Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello there! My name is Emilie Casseday and I own and run Blush Boutique Co in historic downtown Greeley, Colorado. Blush is a boutique full of clothes, home goods, jewelry, bath and body products and more. The goal was to have a highly curated and beautiful space full of quality products where you can find something for yourself and someone else as well. One of the most beautiful things that have evolved out of becoming a brick and mortar shop is the community. While first and foremost we are retail space, Blush has an amazing community of women and men. We host events, classes, meetups and more and the relationships that have evolved from that have been an incredible blessing.
Blush started as a humble idea between myself and a friend that quickly went from thought to action. We opened Blush in my basement in 2017 with just a few pieces of clothing, some fun jewelry, and a whole lot of hope. We quickly grew in customers and needed a new space and began to talk brick and mortar. My partner had to step away but I geared up to move into an actual space in our downtown and we continue to grow. Blush is now an established business in the downtown community in Greeley and we are going on our 4th year in business and we aren’t slowing down!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
For as long as I have had a dream for my life, the one and only constant one were to own a shop. This idea seemed so unattainable but it stood there, in the back of my mind, quiet but from time to time it would push it’s way up into the forefront of my mind. I have always loved the idea of self-employment and doing something creative while being a part of my community was so attractive to me. Owning a shop seemed like the perfect marriage of the two ideas.
I decided it was only going to be a dream. One that I hold dear but would let slip away in the midst of adulthood. It wasn’t until a road trip a few years ago where my dad asked out of the blue if I still wanted to open a store. It really took me about 2 seconds to answer YES, followed by inner panic. Yes, I will always want to open a store but how, when? It just never seemed possible. I decided that if I didn’t pursue this dream, this ache inside of my chest, that I would regret it for the rest of my life. I was tired of seeing everyone else do what they loved while I sat on the sidelines.
After a few setbacks, having a child, and finally quitting my actual day job, I received a text message from a friend who wanted a logo designed. I had experience in marketing, graphic design and photography so she asked if I could design her a logo for a clothing boutique. I immediately knew that it was now or never and asked if she wanted to grab a coffee. We sat for about three hours hashing out every detail we could think of and with a game plan in mind, Blush Boutique Co was created. I designed the logo, registered us for an LLC and Tax ID, found a CPA, created our social media platforms, and mapped out the layout for the shop in my basement. Neither one of us has any business background or education but we went for it anyway. It wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a start.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The early days were full of the intense, long hour, hard-working days. There were nights where I was up to 2 am unpacking and tagging clothes, researching tax laws, designing and redesigning marketing material, and figuring out just how to run a business.
It’s important to set clear boundaries for yourself as a business owner. You can work your business night and day, but if you don’t set clear boundaries, your business will run you.
We had setbacks but learned from them and moved on. A couple of times we ordered from vendors that produced less than ideal products, so we learned to not buy them from them and began a list of quality products we wanted to offer in the shop.
Another hard lesson we learned was not including the price of shipping into our mark upon the goods we sold, but we ate that cost, started to add it in and moved on. Every step in being an entrepreneur was paved in hard lessons but valuable ones, some little, some big, but we never took the lessons as setbacks but a way to learn and become better.
Systems were created, procedures became the backbone to the business and soon we were a well-oiled machine. Starting small and in the basement turned out to be a big blessing because when we were ready to move into a brick and mortar, the big business lessons were already learned and in place, we just needed to learn how to do it all on a bigger scale.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Launching the business was one of the most exciting parts. Like the initial climb of a roller coaster before that big drop. We knew since we were starting out small and in a basement, word of mouth and social media were going to be our biggest tools. I designed the logo and website first, then created the social media platforms and started posting about what was to come. We gave product previews, launched giveaways, and invited everyone we knew to like our pages/handles. By the time we actually had our grand opening, we had quite a following that showed up on that first day.
Because we were starting small, we didn’t have a lot of overhead. One of the biggest downfalls of starting a business is having too much to carry without a lot of income, which is why we decided to start in my basement instead of fully going brick and mortar. We wanted to test the waters first to see if we had a viable business for our community. In order to finance the beginning of our shop, we used some savings and one credit card. Our goal was to never outspend what we made, so we started with a limit of $10,000 on the card and paid it off as we went. That first year, we didn’t take a paycheck so that we could completely get out of debt.
There were days that made it seem like it was all worth it, and some days where we felt like we were pouring in more than we were getting out BUT after 3 years and now being able to earn an income, I wouldn’t take it back. Being consistent, asking a lot of questions, and providing a quality experience for our customers is what has brought us to our current day.
I think fear is the biggest roadblock I see so many people get stopped by. But every fear has a solution. If you have a big landscape dream that seems so impossible, narrow in on a small section of how you can start now.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our biggest tool for attracting customers and then keeping repeat customers has been social media and word of mouth. We made sure our social media platforms were attractive, inviting, and not too in your face.
We set up an editorial type calendar for our Facebook posts that we still use to this day. For example, every Tuesday we have a vote post where our followers can vote on an item that we will bring into the shop. Our customers and followers love this and chime when that piece that is voted on comes in, we already have a set amount of people that will come purchase it because they were able to be a deciding factor. We also make sure to do a live Facebook video when we get new arrivals to show what came in that week. The supply and demand of a piece then draw in more customers, even if one of the new arrivals sells out, they are still coming in to see what else we have in the shop.
Customer service is huge for us. Like I talked about, building a community has been one of the best bi-products in the shop. We want everyone to feel loved, cared for, and appreciated. If we have a customer that comes in quite a bit, we will begin to notice what they buy and reach out to them if something new comes in if we think they will like it. We also try to call people by name and greet them as if they were entering my home, not just the shop. Another great way we retain customers is through a loyalty point system. When a customer gains enough points through their purchases, they are rewarded with a discount. It’s our way of saying “thank you” for having them be a great customer.
