How did Jessica Ulrich build a boutique?
Today, Jessica Ulrich is sharing her dream with us of starting a boutique with five adorable kids and working only two hours a day while her children are napping. She was able to build a boutique in 2017 and grow to six figures in only one year. For Jessica, building this business is not about the money. It was about the desire to show women that they can look fashionable and fabulous at any size or at any phase of life.
As Ivie Lola grew, Jessica was constantly getting questions from other wannabe entrepreneurs and quickly developed a passion for helping others pursue their passions as she started privately coaching friends and acquaintances. Equipped with the knowledge and desire to help more women to reach their full potential and dreams, Jessica decided to build an official course Boutique Builder Bootcamp.
“Sometimes, the thing that you think is holding you back from being successful is actually the building block that’s going to help you step into that place where you need to be.”
From this Episode, You Will Learn How to Build a Boutique
- Developing confidence in yourself and becoming comfortable with who you are
- The first steps of starting a boutique
- Finding the right manufacture
- Using social media as a business platform
- Hiring out other parts of the business to create balance
Developing confidence in yourself and becoming comfortable with who you are
Jessica stepped out of her comfort zone to develop confidence by telling herself that the things she didn’t “like” about herself were the things that would propel her to be successful. She said “for me, that was, ‘Oh, my body’s not perfect so I can’t be successful.’ But really, it was, ‘Your body’s not perfect. So, you are going to be more successful because of that.'”
The first steps of starting a boutique
Starting a boutique can seem a little overwhelming but Jessica has some great tips! Some of which she talks about are: researching online; pick a name and get an LLC and business license; create a logo; create a Shopify account, etc. Listen for more details!
Finding the right manufacture
You definitely need to know your boutique style when it comes to finding sources for your clothing. Jessica talks about the pros and cons of overseas versus local options!
Using social media as a business platform
From starting with a Facebook community, Jessica was able to grow in popularity and increase her network. She moved over to Instagram and began doing try-ons, collaborations, and customer service!
Hiring out other parts of the business to create balance
There are certain parts of a business that need to done by the owner themselves, but once you are making enough money to hire someone, it is important to hire out. Jessica talks about evaluating what things to hire out, and what things you should do on your own.
Episode Resources and Links:
CAMILLE WALKER [0:02]
Welcome back everyone to another episode of Call Me CEO. I'm your host, Camille Walker. And I'm so grateful that you are here today. Thank you for taking the time wherever you are in your busy life to investing in other women's stories and thinking of ways that you might be able to be inspired to chase after your own dream.
Today, Jessica Ulrich is sharing her dream with us of starting a boutique with five adorable kids and working only two hours a day while her children are napping. She was able to start her business in 2017 and build it to six figures in only one year. For Jessica, building this business is not about the money. It was about the desire to show women that they can look fashionable and fabulous at any size or at any phase of life.
As Ivie Lola grew, Jessica was constantly getting questions from other wannabe entrepreneurs and quickly developed a passion for helping others pursue their passions as she started privately coaching friends and acquaintances. Equipped with the knowledge and desire to help more women to reach their full potential and dreams, Jessica decided to build an official course Boutique Builder Bootcamp.
Now, women across the country are using Jessica's course to learn how to set up a profitable boutique in seven weeks or less. As a mom of four daughters and one son, the main goal that Jessica operates and lives by is to teach her children that they can do anything they put their minds to. She believes there's room for everyone and wants everyone to achieve financial freedom on their own terms.
So, you want to make an impact. You're thinking about starting a business, sharing your voice. How do women do it that handle motherhood, family and still chase after those dreams? We'll listen each week as we dive into stories of women who know. This is Call Me CEO.
Welcome back everyone for another episode and like all the others, I'm so excited about today because today we have Jessica Ulrich with us, who is such a dear friend. We go way back. She also is a master at multitasking. She's been running a business from home, creating a boutique called Ivie Lola. And now, also launching a program called The Boutique Builder Bootcamp.
So, today, we're going to dig in to her story and also share with you, if you are thinking about creating a boutique, you are interested in retail sales, how you could follow along that journey and learn from her as well. So, thank you so much for being here, Jessica.
JESSICA ULRICH [2:34]
Oh, I'm so excited, Camille. This is one of my favorite things. In college, I was actually a broadcasting major and I don't get to do a ton of this broadcasting kind of stuff, but it's fun. So, here I am, stepping into my role.
Well, there you go. You'll just be an easy shoe in for this exactly. That's awesome.
Probably not. But it just feels exciting, like a big deal.
I love it. Well, tell us a little bit about you. Tell us about your family, where you grew up and how you got interested in going into retail.
Okay. So, I grew up in the middle of Utah, in Spanish Fork, Utah. And I did all the things, my mom was really like, "You can do anything you put your mind to and you're going to do it all." So, she made me do everything, even though at the time, it was stressful. I did all the things. Cheerleading, dance company, theatre, all the things. I was busy all the time. And then, I went to STU and I was in a performing group. They're called Acclamation, so fun. And that's actually where I met my husband, down at STU. So, from there, we've just kind of stayed in Southern Utah, and we have five kids now. So, from 14 down to 2 years old, big stretch there. One in high school, one in diapers still.
And yeah, I think the thing that made me want to start my business really in the beginning was just the background. Yeah, I was a mom, but I had grown up doing all these things my whole life. I was busy, busy, busy. And then, I just got to this place in my life where it got, "I'm not just Jessica anymore." And I just felt, not unhappy because I loved my life and I was so grateful for everything that I had, and really, on paper everything was perfect, except for that I wasn't doing the same things that I always had done. Proving to myself I could hit hard goals, proving to myself that I could achieve anything I put my mind to.
So, I kind of got a little bit depressed. I've had a little bit of postpartum depression with my fourth baby, Ivie, who my business is named after. And I just realized I needed something for me. So, at the time, I had a blog with my mom and my sisters called Lou Lou Girls. And they're still doing it. It's so fun. But from a break off from that, I just decided like, "Why don't we try to monetize this and throw in some fashion?" And initially, I wanted to just do kids' clothing because my kids were my life and I loved dressing my girls. And I have four girls, so that's pretty fun.
