E-commerce has become an ever developing business, riding high on the mindset of the millennial generation which has taken to the Internet of Things (IOT) like never before. Since the advent of e-commerce giants like eBay and Amazon, online buying and selling has only sprouted more branches. It has segmented itself in various markets such as clothing websites, electronic sites, and even online hardware stores. Trendy online boutiques have always been the most attention grabbing; with stores like Macy’s, forever 21 and Zara’s being just a few names that currently rule the roost. Lalonie Weeks Farnell is one entrepreneur who is set to make a mark in this industry as well. Currently living in Alabama, she is the CEO of five successful online boutiques.
Lotus Boutique is just one of her many online clothing boutiques grabbing copious amounts of positive attention and feedback from the users. Her boutique sells various dresses which cater to various age groups successfully. It has a variety of female attire to choose from which includes party dresses, backless dresses, cute rompers and much more. All one needs to do in order to shop on Lotus Boutique is to know what their preferred style is and this online store will surely have something to satisfy their need perfectly. To discuss Lalonie’s success and get a glimpse of her incredible journey so far, we set up a conversation with this budding entrepreneur.
Sherley: Hey Lalonie, tell us something about yourself. What motivated you to pick and stick to this industry?
Lalonie: I have always had a passion for fashion. I was always willing to “step out” and try styles that the mainstream would not immediately be interested in. I think the inspiration to get into the fashion business was from my grandmother, Lucille. She had a flair for the classic “Jackie-O” inspired look. She did not ever go anywhere that she was not “put together”, I mean she looked immaculate at all times. Even though I did not share her passion for looking to the nines every single day, she certainly influenced me and my love for different niches of fashion. My whole life I have been asked by friends and family to “dress” them. I have always had a natural knack for styles and how they look on different people. When I opened Lotus, I noticed that so many girls and women really struggle with choosing outfits and shopping in general. I noticed that most big box stores do not merchandise in a way that excites or inspires anyone to shop. We have been very successful with our product offering and our customers love our stores. I hope to develop that skill with the online boutique.
Sherley: What was your vision and strategy when you started your first boutique?
Lalonie: When I opened my first boutique, it was a dream to get the opportunity to get into our local mall. This was not my first attempt at a business. I had a nail salon business, called LaLaurie’s, with my partner Laurie. We had two other nail artists and an esthetician who worked with us. I absolutely loved doing nails and my favorite part was working with women. I was touched and inspired by the angels that walked through those doors each and every day. I knew that in my next endeavor I would be surrounded with and working among women. I got great experience running a business while running the nail salon, but I always wanted to get out of the service industry and get into something where, if I had a sick child, I could be with them but not jeopardize the success of my business in doing so. “Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” (Jonathan Swift)
Sherley: How many boutiques are you running at the moment? Who or what do you accredit this success to?
Lalonie: Currently Lotus has 3 boutiques under its brand domain and I attribute the success of Lotus thus far to my creativity, leadership skills, and work ethic. I thrive on figuring out ways to deal with operational challenges and love to follow processes. I am a ridiculously positive person and it is easy to take that into my business roles. I am very good at setting goals and pushing myself and my team to reach them. I work really hard to complete tasks efficiently and completely and love to work by a plan. I have a drive that can’t be stopped and I have put together a team of people who work just as hard, if not harder than I do to see our company succeed. I have been effective in understanding what motivates others and I excel in this area of focus.
Sherley: What’s the best and the hardest part of running a business?
Lalonie: Even though this business has faced many challenges, I have been relentless in working through those challenges and overcoming them. I have worked extremely hard to grow this company and want to see Lotus into the future the way I planned for it from the beginning. So this will to live and grow is the best and also the hardest part of being in business.
Sherley: What’s your favorite motivational quote that keeps you going?
Lalonie: Preparation is the prize. This is my all-time favorite quote! It is similar to “there is beauty in the struggle”. The Same concept gets me pumped every time!
Sherley: What’s your key advertising technique for your business?
Lalonie: We use many channels to advertise Lotus Boutique. Our most productive source for the online store has been the customers from all over Alabama who already know about our brand. Right now, we are working hard to establish our online presence and develop a brand and trust with our online visitors. Most of our conversions are from social, and I think we convert the most with our Instagram. We do some Facebook Ads and convert with them locally. We are beefing up our affiliate presence as well. Selling our goods across multiple channels is something we are looking into. I still believe organic traffic converts the best online. When you are in a top position for what people are already looking for, the selling part is easy.
Sherley: What are your company goals?
Lalonie: Our Company’s short-term goal is to increase our profitability. I have learned that just because you are selling a ton of products does not necessarily mean you are making a profit. Long term, I want to increase sales to 4-5 times what we are doing now in one year. We have had 3 major platform changes in the past 2 years and that is one of the areas I feel has set us back. I want to concentrate on building a customer base and providing that customer with the best user experience possible.
Sherley: What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Lalonie: The most satisfying thing that happens to me in business has almost always been the opportunity to create a working environment that I love, to build something and watch it flourish into something much bigger than just a business but more of a family. The people are the most important thing in any business and providing them with the compensation to support their lives while providing them a work environment they can not only succeed but also flourish is my number one goal as an employer.
Sherley: What would be your advice for the current entrepreneurs who aspire to build their career in the fashion industry?
Lalonie: Wow that is a good one. My first thought would be to inspire them to push for their goals if they really want to break into this industry. But the meat of the advice is to understand a few ground rules.
- Begin with the end in mind. Always start with a clear understanding of where you want to end up. This helps you develop the plan to get there.
- A business in the fashion industry is definitely fun, but do not start a business because you think it will be fun. You are getting into business to make money not create a money pit.
- Business in fashion and retail/e-commerce is 90% math, 5% fashion and talent, and 5% luck!
We loved what Lalonie had to share with us and would like to thank her for offering us the opportunity to know about her invaluable insights on the fashion scene and what the future holds. Her advice is surely precious for all other budding entrepreneurs out there who would love to emulate her success. She is an ambitious lady and her work is surely flourishing in all the positive aspects. We wish her the best of luck in her business and hope to see her boutique go all the way to the top.