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Jessica Weinberger, Spring 2016, Spring 2016 Section 2

Beating the odds: A small business success story

By Jessica Weinberger

For the founder and owner of San Diego-based boutique Trendy and Tipsy Kaitlynn Brown, the day starts early.

She begins by posting a photo to the shop’s Instagram page and advertising new arrivals. She replies to a long list of emails and handles custom orders, inquiries, photo shoot schedules and shipments. All the while, she greets customers as they come in to the shop on Mission Blvd. By mid-afternoon, she has a farmer’s market to attend, and she works the tent till 9 p.m.

Rest comes later.

The life of a small business retailer is one that doesn’t stop, and one that, more times than not, ends in failure. According to a 2016 study in Entrepreneur Weekly, 53 percent of startup retail small businesses fail in the first four years. The study cites multiple reasons, including insufficient funding, markets phasing out or owners having a limited business background.

But Brown works feverishly to buck that trend. Being the sole owner of her business, all decisions fall on her. She started her business in San Diego in 2012 after graduating from Dominican University with a business management degree and a master’s degree in global management.

In just two years after starting up, her business expanded at such a rate that she was able to open a storefront in Pacific Beach in 2015. Although growing her business was the product of many different things, Brown says the key to success is starting small and focusing on what the market demands are.

In an industry that is constantly changing and doesn’t necessarily support small businesses without a brand name, Brown competes with the commercial store market by extensively utilizing social media and online outlets, applying a personal knowledge in business, marketing, art and photography and giving the San Diego community something that the commercial competition cannot: San Diego-made products.

“I think it’s kind of nice being separated from everyone else that’s maybe in L.A. or New York,” she said. “Being in San Diego is like it’s own niche community. There’s not really a lot of brands or boutiques really like this is the area.”

San Diego State University marketing professor Lois Bitner Olson and David Sahly, a Toronto SEO specialist both agree that running a business is very complex, no matter what size.

“The same issues of accounting, organization, production, marketing and management apply [to small businesses] just like any large corporation faces, just with less help and knowledge” Olson said. “The person starting the business needs 22-26 months of living expenses covered with no worries because they will not be making money usually for that long.”

When she started her business, Brown understood what the risks were and planned accordingly.

“You really have to be smart with how you spend your money, initially,” Brown said. “I think that’s where I was ahead of the curve. I had friends as models, I did photography for myself, and I wasn’t paying rent for the first two years. I think that’s an advantage. It’s just being mindful of where you’re spending your money, not overspending.”

One element that Brown says is crucial for small business owners is having an online store to reach the masses.

“Social media has been a huge factor in my business,” Brown said. “Ever since the start, even in the last year, we’ve grown [online] so much.”

The Trendy and Tipsy Instagram page, with which Brown promotes farmer’s market appearances, trunk shows, new arrivals and seasonal look books, currently has over 20,000 followers.

Noelle Ruiz, a regular customer with Trendy and Tipsy, attests to the impact that social media reach has on a small business.

“I do a lot of my shopping on their website and their Instagram page because their Instagram page has quality pictures,” Ruiz said. “That makes me want to go in and buy their clothes. I think it’s a good marketing tool.”

Brown said that staying on top of social media marketing as well as at the store front and the farmer’s markets helps to generate business growth.

“You have to keep social media up, but not only just your social media has to be good. It has to be the pictures, the product, and the quality of the images,” she said. “Then people get excited, they want to tell their friends, people want to bring their friends back to the markets, or tag us on their Instagram.”

One reason that small businesses fail in the early development stages is because the market trends and demands for a product phase out. Browns advice is to pay attention to market growth and avoid marrying a startup business to a specific market or product.

“What I’ve come to take into play is that our [products] are huge right now…but it’s paying attention to market trends,” Brown said. “If that’s out, I’ll pay attention to what’s new and implement that into my business.”

Brown said it takes a lot of self-discipline and motivation to run a small business and keep it afloat as the sole owner of the brand. She realizes that working against the odds as a small business owner in the early stages of development is made possible by dedication and hard work.

“There’s some days where you work like 14 hour days constantly, or when you’re never not working, but that’s what it takes to run a business,” she said. “You have to keep working for what you want, and you have to strive for what your passion is.”

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