But then, it just kind of blossomed into women's clothing as I started to pivot and realize a lot women wanted the clothing that I was picking out, and that's how we came up with ivielola.com. So, just a fun business from a need and a desire to want to find something worth myself, really.
Oh, that's really cool. So, take me back to when you were blogging and then you broke away from your sisters and your mom. Did you say your mom as well? Was that a hard transition to say goodbye to that and move on to this or were they just giving you gracious wishes and goodbye? Was that hard at all to make that transition?
Well, at first, it was hard. I mean, any time you work with the people you love, it can be tricky to navigate. But it turned out for the best, honestly. It was the best thing we could have done because I just felt myself wanting to do more and more and more.
And really, I'm not a very good follower. I've always been a leader. So, I just wanted to be in charge of my own thing and be able to see the vision for myself and kind of just take it in whatever direction I wanted without having to consult with anybody. So, I guess, you could say I don't work well with others, or I didn't. I've had to learn how to do that a little bit better. But yeah, they've always been so loving and supportive of everything. But yeah, it was a really hard decision because we did actually start as a boutique together, loulougirlsshop.com.
And I lived really far away from them. And so, it was really hard to figure out shipping and all those things and inventory. So, eventually, my mom just kept her shop loulougirls.com. And then, I had ivielola.com. And as mine grew and grew, I realized it was really the best choice because being three and a half hours apart is really hard to run a business together, especially if it's a clothing, shipping items and things like that. So, it was hard, but you find when you look back on your life all the tiny little steps that have gotten you to where you need to be.
And I know I needed to start with that blog because it gave me a lot of background information and lots of information on social media, and I had a lot of connections with blogger friends that helped me to grow my business. And so, it was exactly where I needed to be and we split at exactly the perfect time. So, I'm always grateful for those experiences and the lessons you learn along the way.
Yeah. I think that that is really interesting, you talk about running a business from a distance because I have done that as well with partners and it does become difficult because dividing up your time and your work effort can get confusing. And especially if it's with someone that you love and you really want to keep relations happy and cohesive, that can become difficult. So, what is it that really transformed your business?
Because from reading your bio that I just shared with our audience, you grew to a 100,000, a six figure income from this boutique in the first year. I mean, that's amazing. So, let's talk about that. How did it grow?
Even today, when I think about it, it blows my mind because my goal in the beginning was really just to make 100,000 dollars extra a month. I wanted to decorate my house the way that I wanted. I wanted to be able to just buy things without feeling guilty, even though there shouldn't have been any guilt. I just wanted to be able to contribute and say, "Okay. I contributed this month. So, I'm going to go ahead and spend this money with no guilt."
And so, starting with that goal, just 100,000 dollars, quickly I realized that I was going to probably want to set my goals a little bit higher. A lot of things, though, I think gave me the experience that I needed to grow pretty quickly. I mean, in the beginning, we were just on Facebook, we started a VIP group and we asked all of our friends to join and hop in. And that was going really well for a while. But as you know with social media, things can change over a night. So, when we made the decision to really focus on Instagram, I think that's when things really took off for us. Well, when I say we, it was just me.
I was going to say that. We, who is this we you're talking about? I do the exact same thing now with my podcast. I've been so used to working as a team with people. I always say we, and I'm like, "Wait. It's just me." So, yeah, tell me more about that.
Right. So, when I decided, "Okay. I need to start showing my face on Instagram. I need to actually show up for my business. Give people a behind the scenes of my business and start doing try-ons." So, what I did, even though I've just had my sixth baby, no, fifth baby. I was going to say six weeks after my fifth baby. That's what where the six came from. But I just wasn't feeling super great about myself, but people kept asking me like, "Jess. We want to see this on a real person." I'm like, "And then, even models are real people, guys. Come on. It looks so cute."
Because I did not want to take a picture of myself, truly. I was like, "Hmm, I don’t look like a model. I don't look like a fashionista." I had all these doubts in my mind the whole time like, "Oh, I can't show up for this in that way for you."
Until when I was pregnant, in fact, it reversed a little bit because when I was pregnant, super swollen and pregnant. I had all my babies in this summer. I had this one particular dress that I was showing and someone said, "Well. I'm pregnant, too. Can you just show me a picture of you in that dress so I can see where it hits you with your big pregnant belly?" And so, I did it. And it was painful because I didn't feel great about myself. I sold all of those dresses, and not just to pregnant people, to all the people. And that was the moment that I thought, "Okay. There's something to this. I have to show myself in these clothes if I want this business to be successful." So, six weeks after I had my fifth baby, I decided. I set a goal for myself. Every single day, I’m going to show up to my audience on Instagram and I will do a try-on every day.
And it was not easy. A lot of times, especially with my boutique course, my students are like, "I don't want to do that. That feels uncomfortable to me." And I'm like, "I know. Trust me. It's also uncomfortable for me." But I think people really connect with that vulnerability because a lot of people have been there. A lot of us are moms. A lot of women are moms, let's just say that. But a lot of women feel uncomfortable with their body whether they're a mom or not. So, there's just that vulnerability and putting yourself out there and really, I think, is what connects you to your audience almost.
Sometimes, the thing that you think is holding you back from being successful is actually the building block that's going to help you step into that place where you need to be. So, for me, that was, "Oh, my body's not perfect so I can't be successful." But really, it was, "Your body's not perfect. So, you are going to be more successful because of that."
Oh, I love it. Yeah.
It was really empowering for me and it really just helped my confidence a ton. And I don't look in the mirror and think, "Wow. You look really fine today, girl." But I have learned how to look at myself and dress for my body type. And hopefully, people can see that you can be confidence in any size when they're watching you on Instagram and that they feel comfortable stepping into any outfit that they want to, no matter their size. Because I really believe when you feel good about yourself, you do better.
