This year I turned 40. Though I was hoping for an uneventful change in decades, never felt it was a scary number, and was ready to embrace my official adult status; life has a way of surprising you. The year turned out to be like turning 18 again. In fact in a way I did also turn 18. Patricia Shoppe is celebrating 18 years in business, now that number makes me feel old! Eighteen years in a career that I created for myself, a business I am proud of and am so lucky to own. However as milestones tend to do this winter gave me some time to look back and reflect on the past year. I had a year of lessons, a year of some of the hardest challenges I have faced (sound familiar 18 year old self?). Up until now I quite honestly flew by the seat of my pants, often times thanking my guardian angels for taking me on an incredible journey. Life seemed to just happen to me, not really planned. I opened this little shop up when I was 23 years old in hopes it would pay for college or travel in the off season. I never guessed it would take me where I am today. I often say that it was better that I was so young and naive; I didn’t know to be afraid. I’ve had crazy success. My Mom will tell you it is because of my inner strength, my husband would say it’s because I am a master of finding a way to always get what I want, though those things probably helped, in reality luck played the biggest role. In the first 15 years of business my sales increased every year. I grew and grew and grew. So many factors could have helped, right time, right place… I have always been a confident person (thank you mom & dad for raising me so well) and 15 years of growth added to that confidence. But like turning 18 my guardian angels finally decided I was old enough to set me free. I had made it- right? A beautiful store, great staff, successful sales….
Well then it was an election year and because I was living in a bubble of growth and luck I didn’t know that election years are bad retail years. And as we all know that was a crazy election year and boy was I caught off guard. My sales decreased for the first time ever. At one point in the season they were down as much as 25%, but my guardian angels must have seen me struggling and sent a little lifeline and the season ended only down 10%. Which is still a big number, but not horrible, however when you’re a cocky 17 year old (actually 39) and not paying attention it can hurt pretty badly. I wasn’t prepared for it and spent like my sales would be up like they had always been, because bubbles never pop (stupid teenage self). In my defense I had become a mother and decided life wasn’t just about work. I needed a life where there was more balance between work and life. I wasn’t willing or able to work 6-7 days a week anymore, I felt that I had put in my time and deserved a life of my own. I didn’t want what trend was the latest or the season to steer my life. I delegated tasks over the past few years to my staff and became very dependent on them. The store had grown to a point where I couldn’t do it all and I justified spending like it was the only way- stubborn teenager! I wanted it all, to be a great Mom, a boss providing great jobs, an income that supported my family; I had it all, and thought it would just be like that forever. Well then my husband’s career ended. The 100 year long yacht builder closed and he began his own 40 year old journey of disappointment, question of what to do now, struggling with a wife who is now a mother first. My sales (and profit) were down; we lost our health insurance and 2nd income. Needless to say, we made a few therapy appointments for the first time in my life. But as journeys are it wasn’t the end for us, just a big bump in the road.
After a long winter of being a Debbie downer spring loomed ahead and I had no choice to face the season head on. I was pretty beat up and was convinced it was going to be my worst year ever. I spent a lot of time reading articles about the decline of retail. Though I was comforted a bit knowing that I wasn’t the only one out there struggling I still felt like I was a general about to lose a battle. In fact I wasn’t even struggling, I still did pretty well for myself but I tend to be a perfectionist and being down was not acceptable to me. I lost some confidence, I questioned everything. Was my store not that great anymore, did I lose that special touch? Are all the other stores so much better than mine? Was I in a Mom fog and lost touch with what’s current, was I officially turning 40 and not cool anymore? I hadn’t traveled to as many trade shows and was worried I was losing touch. I turned to social media and spent hours researching successful boutiques around the country, what lines they carry, what were they doing to stay afloat…. I didn’t love all the current trends but felt I had to get with it. I wanted to be like everyone else because I felt like I wasn’t cool anymore- ugghh the pains of teenage years.
