Jessica and Gigi never knew that they’d be launching a business right after they graduated from college. The two Haitian-American students met while attending the University of Miami and after working together on a group project for a business class that made a promise to each other that they would become business partners once they graduated from college. Instead of packing their bags and heading off to Wall Street to pursue their business dreams, Jessica and Gigi opted for entrepreneurship instead, launching Shop A La Mode as an online store and boutique that caters to the millennial woman. In this month’s Bauce feature, the two young female business owners share how they got their hands in the retail business, the challenges of running an e-commerce store, and three essential traits they say are mandatory as entrepreneurs.
How did you launch Shopalamodeboutique.com? How did you get the idea for it?
Gigi: I had worked in retail and retail management and I realized I was really good at personal shopping and helping my clients find the right product. I realized that although there were many online stores, most just seem very disconnected with actual customers. I believed that it was a niche market. I discussed the idea with Jessica, and after we graduated from college Shop A La Mode was born.
Did you both know that you always wanted to be entrepreneurs?
Jessica: Yes. I’ve always known that I wanted to work for myself from when I can remember. It’s always been a goal of mine.
Gigi: I always knew that I had a niche for coming up with and developing odd ideas. I knew that I wanted to make my own schedule and be in control of whatever I did, so being an entrepreneur was always my only option.
What are some of the biggest challenges of running a fashion retail shop? What are the moments you enjoy?
Jessica: I would say staying with (and ahead) of the trends is the biggest challenge. You have to know when to overstock a certain item to fill the customer need, when to under stock, or when to pass on an item. This is always a gamble because we have a diverse customer base with so many different preferences, so sometimes it is like shooting in a dark room expecting to hit the bullseye, but we manage.
Gigi: I would say the best moments is reading emails from satisfied customers and talking to them on the phone. Its no better feeling then having someone tell you how a product from us made them the center of attention at an event, or helped make their date perfect, or just brighten their day. We do this for our customers so to know that they are happy with our products is just such an amazing feeling and makes all our work worth it.
Which is harder — running e-commerce or a brick-and-mortar shop?
Jessica and Gigi: Running an e-commerce store is definitely a huge challenge. There is so much that goes into it. You have to make sure your website is always completely functioning, you have to take care of a lot of back end and technical issues. You have to make sure you are running great marketing and add campaigns, and you have to obviously have great products available to order.
What has been your biggest mistake with running your business? How did you overcome it?
Gigi: I wouldn’t call anything a mistake per say because I believe that everything happens for a reason and every error is a lesson. I would say early on we had a lot of trial and error. A lot of error, actually, but it helped us learn the ends and out of running an e-commerce store. Our biggest lesson was inventory management. We would fall in love with a product order tons of it, literally like the same product in every single color and all sizes only to realize it wasn’t a demand for it. It helped us learn the importance of effective inventory control and ordering for our customer. I would say we have gotten the hang of it now.
What is your advice for young women who may be interested in getting into fashion retail or starting their own shop?
Jess: My advice is simple — just go for it.
Gigi: Be willing to put in time, effort, and energy. Nothing in life worth having comes easy so you have to be willing to work hard. The fashion and retail business is constantly changing and evolving so she has to keep up and stay ahead of the trends and take extreme efforts to understand the customer base she wants to target.
We define a “Bauce” as a woman who is fly, fierce and driven. She is concerned with improving herself through all aspects of her life. How do you define a “bauce”?
Gigi: A “bauce” is a woman who asserts her independence. She is focused, driven, and poised. She has a presence to her that doesn’t require her to say much yet when people meet her they is a certain air to her that draws respect and intrigue. A “bauce” woman is confident but not conceited, intelligent but never arrogant, and beautiful inside and out.
What three traits do you believe are important to being a successful entrepreneur?
Jess: You have to be driven. You also have to be a good communicator (listening and speaking). You also have to be passionate.
So basically, you need to put your heart into whatever business you want to pursue?
Jess: In life it is important love what you do. Everyday is a different learning experience and no two days are alike. Find something you love doing, embrace it, and smile.
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