And part of feeling good about myself, at least for me, is showing up, getting cute clothes on, putting my makeup on every day. Because I wasn't doing that for so long, because I thought, "Oh, I'll buy clothes for myself when I hit this way or when I'm this size, then I'll dress in this." I was almost punishing myself for having a baby. So, when I flipped the role and I thought, "No. Let's start dressing cute. Let's start dressing to feel better." Then, suddenly, you feel better, right?
You're doing better for everyone around you because you're happier and you feel more comfortable. So, that's kind of how it all blossomed, but it was just this kind of revolutionary thing where I realized, "Okay. The try-ons are the key." But I didn't realize the benefit that it would be for myself too, where I suddenly get this confidence that I hadn't had before.
I think you tapped into a really important part about the vulnerability with our audience to really show them you don't see yourself as this perfect person. However, you can try on new clothes and like you say, dress for your body type, do things that make you feel better from the inside and to better. I love that. And that's a big part of your brand, isn't it? That you really want to cater to all body types and really help women to feel beautiful and their best selves.
Yeah. And really, it's kind of evolved over time. When you start a business, you try and think of your avatar, I thought really hard about my avatar. But one thing I didn't realize when I started was how much everyone has critiques about their bodies. And so, yeah, as I started to meet people in person, I did vendor events and shows all over the state, and some other states just to help me really boost my business.
I would meet people in person and it was kind of sad but also interesting to me how people would come into my booth and say, "Well. I can't wear that because my legs are too white. I can't wear that because I don't like my ankles or whatever." And everyone had something to say and I just realized I was looking at these women going like, "I don't see that in you. I don't see that. I truly do not see that." And so, I see a beautiful lady in front of me who Is worried about her white legs and I would never have noticed that your legs looked extra light today.
And so, as I realized that we have all these insecurities that nobody else sees, I thought, "Well. How empowering would it be to just realize everyone's worrying about themselves?" Just do what you want to do, wear what you want to wear, be what you want to be, regardless. Don't set rules for yourself. Dress for your body type. Dress for what flatters you, but I feel like so many women have these rules about what they can or cannot wear depending on their age, depending on their social status, things like that. I think you just wear whatever you want, no matter what size you are, if it makes you feel good, you should do it. And so, as I evolved into that, I realized like, "Wow. That's really framing thought, too, to realize you don't have to be constrained by your age. You don't have to be constrained by anything other people are going to think. Just wear what makes you feel good."
And own it, right? Because if you own it, then it works. I totally agree with that. I think a lot of times, even as kids. It's funny because I was talking about this with some of my girlfriends and as we were relaying memories from junior high and high school, we were thinking about something that a dumb boy said to us when we were 14, and where they carried that around with them, even if it's not true. It's like some of those preconceived notions of how we look or what others might be thinking.
Now, I have a junior high age kid and I say the same thing to him like, "Just be comfortable with who you are, really settle into your skin." But it takes practice. And I really like that you say, do what makes you feel good. Because that's what will shine out and really cause your ability to do good and bring the good out of others when you're confident like that.
And I think it's important to figure out what is it that makes me feel good. What are the things that when I wear them, I feel happy? So, for me, it's pink. It's my favorite color. For a while there, though, I noticed when I was having babies, I was wearing blacks and greys and things that I would normally never pick because I didn't feel like I could stand out. And so, when I made that shift in my mind and thought, "No. This bright color, even though people go like, whoa when they see me, I don't care. It's my happy color. It makes me feel happy. I'm going to wear it. I don't care if it's not summer." And that's what I mean by not being restrained by what you think the norms are or your age. Who cares? Don't follow anybody else's rules. Don't follow the fashion trends, even, really. You should just wear what feels good to you, what makes you happy.
I think that's the vibe that people get.
No. I can totally get that vibe from you when the video popped up today and I saw your bright pink and your bright lips, I was like, "Yes. I love it. Love it so much."
Let's dig into the business now. Behind the scenes, you're just getting started. If someone's listening and wanting to start a boutique, where do they start? How do you find a vendor that will have good quality clothing that not everyone has and pricing it right? How did you get into all of that and sort out your ROI and everything else that you were having to do?
Well, it was definitely a learning process in the beginning. Like I said, I didn't really know what I was doing. I just figured it out as I went and I really just kind of adopted the motto that done is better than perfect, right?
So, I just picked a name really quickly for my business because I knew I wanted to do it and I didn't sit and fret over every single little detail, which looking back, I could have probably taken a little more time and been more thoughtful. But I think there's something to be said about being resilient and figuring it out as you go.
So, what I did is I just started typing online. What do I need to do to become a boutique owner? There's really not very much out there. It's hard to find. I think it's easier now because of Facebook and all the groups. There's been a lot of different ways to search, but three and a half years ago, I did not know even where to begin. So, I just started by getting my LLC. I got my business license, set my name up. I had a dear friend of the road create a logo for me that I thought was cute. And I just built it all out on Shopify. So, Shopify is a sweet platform. I still use it today. It's got all these capabilities and awesome things in it.
But as far as finding clothing that nobody else has and prices that are good, I think you just kind of have to ease your way in. People always ask me, "How many packs should I buy when I get started? How many packs of this should I buy? How many different styles should I have?" Really, what matters is just that you get started. You're going to have to start testing things. When you buy in bulk, you've got to buy two of each size. So, usually, it's two smalls, two mediums, and two larges. And if you want to sell plus size, it's usually two 1X, two 2X, and two 3X. So, that's a lot of clothing right away. That's 12 items. So, you just kind of have to decide. You have to get a few. Test your samples and see if people like them.
And then from there, you can kind of make decisions based on what you want to buy later on. But I would never tell anybody to buy a ton of inventory in the beginning. Just start small. Start testing those vendors because even different styles within the same vendor can vary in quality. So, I always tell people, "Start small. Start with the one pack and go from there." So, that's how, I mean, I really just kind of slowly figured it out as I went.
