Sisters-in-Law Open the Perfect Online Boutique for Real Women
I love to shop. I mean I really loooove to shop. My grandma would take me on shopping trips to Chicago when I was a young girl, and she passed her retail addiction on to me with fervor. Seriously, I work solely for the purpose of buying new clothing and accessories (and of course feeding my children and paying the light bills, duh). Nothing too extravagant, I just like the newness of it, and the perpetual change. And if you can combine trend with comfort, take all my money!
Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you're my bank account), I have found the sweet spot at Nine Sparrows Boutique. This is a home-based retailer built on a foundation of faith and coffee by two sisters-in-law in small town Minnesota. Their store name reflects the nine children they have between the two of them - eight of them are girls! I have a feeling this may be the start of a fashion empire.
I had the privilege of sitting down with Mary Starr and Katie D'Amour, the "mamapreneurs" behind NSB and chatting with them about homeschooling, juggling it all, and staying true to your goals and passions. Here's a taste of our interview:
1. What does a typical day look like for you? With nine children between the two of you, how do you find time to run a boutique?
Mary- My typical day… Well when you have 4 children, I don’t know if there is a “typical” day. We have so many moving parts but I will give you my “good” day scenario. I wake up prior to all the children, ideally around 7am. This allows for “me” time before the children are up. I LOVE and NEED coffee in the morning. I can totally be a morning person as long as I have my coffee. I love a few minutes of silence when the world is nice and slow. I usually listen to an audio book or my bible app. I also try to catch up on work stuff and social media before my kiddos wake up. In the afternoon, while the kids are doing independent studies, I usually try to check work e-mails, social media and plan out the next few days. In the evenings, we are a busy family! We have sports, church, drama class amongst other things. We are on the go! Thursday nights during the start of our weekly sale, my oldest has swim team practice. I love that I am able to work from my phone! I don’t miss a beat! I never have days when I can carve out hours and hours to work, but I am always able to carve out 30 minutes here and there. Katie and I also have weekly meetings on Fridays while our kiddos are at co-op. We meet for sushi and discuss all the things business related.
Katie- I also don’t have many very ‘typical’ days either. Every day looks a little different. I am still homeschooling 3 of our 5 daughters. When everyone is done with school I head into our boutique room for a few hours of work 3 afternoons a week. I receive all of our new inventory, make sure we got what we ordered and that it’s not damaged. I hang everything up, tag it, take pictures of it, try it on, price it and write posts for each item etc. On Tuesdays, I work outside of our home at the front desk of an eye clinic and on Fridays, our kids are at their home school co-op. So that is a day of meeting with Mary, running errands, grabbing an Americano at Caribou and working on my own school work as I pick away at my Bachelors Degree.
2. What was the genesis of Nine Sparrows Boutique? Why a clothing boutique?
Mary- We have been working together for about five years. Prior to this we have done MLM companies together, and we found out that we work very well together. She and I are polar opposites but the same in all the ways that matter. She is really good at details, strategy, and very artistic. I am total executer, I see something and I want it done now, or better yet, yesterday! I love doing quick posts, pulling and shipping inventory as it sells and invoicing. Another benefit of there being two of us is that we both have a different style, so you are getting two different eyes picking clothing out for the boutique. We decided to sell clothing because we love it! We wear it every day! HAHA! I think Katie said it best when we decided to open up our new boutique, she said something along the lines of… “Not forever 21 but not quite Christopher and Banks.” We wanted to sell to women like us, in the middle. Not saying we are middle-aged, just saying we don’t really fit into a category.
Katie- The decision to open a boutique was both a slow evolution over the past few years and a five-minute conversation and a quick decision that felt like a no-brainer. Like Mary said we have learned we work well together. The start of our business together came out of a very bleak time financially for my family. I knew we needed to do something but I didn’t know what. As a stay at home, homeschooling mother of 5 there weren’t a whole lot of flexible options. Mary being the fast-moving, executer that she is found a great opportunity and figured out how to finance it and signed us up, and then she called and told me about it. LOL. That opportunity literally catapulted my family out of our financial hole. It was the hardest I’ve ever worked but it was one of the best decisions we’ve made. I wouldn’t have jumped in if it hadn’t been for Mary. The boutique we have today had its origins in that first business decision. We’ve just allowed the years to grow and shape us, and we have been open to God directing our paths. Right now our path has led us to run Nine Sparrows Boutique.
3. How does NSB differ from other women’s boutiques?
Mary- The biggest thing I can say that is different about nine sparrows is that we are real women trying to sell to real women. Most other boutiques I have seen offer very fashionable items but the prices are astronomical. We promised each other that we want to keep prices affordable. Prior to working together Katie and I both come from single income households. We have always had to be frugal and on a strict budget. We love that we can offer cute, stylish and comfortable clothing with a great price point.
