“Children, shopping and fashion just became my passion,” explained Meg Fisher of the transformation she underwent while sixteen and working at a local fashion boutique. “It was then that that I started writing my business plan,” said the Founder and Owner of Lincoln & Lexi, a high-end boutique for children’s clothing specializing in unique and custom products. Fisher was the guest of Mike Colwell, Executive Director of Square One DSM, at the January session of Start-Up Stories.
“Many people refer to us as a sort of physical Etsy shop, where we focus on trying to fulfill the customers vision.” And vision is something this young entrepreneur has in spades. She was just ten when she felt that her future would combine her love of children with her budding entrepreneurial spirit that found her investing her baby-sitting earnings in the stock market. By eighteen, with a preliminary business plan in hand she felt she was ready to skip college and enter the business world. More mature heads prevailed however and she engaged the Entrepreneurial Studies program at Drake University where she would come away with three degrees and a substantially better business plan.
She launched Lincoln & Lexi almost immediately after graduation on a $5000 loan from her father. The concept went from her parent’s basement to a Jordan Creek Town Center kiosk and through four physical storefronts in just its first six years before landing at its current location in West Des Moines.
Having toyed with expansion and in fact at one time operating two storefronts locally, growth for now is likely to focus on what Fisher calls her CAB, short for Custom Accessory Bar. This unique station in the store allows a customer to choose from literally thousands of combinations of ribbons and bows and elastic bands to make custom headbands as well as other accessories to compliment outfits, or to stand alone. The custom production can be done in minutes while the customer waits and returns a substantial margin.
Fisher sees this as her near term growth plan — expanding the CAB concept into mall kiosks or franchised pop-up boutiques within other stores. An on-line portal is under investigation as well.
Sharing her story and advice before an engaged crowd, which included a few of her Drake advisors, Fisher demonstrated an acumen born of hard work and experience that would belie her limited years.
Included in her thoughts as she answered many questions of both Colwell and the audience was this good counsel:
Get a good tax guy. Or more to the point, know your own numbers. While all entrepreneurs find it difficult to delegate, the books are not to be left to another. While it is fine and wise to have a good accountant reviewing your work, outsourcing your numbers is outsourcing the only real metric of your businesses health to another. Doing so in the first few years, for Fisher, was a costly mistake.
Employees are a challenge. “If I could get 25 good retail people I could trust and who wanted to stick around I’d be opening stores all over the place,” she lamented of the difficulty in finding loyal and consistent workforce in the retail sector despite above average compensation.
Asked of her most important advice for those in the room considering the entrepreneurial path Fisher had two answers:
“You have to believe in the vision 1000 percent,” she offered. “If you don’t truly believe in it and if you don’t truly love it, you will most likely fail. It will take a toll on everybody, yourself and everyone around you.” While noting there are days that are fantastic, there are days that are every bit as depressing and you can only maintain an even keel through those waters if you truly believe in what you are doing. “If you don’t want to pour everything into it, I don’t know how you would succeed,” she warned.
“Knowing your target market and the appropriate price point for that market is the second key and it is absolutely vital,” she noted. For Fisher, that is as much about knowing who is not your target market. Additionally, she defines her target market, not just by the product and price point, but by the customer experience they expect. “The service and the product all define your brand and all must fit with the needs and expectations of those with whom you want to build a relationship, because relationship is critical.”
Sound advice from a well-seasoned boutique owner who has come full circle, now serving on the Drake University Entrepreneur Centers Advisory Board.