And I really paid close attention to my margins. I paid really close attention to my analytics. What do people actually want? People really liked black, so I bought a lot of black, even though that wasn't me. Because I knew then how my customer was. So, figuring out who your customer is, buying what they need, buying them very minimal amounts, and then just learning and growing based on what your customer tells you they need.
That's good advice. The only manufacturer that I know of that's not U.S. based is Alibaba or AliExpress. And that seems like a very easy gate into doing boutique clothing. Would you agree with that or are there better resources? And for those who may not know what AliExpress or Alibaba is, do you want to explain that as well?
Sure. I actually don't use those vendors. I don't source from China. I source from California, so some of my clothing is made overseas, some of it. Some of it is made in California. But Alibaba and AliExpress are basically you can hop on and find samples and you can have them manufactured for you and have them sent back.
I've never done that because I like the ease of having something shipped to me from California. You can even visit L.A. Fashion Square. And I might be saying it wrong now, but you can visit the actual stores in L.A. or you can just shop online. There's a lot of major hubs that you can search with that can give you literally thousands of vendors just to shop with. So, even though the clothing might be manufactured in China, the sizing is U.S. sizing, and you've got a middle person in between you that's taking the risk and manufacturing the clothes there, but they're the one with the risk. I just find one pack.
If you buy a ton of stuff from China, you have to get a huge run. You have to pay for the pattern. You have to pay for thousands of products. When you're starting your boutique, you're probably not going to want to start there, obviously, because you want to test your market first. So, yeah, I would suggest you go to L.A., you go to Fashion District or there's fashion shows all over the country. There's one going on in Dallas right now. There's sometimes in Florida, sometimes in Vegas, depending on COVID, right?
But yeah, just start small. Start with the small pack. You can shop however you want, though. If your business, if you're confident that you can sell thousands of items in one go, then do it if you have the following already. But I would always just suggest start small, see what your audience wants, and then you're not in it a thousand dollars or even two thousand dollars in one style, right? One pack of clothing, just depending on what it is, could be anywhere from a 100 to 200 dollars for six pieces, depending on the quality and whether it's a sweater or a t-shirt. So, I always just say, start small.
Well, that's good advice because my sister and I started a boutique years ago and we were sourcing from China and they were these darling tea coats that got basically held up at Customs and we were delivering them the night before Christmas. It was awful. We did not do it the right way. I got burned of boutique life really quickly. So, I didn't even know that you could shop from vendors in L.A. What is a really good resource for being able to find those websites? Something that we could link to in the Show Notes.
Yeah. So, I mean, you could really just start typing in wholesale vendors and you can find wholesale holding vendors. Their websites aren't going to look fabulous.
That's not what it's for. Yeah.
Right. And then, what you have to do, you just have to put your EIN number, your sales number. And then, they'll let you in. So, it's only based on approval. And like I said, you have to buy in those packs. So, not everyone, not the general public. You have to have your business license. You have to have a reseller's permit. And so then form there, you can start applying to all these different places. My best advice really is to just go into your favorite boutique and sneakily look at some of the tags.
Oh, you can see what the brands are.
Or go to your own closet and see what brands do you like? Do you have a pair of KanCan jeans or Judy Blues? What are the styles that you enjoy wearing? And you can just look at the tags in your own closet and then, you can type those names into the Google. And from there, you can apply to be a vendor for them. So, yeah, you can pretty much find whatever you want, just by getting that alone, just by Googling a cute shirt that you have to just type in the tag into Google and find out.
Oh, that's smart. That's really good, starting from the end in mind of what you like and what it is that you're looking for. That's a really good tip.
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So, now that you have this Instagram, which did you start that three and a half years ago?
Which was a really good time to start that with Instagram. I feel like you got in at a really good time to start with consecutive storytelling and being involved with that. Tell me about the growth pattern with that.
So, I didn't really attack Instagram for a while. I did have it there and it just kind of sat there for a long time because I was scared of it. I did not know how to do the story and I didn't know how to do any of those fancy things. So, I really did just start with my VIP group on Facebook. And like I said, I got people in there and I started asking them to vote on things that they liked. I asked them like, "What colors are your favorite?" I would show different styles of clothing in a grid. I would create a grid on Picmonkey or something and say like, "Which one is your favorite?" And then, I'd say, "Okay. I'm going to order styles A and C. Put your email down if you want to claim this and I'll give you 10% off."
And so, it kind of started that way. And we would just kind of go by word of mouth that way. So, then, I would send manually invoices. Another thing that really helped. So, I started in May. And hen, that whole summer, I spent just carrying my shiz everywhere. I had these big bins. I had like 11 humongous bins of clothes and racks and all the stuff. And I had this really awesome trailer that has flames on it.
So, I had bins in and I would drive all over the state with my husband. He would show up for me because I would get nervous before with these kinds of things. And we would set up all the clothes in someone's house or at some type of vendor event like Fourth of July or the 24th of July here in Utah, it's a big thing. There's always tents, things like that set up along Main Street.
So, I just started doing that and I made sure when I was at those events that I was collecting email addresses, that I was asking people to follow me on my special platforms. And I would say, "Here's a coupon for your next purchase." And I would say, "It expires next week." So that people would have to hop on to my website right away if they wanted to use that discount.
Anyway, a combination of all those things. I started email marketing, nurturing my audience that way. And then, when I decided to finally start doing the try-ons and everything like that, I was already pretty far into my business. I had already hit five figures a month at that point when I had the baby and started deciding to do try-ons on Instagram. So, that's when I was like, "Okay. I have five kids at home. I do not want to carry this heavy stuff everywhere anymore. Do I have enough sales online that now I can depend on just that alone?"
And I made the decision that I didn't want to do popup events anymore because I wanted the weekends with my family. So, I had to get creative and Instagram is one of those things that I did. So, I did just start doing try-ons. I did giveaways. And collaborations, really, like collaborating with others, small business owners, finding influencers that want to wear my clothing. And then, having them give me a shoutout. Those are super fun and organic and free ways to grow your business.