We have noticed that especially with clothes shopping, people are looking for a more intimate and personal experience. Yes, they can shop online, but often people want a connection and an experience, and that’s what we try and give. I want Blush to feel like you are coming into your best friend’s house and you just happen to find something great to purchase.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are constantly growing. We just celebrated 2 years in the Brick and Mortar and 3 years total in business. Our expenses have grown because we now do carry overhead, such as rent and utilities, but our customer base has also grown quite significantly as well as sales.
Because we are retail, our growth is cyclical. We start the beginning of the year at the bottom of the sales we normally do and as the year goes on, our sales go up ending the year with a bang at Christmas time. Our biggest growth is in the number of people that walk through our doors. While having been in business for 3 years now, we are still getting new customers daily while retaining our old client base.
We do currently have an online shop but most of our day to day business is done in the shop, mostly because we believe that people really do love the intimate interaction of personalized experience in the shop.
Eventually, I would love to open another shop in Colorado, but for right now I am enjoying the pace of one store while I still have small children at home.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of the biggest lessons I have learned is to never stop learning. That may seem so cliche but it’s very much the truth. There is always something to learn, even after 3 years of business, I feel like I still increase my knowledge of owning a business. Marketing strategies change, the customer wants and needs change, taxes change, trends change… but we change right along with them.
It’s also important to set clear boundaries for yourself as a business owner. You can work your business night and day, but if you don’t set clear boundaries, your business will run you. I had to learn to relinquish control over certain things and let my team run the day to day operations so I could spend time with my family, while that was hard at first, it helps save my sanity and gave me the freedom that I needed.
Back office procedures are something that I definitely suggest with starting a new business. We have certain days that we do inventory, back stock, order, and clean. Setting those up early helped us run smoothly and without hiccups. That way we never run out of things like bags, labels, or find ourselves without inventory when needed.
But the biggest piece of advice I can give is to give yourself grace and patience. You will not do everything right, you will mess up, forget things, and not have everything together, especially when starting out. But giving yourself permission to mess up and move on has been so helpful for me. I don’t beat myself for the little things anymore; I learn from the mistake and try and do better next time. I also try and extend this lesson to my team as well. We all make mistakes but if we learn from them and move on then we can make Blush a better business. I have found that it makes my team more reliable and loyal because they know that they are treated fairly and with the ability to grow.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For a retail space, I really like to keep things as simple as possible. For our point of sale system and eCommerce space, I use Shopify exclusively. They have amazing plug-ins and apps that work really well to keep our workflow seamless. We don’t use many, but the apps we do use help with our loyalty program and our barcode system.
To keep our customers in the know and for marketing tools, we use Mailchimp for the effortless email templates and Mailchimpworks with Shopify to import contacts who sign up on our eCommerce site.
One of the best marketing tools we use is a text message system to alert customers of live videos of new arrivals, coupons, and more. It’s an online-based system where our customers elect to be a part of the messages and can opt-out anytime. There are several great systems but we found that we like Txt180.com the best.
The other main two platforms that I use are Facebook and Instagram. They both tie into Shopify where we can link up products to our online shop when we post, allow our customers to sign up for our email chain that links to Mailchimp, and use them almost exclusively for advertisement purposes. Through the business management side of Facebook, I can create an ad, boost a post, and even offer a coupon to our follows.
As for the back-office side of things, I use an online system and app called Sling for all my employee scheduling, messaging, and clocking in and out. It’s extremely easy to use and has a free edition as well so you can keep your costs down. It’s a great way to keep our communication open and easy for my employees to access their schedules whenever they need to.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I asked a lot of business owners that I knew, especially women, a ton of questions. If I didn’t know it, I asked until I got the answers I needed. One of the best things I did was sit down with a CPA and asked all the financial questions until I had a basic understanding of what I needed to do to keep my business profitable. I used as many “people” resources as I could to gain a good knowledge base for starting a business.
As for books, Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown and Imperfect Courage by Jennifer Honegger were extremely influential in learning how to stand my ground in business. They weren’t so much about how to start a business but how to be true to yourself and you're calling while doing big things in your personal life and business life.
I also attend networking events and conferences that surround me with like-minded people, especially women. I have gleaned so much knowledge from other women who have been in business so much longer than I have. There is a wealth of knowledge out there and I try and soak it up where I can. My favorite conferences have been the Colorado Women’s Small Business Conference and Camp Well Summit which takes place twice a year. They both help women tune into their gifts, goals, and help them figure out what the next step is.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
One of my favorite people and biggest inspirations, Jen Jett (Camp Well Summit creator), said, “Go ugly, early”. The meaning goes for it. Go for it now. It may not be beautiful, it may not be glamorous, and you may not have all the answers, but start now. If you have a dream and a good plan, don’t let the little things hold you back. Yes, you still need to do your research and have a game plan BUT don’t allow fear or minuscule things to keep you from doing when you were made to do.
I think fear is the biggest roadblock I see so many people get stopped by. But every fear has a solution. If you have a big landscape dream that seems so impossible, narrow in on a small section of how you can start now. I knew I always wanted a brick and mortar shop, but that seemed so unattainable so starting in the basement of my house was the best way to at least get my foot in the game. Don’t overwhelm yourself with the big picture, having a good goal is great motivation, but starting a business is like training for a marathon. Take small steps to get to that big goal.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are currently looking for a very part-time sales associate to help on the floor.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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