Wow! It is hard to believe it has been SIX years since I first started Longhorn Fashions as a small website. In many ways the past six years have flown by. In other ways it has been such an incredible learning experience that I feel as if the amount that I have learned in the past six years could stretch a lifetime.
Reflecting on the past six years made me jot down a few things that I have learned over these years.
1. You have to start somewhere
My favorite motto for the store is "start small, dream big." For as long as I can remember I knew I wanted to own a store, but I knew that wouldn't be possible right away. During my first year of working in media buying and paid search at an advertising agency I was happy, but the itch to start something of my own kept creeping back. Soon my dream was back in full force and I knew I had to give it a go! Even though I couldn't go all in and open a store-front immediately, I knew I could at least start small and give it a big effort.
I decided to launch LonghornFashions.com with a very small initial investment out of my personal savings. I only used a debit card so that I wouldn't get in over my head. I made my sister and friends model for me (P.S. I still love looking at these throw back pics! Y'all are literally the world's greatest.), and I didn't buy new inventory until I sold what I had. I used the profit from online sales for more inventory and kept growing the selection. I went from 8 pieces of inventory when I launched to the 1,322 that I currently have without having to take out a line of credit. My savings held me over for a while so that I didn't have to pull money out from store and I went back to work full time after the launch so that I could continue to grow the website with taking out a loan.
(The image above is what the homepage looked like in August 2010. So funny to look at now and also SO grateful that the girls in these photos still go above and beyond to support me six years later!)
2. Trust in the journey
As I continued to work full time while growing the website there were definitely points of frustration and exhaustion. So many times I wished that I could quit my job and go all in on Longhorn Fashions, but I'm actually so grateful that I wasn't able to do that right away. The hard years are what make me appreciate my store-front and the ability that I can finally do it full-time so much. I know what it took to get here and I'm never going to take it for granted.
|This is what my lunch breaks at work normally looked like! I would package everything in the morning and ship them during lunch.|
I also learned so much during the years of working full time while growing the website. I'm honestly not sure if the store-front would have made it if I opened it right away, because in hindsight I really had no idea what I was doing (owning that one! haha). During those years I learned valuable lessons, met incredible co-workers that still support me, and grew my customer base. I was so lucky to have loyal customers that came to my store opening because they had already been following the website for years. Those same customers continue to support me and for that, I am forever grateful!
3. Know when it is time to go all in
|Turning a 1968 Airstream trailer into a boutique on wheels|
There came a time when I knew I needed to be able to focus more on the store. I was having such a hard time keeping up. Shipping orders over my lunch break, adding inventory at night, finding new designers in the morning, and answering customer emails when I could find any sort of the break during the day worked for a while, but it was stressful for me as well as getting to the point that I worried about maintaining good customer service, which is paramount to me, at that pace.
The summer of 2012 I restored a vintage Airsteam trailer and turned it into a boutique on wheels. I took it to every home game that fall and the response was great! I sold apparel, accessories, and jewelry out of it and handed out thousands of cards. The sales doubled that year and I knew I wanted a permanent location by the next football season. I made this my goal and did everything I could to make that possible by August 2013. Adding the Airstream Trailer as a way to shop Longhorn Fashions and seeing your connection to being able to see inventory in person made me start to wonder if I could finally go all in.
I finally got the key to my store-front in August 2013 and it was the best day of my journey so far! Even here, I was actually still too afraid to totally quit my job and luckily I had a very supportive boss who let me work part-time remotely. My friends and husband helped me get the store-front ready in one week so that I could have it open for the first game and the response that first gameday was unbelievable. I was over the moon to have my store-front and a chance to interact with my customers in person. Thinking back on it, the store only had one real dressing room, the racks were all temporary, and it only had a fourth of the amount of inventory that is in here now, but to me it was everything and a big step up from housing all my inventory in my one bedroom apartment! My customers were so supportive that I don't remember a single person saying anything negative about the store and I was finally able to remodel it last summer.
While some of the steps were intimidating and huge investments with me, I trusted your support and wanted to grow Longhorn Fashions with you. Every big leap has grown Longhorn Fashions more and been the right thing to give you more options and better customer service.
|It isn't Gameday without cookies, hook 'em donuts, and mimosas at Longhorn Fashions!|
I know that there are so many places to shop, whether it is in Austin or online, so I can't tell you how much I appreciate my customers that come back week after week and year after year. If you have a bad experience, need help on sizing, want a custom order, let me know! Keeping you as a happy and loyal customer is my first priority.
|I love this collage of pictures that our customers have tagged us in. You all mean so much to me!|
There are over 30 Austin designers in the store right now and it is one of my favorite things about it. I have loved getting to know the designers, many of whom are UT students or alumni! Building relationships with local designers has made all the difference. During the spring and summer, it is normally just me at the store during the week in terms of staff and that can get lonely when there are breaks in the day’s foot traffic! I went from years of having co-workers, so it has been an adjustment for me to be the only person here when it isn't football season. I love my sales associates so much, but our hours don't overlap much during the spring and summer. Working with local designers has really helped fill this void and I've gained some strong friendships out of it. I'm fortunate to be able to work with so many creative and driven artists!
4. Don't sweat the small stuff
My husband, family, and friends know that I have a hard time sleeping through the night because I am constantly thinking about the store. Whether it was a customer that seemed upset or an order that didn't go out on time, I probably woke up about it. I used to replay everything in my head and I'll never forget the Christmas Eve that I full on sobbed because a customer emailed me that her order didn't arrive - even though I remember chasing the UPS man down the street to make sure he got it! I will always worry about this stuff, but I am learning to fix it and move on from it quicker. The less time I spend sweating the small stuff, the more time I can spend on making the store the best it can be.
|This is my favorite picture of the store. It is from the 5th birthday and first game kickoff party last year. It was such a fun Saturday at the store! The store was full of supportive and sweet customers. It is a day that I will never forget!|
5. Step outside your comfort zone
I was painfully shy growing up and public speaking is still my biggest fear. Not even public speaking, but just speaking in front of 2+ people to be honest. I start shaking uncontrollably and will fret about it for days. The store has really helped me overcome my shyness, but speaking at career days and events is still a healthy challenge for me. I force myself to do it though because it is always worth it. I have met some incredible people from saying yes to these opportunities and it gets a little easier every time.
|This picture is from of the four sessions that I did at Ursuline career day this year. Each session was easier than the last and I met some amazing girls!|
6. You will be thrown a lot of curve-balls, but don't give up
This summer has especially been almost non-stop curve-balls. Even during the really tough days giving up has never been an option. There is always a solution besides giving up and I plan to always find it!
I can't thank you all enough for making my dream a reality. You all are the reason that I wake up excited to come to the store. I realized there was a stretch last fall where I worked 72 days in a row (yikes! - learning to balance that more as well and it means so much that now I know I can leave the store with my amazing team if needed) and I remember when I finally had a day off I was already missing the store by nighttime. I woke up the next day refreshed and happy to be back! I am looking forward to another wonderful and hopefully busy fall here and can't wait to see you all at the shop!
I’ll be working our Le Garage Sale booth this weekend, so save the date for cookies and champagne the weekend of the first home game!
|Hayley Cakes and Cookies will be making the cookies for the first game! Hope to see y'all at the shop!|