And then, customer service is the other main thing. If you are really good at taking care of your customers and you make them feel loved and seen, then they will come back. So, I feel like we have really good customer service in our store. We try to take care of people no matter what the circumstance and that's what gets people to come back again and again and again, hopefully.
I imagine that you have a team helping you with customer service at this point.
Talk to me about fulfillment because any time I've considered product, that is the one thing that I'm like, "Oh, the fulfillment and customer service. It's a big job." So, what have you done to streamline that or make that easier?
So, I always tell my students like you have to learn how to do something before you give it to someone else, right? You want to know how much time it takes. You want to know exactly how you want it to be done before you pass it on to someone else.
So, I remember getting to the point in my business, it was within the first year that I was like, "Okay." And looking back now, it makes me laugh because I would only have 20 orders, which was huge for me. I wasn't ungrateful but I would be like, "Ugh. I have to pack orders today." In the beginning, it was so exciting, I'm like, "Ooh. It was fun pulling the things off the shelves." But then, it got to a point where I was like, "Oh my gosh. I have orders today." So, I actually had a gal in my neighborhood. She volunteered to help me one day. And I was like, "Maybe I should start paying someone to ship orders for me."
And so, from then, it kind of in the beginning was hit or miss. Sometimes, I would do them by myself. Sometimes, if I was going to be out of town, I would have her do it because I wanted our orders to go within one to two business days. And it just kind of grew from there. I slowly started hiring more people to help with packing. And then, I hired someone to help with the customer service. And then, I hired someone to help me start putting the products into the system. And then, I hired models. So, I would do what I could until I couldn't anymore or until I felt like my time would be better spent somewhere else.
So, I think as an entrepreneur, you don't want to be working in your business all the time. The things that someone else can do, you should hire those things out for sure. If someone else absolutely cannot do it and get the same results as you, then you need to keep doing it until you find a way, right? So, for me, I tried to outsource try-ons that we still are trying because it would be great if I didn't have to do a try-on every day. But people have grown to love me as a friend. They know me. They trust me.
So, that's one thing that we're still working on, getting my audience to trust other people as models. But yeah, it's just a process. What are the things that are taking up the most of your time that someone else could do and nobody would notice? And then, that's kind of the rule I go by. So, as I started to get a ton of products into inventory, I'm like, "Oh. I'm on the computer all day, putting products into inventory, counting away. Oh, I should probably hire someone to do that."
So, just making sure that with analytics and everything that you're making enough money to hire someone. I think that's a mistake that a lot of people make, too. They're like, "I'm sick of this." And so, they just stop doing it and they hire someone. And then, before they know it, their expenses are higher than their income. So, I'm always evaluating. And I think as business owners, you have to continually evaluate what's actually making you money? What's the thing that you are doing that's getting you sales that nobody else can do? And make sure you stick with that or find a way to tweak it.
Yeah. That's fantastic advice. And I think that that can be difficult, understanding when it's time to let go. But it frees you up to keep growing the business because you are the visionary and no one else can do that part except you. So, I think that that is really, really good advice. Do you have a fulfillment center or how are you fulfilling your product?
So, for a long time, I started in my closet. I had a piano room upstairs. I'm down in the basement right now. But I had a piano room up there and I just had this really nice, I thought it was a big closet. And pretty quickly, we ran out the back. And then, we started setting up racks in the front room because I would have people come over to try stuff on sometimes, which was interesting.
But anyway, I was willing to do whatever it took to grow my business. So, even though that was not very fun, that's what we did. We had people come and then they would try on things in the closet because it was pretty big. And it was like they didn't have to walk through my house. But then, it started spilling out into the front room and I was like, "Okay. I have five kids. This is a recipe for disaster. You got to get these clothes away from these kids."
So, we moved everything downstairs into the room that I'm in now. And honestly, I thought for a while this would be huge enough, but it didn't. It was so quick. I did not fit in this room from the time it was done. We slowly filled up the entire basement and then I was like, "Okay. I had people coming here to help me pack orders." And they were just here on their own schedule because I wanted to be flexible because I’m a mom and I was trying to be their friend, which was a mistake. But just trying to be really flexible and make sure that everything ran smoothly for everybody.
It was hard because it was at my house. So then, last year, around this time is when I was like, "Okay. I have to get this out of my house if I want to feel free from my business. If I want to feel like when someone's here, I'm not at work." Because they would come in at all hours of the day, so it was like I was always at work. So, once we got it moved out, we got into an office space here in Southern Utah.
Since then, it's been a gamechanger. So, that's been, yeah, almost a year since we've been out of my house. That place is starting to spill over. I mean, that's just kind of how it goes. The more customers you have, the more demand you have, the more products you need, the more help you need. So, you just kind of have to always be paying attention to your margins and where you're spending your money. But that's probably the best money I spend every month is having it out of my house.
So, your warehouse is not a place that people can come in and purchase things. Correct? It's just for fulfillment.
Yep. So, when I started my business, I wanted to make sure that I stuck really strongly to what my actual goals were. And my goal in the beginning was just to work two hours a day while my kids were sleeping, right? I didn't want to work anymore than that. I wanted to make sure I could still be a good mom by my own standards, right? And for me, at that moment, I only wanted to work when my kids were napping. And I still try really hard to stick to that rule. I only want to be doing stuff for my business while my kids are sleeping or at school. That is still my rule.
And I mean, I can't always stick to that. There are exceptions to the rule, but I try really hard to stick to that. The reason why I'm talking about making sure you know what you want because I could be working thousands of hours a day making more money, but my goal in the beginning was two hours a day during that time, right?
Yeah, so I didn't want to be open all day and that's why I didn't want to be a broken order. I didn't want to have to deal with constantly having to be open or constantly having to be away from my family. So, for me, my decision to stay just completely online has been a good one because people can shop in your store even when you're asleep. And when you train your customers to do that, when you train them to know that they have to purchase online, they're okay with it. Your customers will do whatever you want them to do as long as you're giving them good customer services and you're giving them a product that they value more than coming in and trying things on.
