Ali Wykhuis and Angie Heiney own Frock Boutique. Frock Boutique was established in 2003 and strives to carry the most eccentric, eclectic, affordable and whimsical fashions available from locally designed and produced items. Today Frock Boutique has five employees and two locations, one in Portland’s Alberta district and a recently opened second store in Seattle. They have completed both the Retail Small Business Management Program and the Small Business Management Program.
At CLIMB’s ‘How to Grow your Business’ Symposium, Ali and Angie give us insight into their origins, success and participation at the PCC Small Business Development Center.
Can you tell us a little bit about your business and what inspired you to get started?
Our story really is quite a story of passion as we both were vintage clothing collectors and we used to bring all of our stuff to Burning Man and we’d set up a boutique, a free boutique, and we would outfit whoever walked in our tent basically… I wanted us to have a real boutique so that’s what got us going.
The first couple years were definitely rocky but we stuck it out and luckily found the SBDC about five or six years ago and kind of have helped us get on the path for really making it a true, viable, successful business.
What were some of the challenges that you faced when you got started?
When we were first getting started we struggled with staffing (finding people that understand our mission), getting our message across, having enough money to have employees, and having employees that get what we were trying to do. One of the huge hurdles that Leslie Hildula and Mike Kelsey (from the SBDC) helped us with is get our first form of bank lending.
We aren’t that great with numbers and staffing we’ve had issues with, so our counselor continues to help us a lot with that. The SBDC also put us in touch with specialized people that we can work with like a HR manager that we can call just ad hoc for checking references and things like that. We meet with Jackie Babicky Peterson once a year to go over our numbers and she helps us run all the equations.
From the audience:
I’d like to know your challenges with staffing. I have a small business and I have 1 to 3 people that go through, it’s seasonal. How do you get people into that same vision?
We like to empower our employees- you guys pick the music and you solve the problem. We give them the tools to solve a problem in a creative way, it makes people feel good and empowered.
We hire for corporate culture and we hire for company fit. I’m a huge fan of the working interview. I have to know that we can kind of jive day to day. I’ll know right away it’s just not going to work.
I own a retail business, and I’m wondering about the whole public relations thing. I got a really nice write up online in Portland Monthly and then it sort of boosted the business, and then it went back. So I’m wondering when reaching out to different media outlets, is it- do you do it around like a specific event or is it around like “we’re here”? How do you get their attention?
If you can provide them with quotes and kind of a guideline to what the story is they’re much more likely to write it.
The people that I read about the most have a PR firm on the payroll.