entrepreneur

Erin's Journey | Our First Big Crisis.

This month, I'm sharing some of our story of how we built and grew Once Upon A Time Weddings.  If you missed our introduction story last week, you can read it here: http://bit.ly/2KrINeE

I was in year four.  The first few years had been bumpy, but we were finally finding our groove. And then our first big shipping crisis hit.

It was a designer we knew and trusted.

We had visited his stores.

And bought his sales trainings.
We carried his line for about a year and over half of our in-stock gowns were his line.

And then he stopped shipping gowns.

Wedding gowns were late, really late.

And we weren’t getting any answers from him.

For the first time in the history of my business we were going to miss a wear date.

I had to muster up the courage, dig deep inside of me and make phone calls that I pray I never have to make again.

I’m so sorry to tell you this, but your wedding gown will not arrive in time for your wedding.

We went into autopilot. 

Survival mode.

Full refunds.

Free alterations.

Switch to any in stock gown that you want to regardless of cost.

It was hard.

It was devastating on our business.

It was all so outside of our control.

Once the dust settled and I had personally worked with every bride affected by that designer it was time to learn some big lessons. And remove all those gowns from our racks and sell them off.

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I had a big choice to make.

I could become bitter.

Or I could become better.

You see, we had just gone through one of the worst experiences of my life.  A situation that I hadn’t created or could have changed in any way.  I could so easily have become bitter because of it. It was done to me after all.

Or I could find the lesson in the situation and I could learn.

I could use what I learned and grow my business.

And so we picked up the pieces of our business, prayed that we never went through anything like that again and continued on.

One of the biggest lessons that we learned during this crisis was to always take care of our customers.  To go above and beyond for them.  It’s one of our pillars of our business. 

We don’t always get it right, but we always make it right.

We care deeply about each of our customers.  We want them to love their experience and time with us.  So we spent lots of time perfecting the customer experience over the years.  
We’re not perfect.  But we constantly striving to be better.  To do better.  To be consistent.

Things started changing. 

Sales increased.

More and more brides heard about us.

And then we were facing crisis number two dead in the face.

This time however it was much, much worse.

Join me next week as I dive into that lesson.

Do Scary Things.

Do Scary Things.

 

This week I wanted to take a break from our regular blogging to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart.  Entrepreneurship. 

 

Last week, as I sat in class and listened to what could arguably be the worst presentation on entrepreneurship, I got all worked up.  The speaker {who happened to fall into owning a business} didn’t present what being an entrepreneur is all about.  He spoke about failing and taking huge risks.  He said he leveraged everything to move his business forward.  Our professor then proceeded to teach that most small business owners starting a business are between the ages of 23-28.  She taught that this was because young people have nothing to lose so we’re willing to take big risks.  I couldn’t help but shake my head.  This was not what I wanted my classmates to think that being an entrepreneur was all about.

 

If I could teach on entrepreneurship these are the four things I would teach on:

 

1.     You must have passion for what you’re doing.  You must wake up each day and believe in what you do.  You must remember why you chose your field because you will doubt why you went into business for yourself.  In those moments of doubt, you must be able to remember why you started your business.  You must choose joy when you want to give up.  You will put in more hours than most people.  But if you love what you’re doing, it won’t matter how many hours you put in.  There are moments of extreme happiness and moments of extreme sadness and hardship.  To be successful at being an entrepreneur you must ride out the two extremes.

 

2.     You must take risks and learn from your mistakes.  I tell my staff when I’m training them, I don’t expect you to sell EVERY time but I do expect you to LEARN every time so you don’t make the same mistake twice.  As an entrepreneur, you’ll learn to love research.  That’s how you take risks.  You research, ask questions, do surveys and take very precise, calculated risks.  You must be able to do the scary things that running a business requires of you.  You must learn to keep going, keep making decisions, and never, ever give up.

 

3.     The thing that separates those who make it as an entrepreneur and those who don’t is cash flow.  It’s the single hardest part about owning a business.  Profit and loss statements show how much money a business made, but not whether cash will be available when bills become due.  Most businesses operate like most Canadian families, paycheque to paycheque.  The businesses that survive learn how to manage their cash flow and become as passionate about their finances as they are about their respective field of business.