We did, at one point, have a warehouse sale, but it was just so much work and I just realized, "No. My hard fast rule is online sales." Maybe once and a while I might do a warehouse sale, but I just really love the freedom that comes from online sales. It's so freeing. It's so nice to be able to be on vacation and have your business still make you enough money. It's so nice to be on vacation and have someone else pack the orders and not in your house. There's so much freedom that comes from that and that's really what I wanted in the beginning is I really tried hard to stick to that rule.
Keeping it out of my house. Keeping it separate, but also working smart so that I'm not working hard all the time and always gone.
I really appreciate the progress of how you shared literally going from your closet, now into your own warehouse. But I want to touch back on something you referenced about trying to be the nice mom and making it work for everyone. I think I have a personality like that. And I want to hear what you learned and how you fixed that because what did you do? How did you make it so that as a manager now of employees, you created boundaries that were healthy for you and your family?
Well, honestly, I feel like your employees will be healthier and happier if you set that boundaries from the beginning. And that's something that I just didn't do because I didn't how to do it, honestly. So, I asked my dad for a lot of advice. He's been a manager of employees his entire career. That's literally the thing he does is manage people or computers.
But the rules are the same, right? You give people clear directives. You let them know exactly what you need from them. And if they don't fulfill that task, they don't have a job anymore. And that's truly hard sometimes I think for women because we're nurturers. We want to help other people. I'm not saying men aren't that way, but I just think that we feel a little more guilty when things are cut and dry like that. So, for my dad or just watching him growing up, it was either this or this or you didn't have a job. I just started by saying like, "Okay. Come in when you can. Oh, I understand your kid is sick. I'll pack the orders today." Things like that and I wanted to be nice.
And it's not that I still don't want to be nice, it's just that I didn't set hard fair rules and expectations. It was totally my fault, nobody else's fault. I just didn't know how to manage people. So now, I've gotten to the place where I'm now like, "Okay. When you're interviewing someone, when you're hiring someone, when you're bringing someone on your team, you let them know from the very beginning what you expect of them. You write it down. You have them sign something that they know exactly what you expect of them."
And then, they know if they're not doing those things that they might not have a job. So, just learning how to set those clear expectations and then sticking to it was really the biggest lesson I learned just making sure. I don't want to compare myself to Walmart, but I did all the time because I thought like, "If this was a normal job for someone, they would have to show up. If they don't show up, they don't have a job." And so, when I started realizing like, "Okay. This is a real business, Jessica. You're not just making this stuff up as you go", even though I was. If you want it to feel like a well-oiled machine, if you don't want to be stressed about it all the time, you have to set yourself up for success by giving your employees the expectation that they need to do the different things you ask them to do when you ask them to do it or they don't have a job. And that was really hard for me.
That was probably the hardest part, is this thing that I learned from this whole thing is learning how to talk to people. But it's really made me happier because now my employees know exactly what I expect of them. If they want time off, they ask for it two weeks in advance, just like a normal job. There's a reason why those rules are in place in big businesses and big corporations because it makes everybody happier. It sets you up for success and it sets them up for success and they know exactly what to expect. So, there's no surprises for anybody.
So, as a mom of five, how have you been able to balance time with your kids? I know that you talked a lot about that it's nap time and it's when they're at school. And sometimes, you have to make adjustments for that. What are your rules or ideas that you could share with other moms who are listening about how to manage your time so that you do keep those boundaries within that scope of time?
So, I'm just always playing by the rule like I want to work hard and smart. I don't want to just be working my fingers to the bone every day, grinding, grinding, grinding. I mean, yeah, I could make a lot more money if I didn't hire people to pack my orders. I could pack them myself. I could probably do my customer service still. I could probably model all the clothes myself. I could probably count the inventory, but how many hours would I be spending at the office doing that, right?
And when I look back at how much I've paid my employees over the month, I'm like, "Wow. That's a lot of hours that I have freed up for myself." So, for myself, my goal like I said in the beginning, was not margins, it was time, right? I wanted to make sure that my time was where it needed to be. And of course, the margins matter. We have to be making money. You can't be paying people to do something that's not making you any money. So, it was just slowly easing my way into that. And so, I just set some rules. I'm going to work two hours a day. So, what are the things that are going to move the needle for me? What are the things that are actually going to get me to the next step in my business? And you'll figure out pretty quick. I mean, try-ons for me were the thing that really moved the needle. And so, I knew I couldn't stop doing that.
And I just set a goal based on the things that I could tell were working. So, when I did the try-ons and I started getting sales and I'm like, "Okay. I should probably try on more than one thing a day." And I just started figuring out really quickly like this works and this doesn't work and these are the things that I'm going to invest my time into. And I'm only going to do the things that would move the needle. I think sometimes people get into business and they want to be so hard at work that they're working on things that hardly matter.
If they wanted to show people that they're so busy, but the truth is it's like you could probably get everything you need to get done at any job within a certain amount of time if you knew how to work smart. So, if you sit down, you can have your calendar or planner here next to your side, you put it in order of things that are the most important thing to get done. At the very top of the list, you start with that. You set your timer. You get up. You take breaks. Then, you can work fast because your brain is still going. If you sit at the desk for eight hours and you're just mindlessly scrolling and getting distracted, you could spend eight hours on something that could take you an hour.
So, that's what I really tried to do. I come into the office with a solid plan. I have three or four things usually on my list that absolutely have to be done and I have a time limit and if it doesn't get done in that time, but it has to get done, then I come home and I do the things with my family and I work at night. And that in the beginning was really what pushed me forward because I wouldn't just say, "Okay. I'm done with my two hours. I'm done for the day." It was like, "Okay. I've done my two hours. I have to work some more." So, I have to wait until they're asleep.
And now, I don't have to do that as much because like I said, I've set up some systems and I know what will move the needle. But there's always times where you have to learn something new or a new technology and that might take more time. I'm okay with that. I'm okay with having a few days a month where I'm at the office for eight hours. But for me, that was my goal. And so, for someone else, it might be, "Hey. I want to make as much money as possible and I want to hold on to that money because we need this money so bad."
