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In today’s retail spotlight, we’re highlighting the amazing owner of a women’s boutique dedicated to supporting the efforts of the Cochlear Implant Awareness Federation (CIAF).
Michelle Tjelmeland created District23 just 8 years after founding the CIAF. Her visually appealing boutique, now open in two Illinois locations, sells on-trend women’s clothing, accessories, home décor, gifts, and more.
Combining her love of fashion with her passion for a cause that is near and dear to her heart, Michelle continues to inspire us all!
Read more about Michelle and her boutique below!
In my former life, I was a 7-8th grade language arts teacher. After losing my hearing during my pregnancy at the young age of 22, I was forced to quit teaching school. I decided to reinvent myself and go back to college, earning my Master’s Degree in Computer Technology and Education from the University of Illinois and starting my web and graphic design firm in 1998.
I figured I could create websites without having to hear. Fortunately, I was able to eventually have cochlear implant surgery, which has restored my sense of hearing. I still design websites today and I love it!
In 2005, I started the Cochlear Implant Awareness Foundation as a way to create awareness and education about cochlear implants.
I have always had a passion for fashion. In 2012, I came across the opportunity to rent a small space for my foundation. The bottom half of the business we were renting was vacant. I decided to open a boutique, with the store proceeds benefiting our foundation.
Running a retail business is hard work. It is a constant source of concern 24/7.
Buying clothes is fun and fairly easy. Making payroll, paying taxes, covering your rent/building mortgage, dealing with the public, competition, and employees is not easy and requires a lot of resilience. It takes a whole lot more than anyone probably realizes to pull it all off. Make sure you have an amazing support system — it is critical in tough times!
I am most proud that our business model benefits our foundation (CIAF). Last year, we gave more than 1.3 million dollars worth of cochlear implant equipment to deserving recipients. Since 2013, we have given away more than 4.5 million dollars worth of equipment.
Our customers love shopping at our boutiques because they are helping someone hear! We display stories of people we have helped all over our stores and our customers love reading it and learning about how their shopping benefits others in need.
Monitor your inventory closely. Make sure you know your profit margins. Stop buying things that offer less than 50 percent profit margin. Get picky with your buying.
Are they happy and friendly? Do they have RBF (if they look unfriendly — this is never good)? Are they trainable? Are they a team player? Most importantly, are they a problem solver? Most importantly, check references and don’t ever hire someone out of desperation — it always ends up worse!
Being a business owner is not for the weak or faint of heart. It requires so much time and attention to run a successful business and it takes a great team. Business mentors, loyal employees, financial advisors, bankers, and people contributing to your support system are critical.
There are great times in business and there are bad times in business. In the good times, count your blessings and plan and prepare for the bad times (because everything is cyclical). Having a nest egg is important, because things can change quickly and you will need access to capital in slow economic times.
It holds me accountable and makes me focus on things that are essential to running a successful business. I love the private Facebook page for interaction with other boutique owners. Having Janine as a resource has been amazing!
To learn more about The Complete Boutique membership options and how they can help your business, click here!