 

4.  You have to be okay with change.  It's pretty much a given with owning a business.  I actually love change.  My staff will sometimes come in and I've changed things around.  I've learned that I do need to reign it in and follow through with some of my changes better. 

 

Entrepreneurship.  It’s about developing your weaknesses and playing off your strengths.  It’s about working hard no matter what.  It’s about constant learning, constant growing, constant improving.  It’s about taking risks, but it’s about so much more.

A Real, Honest Blog.

DISCLAIMER: This is a bit of a more personal blog.  It's meant to show you a little glimpse into what running a bridal store is REALLY like.  I ADORE what I do and I LOVE working with brides.  This is just a bit of my real life.  

When I first opened the doors to Once Upon A Time Weddings I was shocked by how many bridal stores didn’t have great customer service.  I was shocked that anyone could be helping a bride during the most important & exciting time of her life and not LOVE their job.  Or at least smile.

Fast forward five years and now I kind of get it.  This business can be a bit ruthless.  Sometimes it feels overwhelming! {much like wedding planning does, but hang in there, the best moments are coming, I promise}  

Don’t get me wrong – I still love it and live and breathe it every single day.  But it can be oh so exhausting.  I’m not talking about working with brides, that part I love.  I’m talking about working with everyone else.

Here’s some examples of what I mean:

·       In my second year of business I attended a bridal show that also had a fashion show.  The other two stores were fighting and yelling about who had more space for the models to change in.  So the producer of the show had to literally put masking tape down to show whose side was whose.

·       In my third year of business I had a designer who I carried deeply in my store, go bankrupt and stop producing gowns suddenly.  I lost about $8,000 and for the first time had to call a bride and tell her that her gown wouldn’t be here before her wedding day and that she had to pick another one.

·       In my fourth year of business I had a designer who got so behind in production that we were unsure whether bridesmaids, mothers or prom gowns would arrive in time for their events.  We had to cover customer’s alterations, source the gowns through other stores and just pray that everyone got what they needed in time.

·       Last year I had to deal with my old landlord situation which destroyed a lot of my trust in people and ultimately cost me over $6000 in unnecessary rent.

·       I have also discovered this year that one of my competitors is transhipping gowns.  This basically means they don’t carry the line of wedding gowns, but they have another store order the gowns in for them and ship to their store.  Which means that although I’ve carried the line and have invested in the stock pieces that I have, they are telling brides to come to my store, try the gowns on and then they’ll order the dress for below what the manufacturer allows us to sell it. This kind of thing happens on all the time with designer gowns.  It’s so unethical and frustrating but unfortunately most designers turn a blind eye because at the end of the day they are still selling gowns.

·       This year I found out that someone who I trusted deeply in this business and whom I have talked openly about bridal gowns, designers and my business plan took that information and behind my back started a competing bridal business.  Then when I found out and called him out about it, he lied directly to my face.

Somehow, I have survived each and every one of these things and so many more that I could write about.  I’ve learned to work through brutal situations and keep on going.  After all I’m an entrepreneur.  It’s what we do.  But by the Grace of God.

So, why am I sharing all this with you?   I guess it’s a reminder that we’re human.  That even though I am the face of Once Upon A Time Weddings, there is so much that goes on behind the scenes.  So many things that I CANNOT control {even though the control freak inside of me wishes I could}.  So many designers, sales reps, UPS drivers, and more that I have to rely on to do my job.  Have I made some mistakes along the way?  Absolutely!!  Will I make more?  Most likely. But never the same ones, as I try my best to learn from them.  Every day I wake up and I’m so thankful for the job that I am entrusted with.  I’m so thankful that I get to spend a small window of time with each and every bride that comes into my store.  Sometimes after a particularly crappy day, I will sit and read through my facebook reviews.  The kind words left from brides means the world to me!  When I sit and reminisce about all the brides who said YES to their DRESS at Once Upon A Time Weddings, it makes me so proud.  They are why I keep pushing through the difficult situations.  I ask of you to remember that store owners are people too and if they have given you great service, let them know.  It can make a world of difference.