I would still tell you hire some of those things out because your time is valuable. And like you said, there's things that business owners can do that no one else can do. But there's a lot of things that business owners do that plenty of people can do. And when you start hiring those things out, it just opens the door for more opportunities and for more sales because you can look forward and start planning for the future and start expanding your audience and things like that in a lot of different ways.
That is such good advice. Do you have a specific planner that you like to use? I like to ask that question because I am a paper planner user as well. I use my phone but I also love writing things down. Do you have a favorite?
So, I don't have one that I specifically go to every time. I do not like to use my phone. I get so many notifications. I just found this one at TJ Maxx. I mean, it's nothing fabulous, but I like it because it had these fun little holidays in there which are important when you're a business owner because you can have an excuse for a sale at any time.
Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Special Groundhog Day. You've got cuddle up today. All those things. But I just like it because I just write it down and it's got the daily to-dos and everything, which is helpful. I'm not super fancy. I know a lot of people who like to use the Trello boards. I just like to write it down. I write it down. I get it out of my head and then, I really like to check things off.
I'm a checker offer too. Oh, go ahead.
As I was saying, I get so many notifications on my phone from Instagram and all that stuff that I just would prefer to do pen and paper.
Yeah. I feel like it's almost stored in a different area of your brain where the notifications that come into your phone or the appointments or those different things, it almost feels like if you're putting it on pen and paper, it connects with your brain differently. I don't know. That's how it works for me.
So, when you started paying your employees, what was a way that you were able to keep track of the hours and expenses. What have you done? Is there something you transitioned from or what have you found to be best?
So, in the beginning, I just had them keep track of their hours, and really, I just still do have them keep track of their hours because I don't know when they're there. I did try like a mobile app for a while like a time card but nobody remembered to check out. They would only remember to check in. So, I would see that so and so had 12 hours or 24 hours and I'm like, "Well, they've been at the office for a really long time." And then, I'd message them, "Are you still working?" Which I knew they weren't but I was trying to get them the habit of checking out but it was just one more thing.
So, really, sometimes the easiest thing is the best thing and for us, it's been just write your hours down and then at the end of the month, they send me their hours and we have them on payroll and we just pay it that way. Especially with our business where there's definitely highs and lows. There are months where we send out a ton of orders and there's months where it's a little bit slower like January, typically, is a little bit slower. We just give them other things to do, but because I set clear expectations for my employees in the beginning, there's also a lot of flexibility for them.
So, if they come in and there's only 50 orders to fill and they get them done right in the beginning. They can then play in the office. We have all these expectations, but if they're done, they're done. They can leave. And so, from there, just having them keep track of their hours. And then, having them put it on Google Drive, so that I can see it or send it to me, whatever is easiest for you as a business owner. I think sometimes the easiest is the best. If there's another thing, then let me know, but for us, right now, that's our thing.
Well, it sounds like you have employees that you trust.
So, that is a huge thing. How did you find the employees that you work with? And how many are on your team?
So, right now, I have six people on my time. I have a social media manager. I have someone who does inventory, tracking, counting, weighing, all that stuff, and putting it into the system. Then, I have three models. Oh, I can't keep track of how many I counted now, but then, I also have one fulfillment girl.
So, she comes in, that's her whole job. And she's fast and she's really good. I remember the day that I trained her. I was like in the back office and I kind of showed her something that I was like, "Oh, I don't know if she'll be able to do it." But she did it right and I was just waiting for the orders to be around, but they weren't. And so, I think really what it was is like in the beginning I said, "We want it to be 100% perfect, so even if it takes you a little bit more time to get it done, we want it done right. And I would rather pay for an extra hour of work to make sure you get it right than to have to then turn around and send something out to the same customer we sent the wrong package to."
And I feel like I just really got lucky. She's just amazing. So, I do only have one fulfillment girl, but she will just come in when she has the time. She comes in the mornings. That's her schedule, 7 to 12 or something like that. But like I said, when she's done and the orders are packed, she goes home. So, it's kind of nice. We do have a university here. I think that gives you a lot of options as far as students that need jobs, but just word of mouth, I think that's important. And then, just interviewing. I put it out there on my Instagram page when I want to hire someone and have them send me emails into my email.
Good advice. So, for those who are listening and are curious about creating a boutique or starting something of their own, you actually offer a Boutique Business Bootcamp. So, talk to me about that and how long that's been going and what people can expect to learn from that.
So, we launched last October, so let's see, yeah. No, 2019. Oh my gosh. So, it's been a little over a year, right? I just decided that I love motivating other women to see the power that they have within them because I knew what a big change it had made in my life. I just kind of realized that you really can do anything you put your mind to and you do not have to be hopefully in a bad relationship. You don’t have to stay in a job that you hate that pulls you away from your family. Yes, there's sacrifice that's involved in starting a business and it's not for everyone.
But if it's something that you've been interested in, it should definitely be explored because the freedom both financially and timewise of being your own boss is so humongous. I just never dreamed that we would get to the point that we are with the hours that we've put in. And so, I just had people asking me all the time like, "How did you get started?" And I loved talking business with them. It was just like set myself on fire and when people started saying like, "Oh, I have some sales. What you told me worked! I’m at this now." I now have my students say stuff to me like, "Oh, you saved me. If we wouldn't have had your course, I wouldn't have my boutique where it is and I didn't get paid for my job last month." And this message came in last month and I just sat and cried because I thought there is room for everyone. There's truly room for everyone.
And so, no matter what you want to do, even if someone else is doing it, if you can bring your own spin to it, if you can be uniquely you, there really is room for everyone, even boutique owners. So, I wanted to get started with that because I just love the feeling of helping other people achieve their goals and their dreams. And that really probably is more exciting to me to get a text like that saying, "Oh, I just quit my job" or "Oh, this saved me because I didn't get paid last month." That actually is more satisfying to me now than even hearing the cha-ching from my own phone because I know just by helping other people you can definitely make a difference. It's a ripple effect. You help one person, they all help someone, and who knows how far that ripple goes.
