8-10K a month from my dorm room. I reinvested every single dollar back into my business to grow and get more inventory. I finished my junior year of college, and moved back to Michigan. I bought a condo, worked full time as a waitress and continued to pursue my marketing degree full time online at my university.
At this point (summer 2017), I was wearing so thin with work and school. I stayed up until 4 am daily, working on homework or my website and then I served tables for 10-15 hours a day. There was no time for social life, exercise, hair appointments. If you look at photos of me from this time, YIKES. I loved my store and fashion but damn I was slacking hardcore in the self care department. That August I attended WWD Magic for the second time. But this time it was different, I made friends and I networked hard with the ladies in the Boutique Hub. I saw so much potential in this industry and my career.
The next 6 months were a combination of work, sleep, school and the store. January 2018, things were turning up (not that they were bad, I was just getting stale with the same routine). I had asked my grandparents for a small loan to purchase the truck. They said yes and I mad a big leap again. I bought a 1997 Chevy step van in January, hoping to have it renovated and ready for spring. I launched our fashion truck May 6th 2018 and I graduated with my bachelors degree May 12th 2018. That was simply, the most amazing week of my life. I have never cried so much.
While I was celebrating two major wins in one week, I was also so lost and fighting a battle within myself. All of my friends were going to nursing school to getting cool jobs downtown and I was still talking about my business with doubt and fear. Risk everything everyday and work for my business (which honestly didn’t feel like a “real” business at the time) or do the conventional thing and use my degree to get a job, have the security of a steady income and freedom to have a social life. I chose my business yet again and I will choose my business every time.
In the past 15 months, I have grown this business into a fashion truck, a store front and now a warehouse. Our online business is better than it has ever been and now I have two full time employees. When I look back on this story, it makes me sad that during every big change I was so optimistic but also scared to tell my story and talk about my dreams. I felt that way because I know that so many people watch me daily and if I failed, what would I say?
But now, I feel so energized and full of life. I kind of feel unstoppable, and not in a cocky annoying way but in a “I choose my own destiny and happiness type of way”. When I opened my storefront in my hometown, I NEVER thought that I could grow into 1000 sqft and signing that 3 year lease made me want to puke. I was so anxious, I don’t think I slept the first 3 months. But here we are, just signed a lease to rent the space next to us so I can have an office and actually sit down to eat lunch.
The past 15 months have flown by and I have doubled my business. I get asked why and how we/I did it everyday. My honest answer is this next statement. I hands down live, breath, eat and sleep my brand and the passion I have for this business. I answer emails in the middle of the night, I reply to every single comment, I pay all of the bills and balance the accounts every morning at my kitchen table. I monitor every sale that comes in, see what is selling, who bought it, where they live. I then, analyze all of that information to know what to buy for the store and what is selling best. I service customers, Its a never ending rollercoaster that I love!
So the next question is, where are headed? Well. Good question because I wish I knew. Like everything I have done until this point, Im going to wing it. Our lease for the store/warehouse has 2 more years and after that, I’m not sure where we will go! My focus for the next 2 years is growing our online following and creating a genuine connection with our customers. My ultimate dream is to have multiple locations.
But my dream location is in a cute downtown area close to home (my ride or die locals know where I want to be). Gorgeous big windows, beautiful brick walls, a coffee shop next to us! Be apart of our journey and follow along because this ride is crazy and I have no idea what tomorrow brings!