5 Things I've Learned About Owning a Business.

 

Once Upon A Time Weddings has been opened for five and a half years.  I was twenty-four when I first opened the doors.  I was super excited, a little naïve and a lot underprepared for the journey that would be owning my own business.  It’s been a wild, crazy ride!  There are some things that I wish I knew then that I know now.  For those of you who own a business or are contemplating owning a business or for those who just like to know what it’s like to own a bridal store these five things are for you.

Photo by Nova Markina www.novamarkina.com

Photo by Nova Markina www.novamarkina.com

1.       Your life will never be the same. 

Last Saturday as I was getting ready to work a full day I was thinking about how my weekends are totally different than most peoples are.  I get up Saturday mornings and mentally and physically prepare to work all day.  Saturdays are our busiest days and I spend most of my weekend working!  When I opened the store I didn’t really think about how it would affect my life as I knew it then.  I love working a busy Saturday and meeting new brides and the hustle and bustle of the shop.  But my Saturdays {and my poor husbands Saturdays} look very different than most couples.

2.      You will become a bit bi-polar {and that’s ok}

Monday I was having a pretty crappy day!  Tax season does that to me every year!!  I was just frustrated with some dealings I had with one of our designers too.  Then I had one of my most fun & easiest bridal appointments.  I got to work with a bride whose getting married on New Years Eve and had one of the greatest wedding parties!  It was pure joy.  I went from super stressed and super frustrated to super elated in the time frame of about an hour.   I said to my husband, it’s amazing how a good bridal appointment can totally change your whole mood.  It sometimes feels a little bipolar.  I love, love, love my job.  But there is definitely high stress, high energy moments that can suck the life right out of you.  Somehow, someway you just have to find the balance each and every day.  It’s definitely something that I never really experienced before I owned my business.

3.      Don’t just trust everyone.

This one is hard to write.  I have a super trusting nature, especially when I first opened my business.  But I have definitely been burned by freely giving my trust out to people within the industry.  There is a lot of competition and a lot of store owners who just copy what you do rather than come up with their own ideas.  One of the hardest things I have learned is not to trust people until they have proven to be trustworthy.  I’ve been burned too many times.  Sometimes sharing the knowledge that you have, unfortunately comes back to hurt you in the long run.  You just have to be so careful with information.  But on the flip side, I’ve met some really cool wedding professionals that I’m blessed to be friends with.  I have just learned to proceed with caution.

4.      You will not ever truly be off work.

When I first thought about moving the store into my home, people told me that I would truly never be off work.  I laughed and thought and that would be different than my life now how?  For crying out loud, facebook now gives brides an estimate of how long I will take to get back to their message.  It’s part of the job and in our technology driven world, it’s just how it is.  People expect an answer back quickly.  I wouldn’t change it because I think it’s a necessary part of the job.  But I do wish that I could just turn my brain off at night and get a good night’s sleep, even once a week!!  It’s my entrepreneur nature to constantly be thinking about the business, thinking about things I could do differently, things I could improve on, things I need to do.  But again, wouldn’t change it for anything!

5.      It is hard to work independently.

I am a hard worker. I work long hours.  But sometimes it’s ridiculously hard to work when there’s no one asking you for work to be done or holding you accountable for hours spent on projects.  It’s all up to me to decide how to divide up my time and what I will work on next.  It’s a lot of freedom, which sometimes can be a bad thing.  It means I have to have a lot of self control and motivation.  I have to learn to be persistent and consistent.  Even more so now that my office is in my home, the distractions can be endless!

Photo by Soul Photography www.soulphotography.ca

Photo by Soul Photography www.soulphotography.ca

Owning a business has a ton of rewards, but it’s also a ton of work.  I love what I do and I love making a difference in brides lives.  If you are thinking about owning your own business, it has to be something that you are passionate about.  You also have to be realistic about the time commitment it will take and the sacrifices you will make to reach your dreams.  You also have to be willing to take risks and to do scary things. You will ride through some tough times, you will make some mistakes, but if you hang in there the reward will truly be more than you could ever have imagined.