When Jamenda McCoy was pregnant with her two children, she wished she could find cute maternity clothes near her in Chicago. So she and her husband decided to open a boutique for expecting moms, that now services all women. After a successful five years in retail, McCoy shares her strategy for serving style.
The gig: Both times when I was pregnant I wished I could go to a great store for maternity so I decided to create an incredible shopping experience for pregnant women five years ago. I knew working with expectant and new moms was my passion when I began to actually meet moms and hear their stories. This year we successfully rebranded the boutique from just maternity to two distinct collections: maternity and women’s contemporary, including re-launching the company website BelleUp.com, which I did on my own!
The journey: I was a lawyer when I decided to open the boutique. I applied the problem-solving skills I learned in law school – and honed in practice – to help women. My husband and I identified a lack of retail options for expectant moms on Chicago’s south side, then researched and developed a solution. I juggled the two fulltime jobs for over two years. My ability to do both and eventually take the leap to leave the law behind, is a true testament to the love and support of my husband, kids and family.
Tips from a Black boutique owner: First, identify what makes you different than the store down the street. Don’t be afraid to tell, and sell, your story. Second, do the math. Then do it again! Many brick and mortar businesses fail the first year because they calculate only the amount of money needed to get to the “grand opening.” There are a ton of overhead expenses between Day 1 and the day your business breaks even. Finally, treat your customers like you need them, because you do!
Her biggest lesson learned: Initially, I underestimated the value that my presence had on my business. Though I always understood the day-to-day operations and I spent countless hours maintaining all of the behind-the-scenes functions, for the first three years my time was deeply divided between the the law firm and my own business. It was not until I left the practice of law that I was able to turn my attention from “running a business” to “building a brand.” There’s a huge difference!
Her mantra: “The thing about the rat race is even if you win… you’re still a rat!” I try not to chase my “competition.” My biggest competitor is… me.
Her childhood career dream: I wanted to be a lawyer since age 5. No matter how hard I tried to shake it, it stuck with me. I earned my law degree in 2003, and practiced law until 2012, when I decided to turn my attention to operating Bellē Up full-time.
Her stress relievers: I don’t get a ton of “me” time, but hanging out with my kids always lightens my mood—they’re hilarious!
Her secret superpower: I don’t need much sleep to function, but when I do sleep, I can do it anywhere. I’ve slept standing up plenty of times!
Her tech fix: I like Hootsuite to manage social media, Weebly to manage the store’s website and blog, Sure Payroll to make sure all of my employees get paid on time and Square. If you see me at the airport and like the dress or necklace I’m wearing, I can swipe your card on the spot and have one just like it shipped to you!
Her beauty bag: Most days I’m lucky to make it out of the house with a little Burt’s Bees chapstick on. But when I do wear make-up, I couldn’t get too far without my MAC lipgloss and Lancome oscillating mascara.
Her power style accessory: I’m a sucker for a statement necklace and a killer pair of 4″ heels.
Juggling work and family: Unless you’re a circus clown, it’s okay to drop a ball every now and then. And when you do … breathe. This, too, shall pass.
Her theme song: “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan.