Entrepreneurship is not an easy road, but when you have the passion and determination to succeed, anything is possible. The first year of business offers a steep learning curve in any industry, but especially in the ever-changing children’s retail business.
I had the opportunity to speak with sisters Lori and Sylvia Yim, owners of online boutique mo + me, who recently celebrated their first anniversary as entrepreneurs. Keep reading as Lori and Sylvia reflect on the biggest lessons learned so far.
What has been the biggest challenge of your first year in online children's retail? The biggest challenge?
Lori: One of the biggest challenges for us was trying to read minds! There are certain things that I personally like or don't like, but what do I know? It's hard to guess what we think people will want to buy. But luckily, Sylvia and I tend to agree on most things, so we at least had that going for us.
Sylvia: Also, we had to figure out how to get noticed among all the great shops that are out there. It's really important to us that we are memorable to our shop visitors, and we'd rather have loyal customers who come back again and again than a million one-timers. This is probably still our biggest challenge going into year two.
What are the top three things you wish you had known before embarking on this journey?
Lori: It would have helped to have talked to more people in the industry before starting out, and gotten some pro tips or advice. We could probably have saved a lot of time and headaches on things that just seem like common sense now!
Sylvia: Yeah, we were pretty clueless about a lot of things. Like, how far in advance we'd need to place orders! We opened our shop in March of last year, so we missed the initial Spring/Summer launches and kind of had to scramble around getting inventory from brands that still had immediate stock available. And then of course, that's also the time we had to order and pay deposits on Fall/Winter collections, before being able to sell a single item! If we could do it again, we definitely would have waited and launched on time for AW16.
Lori: Another thing we wish we knew early on was just how much physical space we'd need. Who knew tiny baby clothes could take up so much room! We thought we'd be okay with the few shelving units and assortment of bins that we initially invested in, but we ended up needing more very quickly and could probably use a bigger space!
What has been the steepest learning curve for you?
Sylvia: I would have to say dealing with inventory issues. Trying to figure out what to order, how many to order, what sizes, etc. For us, there are certain colors/sizes/styles that seem to move faster or slower than others. So every season, we take what we learned and try to improve for the next. Now that we have a few seasons under our belt, we have a better feel for trends and consumer preferences. But we're far from having figured it all out—we may never know!
Do you have any advice for those thinking about starting on online children's boutique of their own?
Lori: If you're like us, and you're starting a small family-run or home-based shop, don't count on making profits right away. Don't even think about it! In the beginning, all profits will go towards purchasing for next season, advertising/marketing, supplies, shipping and packaging, and a million other things.
Sylvia: On top of all that, this requires a lot of time. You're constantly on social media, answering questions and promoting your store, so be prepared to be on your phone and computer a lot. Even though it's not really "work" when you're chatting with customers or scrolling through blogs and Instagram looking for trends or up and coming brands, the time just flies by. It would be really hard to keep up on these things if you're not passionate about this industry.
Has your approach to buying changed or shifted since you started?
Sylvia: Yes, definitely. In our first season, we pretty much just winged it. We went through the line sheets and purchased whatever we liked or whatever we thought our customers would like. We didn't really have a buying plan or method for it. Then we'd receive the inventory months later and realize our purchases were kind of all over the place. And I don't know if anyone else could tell, but we felt like our store that first season was so random!
Lori: When we put everything up on the site, a lot of it didn't look like a cohesive collection - even within the same brand. So we try to keep that in mind when we're buying and stay as organized as possible so that we can look at our purchase as a whole and make sure that what we're offering in our shop is a good representation of the collection.
How has attending trade shows like Playtime for example assisted the development of your shop?
Lori: Playtime is amazing! It's really crucial for us to be able to see what the products actually look like in person. And we're dealing with babies and kids here, so of course, the feel of the fabrics is super important.
Sylvia: And it's literally hundreds of brands in one spot that you can check out. We're always on the lookout for new things and a lot of the brands we carry now, we found at Playtime. Plus, it's always nice to put faces to names too, and to be able to connect with all the people we work with in person!