Katie- I think Nine Sparrows is a reflection of us. Our personalities, our style, and what we value. We know that we are not for everyone, and we don’t try to be. I believe that everyone could find something they love here, but we might not be everyone’s one-stop-shop and that’s OK. NSB is driven by our desire to offer cute, comfortable, flattering, affordable clothes for women in the middle range of life. We don’t have crop tops, and we don’t have blouses. We land in the middle of the two. We want our customers to only purchase items that they are going to love. When we see people wavering, not sure if they love something, we will say, “If this isn’t going to be a go-to clothing item for you then don’t buy it!” And a lot of times they won’t. We don’t just want sales we want women who feel beautiful and confident and don’t have to worry they just spent money allotted for groceries or their water bill on an expensive top.
4. How would you describe the style/vibe of Nine Sparrows clothing and accessories offerings?
Mary- I think vibe in the shop is best described as cute, comfy and casual. We really focus on selling everyday clothing. Things that you can wear to work, out with friends or just hanging at home in.
Katie- Our vibe in our shop is trendy, comfy and cute. We pay attention to what’s trending like Buffalo Plaid and pony tail hats, but we don’t purchase anything to sell in our shop that one of us wouldn’t wear ourselves. We want to sell you your favorite comfy shirt that you grab over and over again. We know our customers well, and we usually do a pretty good job of ordering what they love.
5. How do you two divide the work when you don’t actually operate out of the same location?
Mary- Katie and I actually live about an hour away from each other! Crazy right!! We have our system pretty well ironed out. Katie receives all the new inventory. She checks it in, tags it and photographs all the things! I get all the new inventory from her on Wednesday nights, Thursday she posts all the new things for the sale. I then hop on and respond to all sales, send invoices. Then my favorite part, shipping!! I get to pack and ship all the things, super fast! I am guilty of going to the post office multiple times a day because I love things going out quickly! I do most of the ordering.
Katie- Exactly what Mary said. Mary also does most of our ordering. I usually chime in with my thoughts, but she is a good decision maker, so she does a lot of the ordering. She also is the one who keeps things moving forward like travel plans and registrations for events etc. I am a chronic overthinker, and she just gets it done. I also do most tax-related things. I prepare our payroll for our accountant and I also do the year-end stuff and profit and loss statements etc. I’m not particularly good at it but my husband has been self-employed for most of our marriage, and so I learned to do the tax stuff because I had to.
6. What can we look forward to seeing in the future from Nine Sparrows Boutique?
Mary- We hope to grow! I would love to supplement more income and be able to travel more. Those of you who know me, know that I love traveling! As my kids get older I hope to bring them on more and more adventures. Who knows, maybe one day we will be able to have a she shed filled with inventory and be able to let people come shop our store! I would love us to be able to carry more styles! My dream is to be able to carry Blowfish [brand] shoes! I LOVE THEM! Maybe even jeans one day!
Katie- The future of Nine Sparrows is to keep getting better and better at what we do now. As more people shop with us, and we branch out to a website and get our clothes in front of even more beautiful women we will have even more options for everyone who shops with us. Like Mary said, we’d love to carry Blowfish shoes. We are working to find better and better vendors that offer us high quality, low prices and more sizes. We are focused on finding some killer true plus sizes vendors. We are headed to our first buying convention in Vegas in February. Our hope is to make great connections and come back even better equipped to serve our customers well. We’ve been committed to being debt-free as a business and to organic growth. I think our future will reflect that too. The more we sell, the more we will grow, but never beyond our means, and we will never force growth in a direction that isn’t coming naturally. We also want to look for more ways that we can give back to organizations that are dear to us. The more we grow the more we can give. Our hearts are with organizations like C.O.P.S. that supports families of officers killed in the line of duty, Alzheimer’s care and research, God’s Mountain Bible Camp, and more.
7. Are you planning on ever opening a brick and mortar location for women to shop and browse?
Mary - You will never see us open a traditional brick and mortar BUT maybe one day we will have a "she shed" on our property for ladies to come shop. We love seeing people face to face, and we love when people try on the clothes!
Katie- Our lives are lived in little pieces of time spent in a million different ways. A brick and mortar would be a large amount of concentrated time in one place, on one thing. That’s just not where we’re at. In the very near future, we are looking to set up some consistent trunk shows at local coffee shops near our customers. So everyone can watch for those coming real soon. Mary and I have had a dream for a long time to live next door to each other with a hot tub in the middle of our houses and maybe, like she said, a She-Shed full of our inventory with some regular shopping hours. I don’t see that in the near future though, so I’d say watch for trunk shows if you want to shop in person.
You can find Mary and Katie and their lovely online boutique on social media and Shopify. You will also find a slew of loyal customers that love to wear and share their NSB treasures. Their feed is flooded with posts of real women modeling their new favorite pieces and creating a community of women building each other up. Join the fun at facebook.com/groups/ninesparrows