I had a trade show in Chicago and planned a longer trip out of it. I stopped in Milwaukee on the way and visited boutiques looking at indie designer Wisconsin made items. I spent a day or two with a friend scouring the boutiques in Chicago and really looking at them- how they display, the music they play, their social media presence, the lines they carried, their product mix. I was thirsty for inspiration. My friend thought I was crazy, she kept telling me that my store was amazing, that it was just as or even better than many of the places we went. I enjoyed it all, I really enjoyed the 4 days of being free of a toddler and work (even though I was working) but in reality was still filled with trepidation. I did feel like I was coming out of a fog, a mom fog. I now had a toddler and life was getting a little easier, I had enjoyed her infancy to its fullest, fog or not it was bliss until reality hit. After this free time and quality time with my best girlfriends I stopped beating myself up a little. It was okay to be a human, to make mistakes, to not be the best all the time- lesson learned 18 year old self, it only took 39 years to pound that into your head.
Part of that trip included a vintage & handmade show with my best friends. I then had my ‘aha’ moment. We were trying on vintage dresses, scoring on some really awesome lamps, botanical prints and jewelry…. I was in heaven! I felt like myself again, trepidation totally gone. I left there with a bag full of jewelry that I confidently bought with no worries whether it was cool or not, I bought like I always had- I bought what I liked, what inspired me. Excited for the first time in a while. This was me, a lover of vintage, the classics, finding that thing that fits someone so perfectly. I based my business branding on it and I still loved it. I was with my very cool Chicago happening friends and they loved it too. Maybe we were 40, but we were cool. Or maybe not but I didn’t care. I decided that my store was never about the latest trend or being like everyone else, it was about pretty & unique things. It’s about what makes women feel pretty and a way to express who they are, not what they are supposed to be. It is a mix of all styles and letting women express it in their own way and me helping them find it. Mission inspiration completed I headed back home determined to have a good year, no matter what my sales were.
So like an 18 year old facing the world for the first time I put on my big girl pants and tried my best. I hired a consultant to help with my books and inventory control. I learned things that I should have known years ago. I couldn’t believe I had been in retail for as long as I was and felt so lost. I stopped flying by the seat of my pants and functioned with a budget, and spent hours analyzing my number. I actually studied instead of showing up to class totally unprepared like most of my high school career. I cut my staff’s hours and luckily was able to hang on to them, which I didn’t think would happen. I worked 6 days a week again, I worked after I put my little one down to bed most every night. I was driven by something different, I still had passion but necessity of income was always in the back of my mind. I had to support my family this year, I had no choice. I felt a little like I did at 18, not sure how I was going to pay rent but just kept working as much as I could and somehow it got paid. Guardian angels on my side my staff stuck with me, my husband finally had his own aha moment, and I had a successful year. My sales were still down almost 5% but I made more money. My expenses were down, I bought smarter, tighter. I sold less, but made more money on what I did sell because I bought the right stuff & not too much of it. Still a little disappointed with the word ‘down’ I was happy to have at least made it through the season without an emotional breakdown like the year before. I felt like I ran a marathon and was happy to have at least finished and not given up. It was rough but I felt smarter, older and able to function in the real world again- with confidence.
So why this blog post, I mean even blogging is out dated right?! Why do I feel like I need to put this out there- no idea. But maybe it is to just define it for myself again- aren’t you suppose to analyze your mission statement every 3 years? To remind myself in the beginning of another season what it’s all about. What Patricia Shoppe is to me, why I am doing this and not working a stable 9-5 life. It is my life, my passion, my livelihood. What is it to my customer, what am I offering them, why should they shop in my store and not online? Well to my dear customers who have been with me on this journey and truly mean so much to me, know this- I have literally shed blood sweat and tears over the items I pick for my shop. I have spent a lifetime trying to figure life out through this process. What did I figure out – I am officially a not as cool anymore 40 year old mom that still has something to say. I don’t love every trend of the season, but still get excited to see them and figure out a way they might work for me and for you. I love working with indie designers and learning their inspirations. I love the world where you’re not defined by ‘best sellers’ or where you shop by what a computer recommends for you. I love wearing a piece handcrafted and one of a kind. I have the benefit of years of inspiration that has developed into a style of my own, like no other, and the confidence to bring that out in the customers I am so lucky to have. I really love working with all ages, sizes, and types of women and learning what makes them confident, inspired, and beautiful. It never ceases to amaze me how putting a pretty dress on a women makes them light up. I know this might all seem like too much, like maybe I have had too much time this winter to analyze my year. I mean I’m not running a therapy office, right?
So here’s to my eighteenth year & the beginning of my adult status both personally and professionally. I am looking forward to growth, even if it’s not in my check book. Let’s have a fun season of pretty things, of expressing ourselves as beautiful women layered with life’s lessons.