So, yeah, we started in October of 2019. Now, we have 120 students, which is so fun, and every Tuesday, I go live and just talk to them about the new things. Help them plan their months out and go from there. It's a really exciting fun place to be and I really wish I had something like this when I started. The community is just so fun to be able to ask other people questions and brainstorm and troubleshoot together, it's just invaluable, I think.
I think so, too. If I were wanting to start a boutique, I would definitely buy that course and if you're listening to this right now and thinking, I want to get my hands on that or get a better look at that, you can check Show Notes and we'll even have a discount code, I believe, for you to use as well. So, that's really cool. Talk to me about with your kids and the influence seeing you work as their mother has had on them because you do have a good span of teenagers all the way down to a two-year-old, which I didn't realize you have one that young. That's so fun. What has it been like for them to see you go through that transition and become a CEO?
It's really fun because there have been times when I've said to my kids, "Okay. I know I don’t normally work this hard, but I have to work really hard this week. And because I'm working so hard, we get to go to Disneyland or we're going to go to out next week." And they're like, "It's fine mom. Do it. Do it. Go make the monies." That's what we always say. "Go makes some monies." But it's been fun to see them get excited for me.
And I've also seen a little spark in my daughter's eyes thinking like, "Oh, what can I sell? What can I do? How can I grow a business?" And my son. And my little daughter, she's 11. Ever since she was little, has wanted to be a fashion designer. So, she's got all these sketches on her walls of designs and all that stuff. And like I said, I started with girls' clothing because for me that was the funnest thing is seeing her dress up in these clothes and model. And we had to pivot a little bit from that. And I believe in God and I believe that He puts things in our path for a reason. I really feel like one of the reasons why I'm doing what I'm doing is not because I love fashion, but it's because I have four daughters and one son that need to see that women and men, anybody can accomplish anything they put their mind to no matter what is going on in your life.
I hadn't had a real job since before I had Max, really, I just had odd ends like I taught singing and dance and I would do little things here and there and nothing full-time. And so, I think it's really valuable for them, I hope, to see their mom starting something of her own and being able to still maintain that family connection where we can still see each other every day and we still have dinner together every night. And yeah, there are times when I work really hard and I'm gone for a few hours or a few days or something on a business conference. But I found that they just don't seem to mind because they know that it takes work to get something that's worth it. And like I said, I try really hard to stick to that rule of two hours a day, so most of the time, it's not too much of a sacrifice for them.
Wow. Well, that is ultimate goals, I think, to be able to focus your efforts in such a short amount of time and look at what you've built. It's incredible and it's been so inspiring to talk to you. If you were starting over today, what is a piece of advice that you would give yourself if you were looking back at where you started?
I would say like, invest in the coaches. Invest in the program. Invest in knowledge. One of the things that I did in the very beginning, a few months after I started my boutique, is I did get myself into a business coaching group with Alice . I think you know her.
But she's amazing. She's someone that I really looked up to and she asked me to speak at her conference, the Zero to 100K Conference, and that was kind of where I was like, "Okay. This is what I really liked to do." I really like helping other people. It's not just about me anymore. It's about helping others like making that ripple I talked about before. But I would say to myself, don’t be afraid to invest in something because if you invest in something, you're going to take shortcuts you wouldn't have had before.
And like I said, if I would have had something that was specific to boutiques, like the person knew exactly where to find the clothing and exactly how to price the items and exactly how to handle customer service and how to do try-ons and all those things. If I had someone telling me what I'm telling my students now, I feel like I would be about a million miles ahead of where I am now because you're just kind of making it up as you go along.
And you still have to be creative and you still have to get spunky and insert your own personality, but I would say, go for it. Because I waited so long to invest in that course, but once I got into her course, even though it wasn't specific to boutiques, it was helpful to have that community that I talked about. I feel like it's really beneficial to my group as well. Just having people do the same thing that you're doing and being able to troubleshoot and inspire you to show you that this is possible.
One of the things that really pushed me in my business was seeing other people hit numbers. And so, I'm like, "Oh, I see how they're running their business. I can kind of do that." Oh, I can maybe try something that they're trying and just kind of not copying, but doing something similar with my own spin and just seeing other women hit those goals. It just really opened my eyes to what's possible. And now, I feel like, "Whoo! Anybody can do anything."
You just have to know the right path. If you have a system and a step-by-step plan, you're going to be golden. You're going to be set up for success because you never want to try lesser path if you don't have to. Like if someone's already chops down all the trees, it's going to be a lot easier for you to hike that mountain. So, I would say, invest in the course. Invest in the coaches. Invest in relationships and seminars and things like that that will help to inspire you and push you forward, even if you don't know why you're showing up. Just go and be inspired and take a little bit of information that you gathered and just start to work on it and grow from there.
Oh, that's fantastic advice. I have just loved talking with you so much today. Let our audience know where they can connect with you online.
Okay. So, you can find me on Instagram @ivielola. That's my boutique and also DM there. I'd love to get messages there. And then, if you're interested in the course on how to start your boutique, you can go to jessicakulrich.com. So, I'm sure you'll have it in your Show Notes so that they can find it because I know Ulrich is kind of a tricky name, but you can find me there. We have a seven-week program that will take you from nothing to a boutique in seven weeks and then, like I said, we train people every Tuesday, you can talk to me and ask me questions and get yourself started and going and hopefully, growing week by week. Hopefully, by the time that it takes for your kids to sleep.
That's awesome. Well, thank you so much, Jessica. This has been wonderful. And thank you to everyone who is listening. We'll see you next week. Same time and same place.
Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. I love how raw and real we got about all the ins and outs of a boutique and if you were feeling inspired to want to start your own, you can head to jessicakulrich.com and use the code callmeceo for 10% off the course. That is the savings of over a hundred dollars and an awesome way to help you achieve your goals. If you're just looking for a little something to feel a little more fabulous, you can also head to ivielola.com. Use the code callmeceo for 15% off your purchase. Thank you for listening and I will see you next week!
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