3 wise business moves that helped fashion maven start own indie retail shop in Long Beach
Maggie Stoll is owner of Burke Mercantile, an independent retailer in Long Beach. Photo credit: Sheewa Salehi & Diego Diaz.
Over the course of eight years, Maggie Stoll lived out her dream of working in the clothing business as a visual merchandiser and store manager for a well-known, fast-fashion brand.
But as Stoll got older, her focus shifted toward wearable pieces that were better designed, sustainably made and durable enough to last numerous fashion cycles.
Enter Burke Mercantile, a retail lifestyle shop Stoll launched this spring in Long Beach with the help of SBA financing from CDC Small Business Finance, a leading U.S. small business lender. The 31-year-old Long Beach resident describes Burke Mercantile as “a curated, modern lifestyle shop with an ethical and eco-conscious mindset.”
Her shop didn’t sprout up overnight. It took more than a year of active planning, troubleshooting and mentoring to launch her specialty retail concept. Check out these three smart, timeless business moves that helped Stoll realize her goal of running her own store.
Business move #1: Find your niche
As the Cincinnati, Ohio native became increasingly disconnected from the central mission of the apparel maker that employed her, she drew on that growing dissatisfaction to power her next big career move.
Over time, Stoll became more mindful of her personal spending and the quality of the products she was buying. She’d eventually start investing in higher quality wardrobe staples that cost more up-front but would outlast any of the bargain-chic items mass retailers churned out.
Through that process, she developed a passion and appreciation for smaller, independent brands that embody the same values that she did such as designing for quality over quantity, using sustainable materials, and practicing fair labor practices.
While consumer demand for quality, eco-friendly goods is stronger than ever, not many smaller boutiques were filling this niche, Stoll realized. That’s how Burke Mercantile was born.
“I have created an environment that supports emerging small brands and artists and gives back to the community while fulfilling the everyday needs of our creative customers,” she said.
Business move #2: Do as much research as you can
Stoll instinctively knew launching a business would require learning first-hand how a successful, smaller-scale retail shop runs. She quit her full-time, fast-fashion job to work for a small business owner in Long Beach whom she admired to learn the ropes, according to an interview with Voyage LA.
Stoll also made the smart move of getting in touch with her local small business development center, or SBDC, to get help with writing a business plan. (A business plan is a common requirement if you apply for a small business loan.)
What’s an SBDC? These are offices that provide free- or low-cost training and business advising to aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs. While they do not provide financing, they do help entrepreneurs develop their financial strategies, from creating business plans to formulating projections. They are funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The staff at the Small Business Development Center in Long Beach not only helped Stoll create a working business plan, they also connected her to CDC Small Business Finance for financing options and additional advising to get her qualified for an affordable loan.
Business move #3: Work with business experts
While it’s commendable to do a lot of the legwork as an aspiring entrepreneur, you can’t possibly do everything alone.
That’s why it’s so important to work with expert business coaches especially in the early stages of your business.
After getting in touch with CDC, she was paired with in-house business advisor Marsel Watts during the early stages of the loan process. Watts helped refine her projections and encouraged her to test the Burke Mercantile concept first via an online-only store to measure demand.
Once the demand was proven, Stoll’s next hurdle was finding the right location for her boutique. This step proved to be especially challenging. There are seemingly countless factors involved in selecting the right home for your retail concept including: target demographic, visibility and costs, among others. She ultimately subleased an affordable, 250-square-foot space from a former work colleague.
“(Marsel) has been really helpful along the way to help tune me into some realities of starting a business as well as the loan process to make sure I am keeping all aspects in mind, and working toward success,” Stoll said.
Watts said Stoll readily implemented recommendations about business projections and a marketing plan.
“When you advise someone and they value your tips, it makes it much easier to assist them,” Watts added.
How SBA financing sparked success for indie retailer
Thanks in part to financing from CDC, Stoll was able to launch her retail start-up in Long Beach’s Belmont Heights trendy neighborhood, known for its Craftsman bungalows and bustling retail-restaurant district.
She used the financing, an SBA Microloan, to purchase inventory and fuel advertising and marketing to get the word out about her new business. She carries a variety of goods including well-made basics; boutique, unisex fragrance and artisan jewelry.
Since launching her brick-and-mortar location, she has exceeded her sales goals and projections for the first quarter of business.
“It’s been really exciting to see the work of all the financial projections paying off,” Stoll said.
She has also weaved in a charitable layer at her shop. She held a charity raffle as a part of her grand opening party that raised $325 for a local organization Algalita Marine Research. The group works to end plastic pollution in the oceans.
What’s her advice to aspiring small business owners of any discipline?
“Stay true to your vision, do so much research, and ask for help,” Stoll said.
Are you in the process of launching your own venture but need a financial leg-up? CDC Small Business Finance offers several loan options for business owners of all stages from many different disciplines.
In case you missed it:
- Beyond business loans: CDC Small Business Finance continues investment in communities by supporting P.S. I Love You Foundation