Meet Maria – a true inspiration in the retail world, having had her business for 38 years…
Maria – you are the owner of Fancy That and Roundstone fashion boutique in Kingston, Ontario. When you told me you opened your store in 1985 (38 years ago), my mouth dropped! What an incredible feat! Can you share with us the journey of how you started in the retail world?
My mother opened her first Fancy That store November 1974. Having just moved to Canada from Sweden, she felt the shoes were not very fashionable. On her way to Montreal to look at shoes for her store, she saw a poster that said, “Fancy That” and she decided to call her store just that. I worked in my mother’s store throughout high school but had no intention of working for her long term. In 1983 I graduated from university with a teaching degree and started teaching in Ottawa with my husband, who also was a teacher. We had a perfect plan of both pursuing our teaching careers. However, teaching was not what I had expected. It did not fill my desire to be my own boss.
During this time of me searching for something different, a very devastating accident happened to one of my mother’s managers in Kingston. I came back to Kingston to help my mom in the store until someone would replace her. I ended up loving running the store and decided to stay but I absolutely needed my own store. In May 1985, I opened Fancy That in downtown Kingston!
In 1987 my first daughter was born and at that same time we decided to open our fourth store. By 1991, we had 7 stores but business was very tough at this time.
In 1993 my third and final daughter was born and with 7 stores to take care of, it was just too much for me. We decided to close 4 of them in 1998 and since then we have focused on our three stores, and they have been very successful.
My mother will be 90 this year and has retired from business. My brother and I are now business partners and he takes care of one of the stores in Brockville.
There is no doubt that you have experienced so many different realms of this changing industry. What would you say has been the biggest challenge in your career?
I love my job and what we have created but it has taken a lot of hard work to get where we are today! I think the biggest challenge is the many economic highs and lows that we face as a community. Sales are influenced by the economy. We have gone through three serious recessions and one of them we almost lost our business completely! Finding good and reliable staff that represents your business is also always a challenge. We are SO lucky to have an amazing team but I have had to deal with theft, labour board and really hurtful lies. When you are in the business with people, it’s hard to not take things personally and you just have to stay true to who you are!
Who has been your biggest inspiration and why?
That’s an easy one! My mom. She has been such a resilient woman and has been a force within this business! I feel lucky to follow in her footsteps.
How do you feel the fashion industry has evolved the most throughout your 38 years in business?
To tell you the truth, it has not changed that much! Maybe styles come and go but over the years there hasn’t been a huge change. Shoes might look a bit different but we always see styles coming full circle and coming back in style.
Of course technology + social media has been a significant change in the industry and I think it’s been so important for exposure of new styles and for us to easily see inspiration from around the world!
Is there a secret to success? What is yours?
Stick with the lines that are consistently good and reliable. Stay on budget. Partner with companies/agencies who have your back and focus on building relationships. Be open to change and moving forwards. Stay loyal to your customers and they will be loyal in return.
Be good to your staff. They are at your forefront and you need them!
Love your job and have fun. We are in the business because we love fashion, style and enjoying life – so don’t forgot it!
What motivates you to keep going in the retail industry?
I have been very fortunate to work with family and that is what keeps me going. My mother retired but we were partners for 30 years. Now I have two daughters who have followed our footsteps and hopefully will be the next generation! Family has always been at the center of our company and that’s what keeps me motivated!
What advice would you give the next generation of female entrepreneurs?
Listen to the people who you admire and are your role models. Ask questions and follow their lead. Learn to make mistakes and deal with the consequences. Own up to your failures and know you will do it better the next time around. Don’t be afraid to try new things and take risks. I have had huge success with things I hardly gave a glance to but decided to take a chance on.
In this industry you have many partners. Work well with them and don’t burn any bridges. You never know when they will turn up again!
What has been the most exciting experience to memorize in your entrepreneurial career?
This is a hard one since there has been so many moments of pure pride and joy. I love working with my family and they have always been very important to me! We all have something to bring to the table. I love all the different views and opinions. My husband is a huge support and has been my rock. This year we celebrate 39 years married and he has been there from the beginning. I also love people! I honestly love the energy people bring into the store and can’t believe this is my job!
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I probably should have takes some business courses and especially dealing with staff. I made some huge mistakes in the beginning with staff. I was pretty careless with money and ran into some financial problems for misspending.
Lastly, if you were a type of shoe, what would you be and why?
Oh….100 percent leather and practical with some flare. Fashion but very comfortable. Colour of something fun but also not taking over the clothes. I am not super fashionable but also not boring. I love good quality. I want to look natural as If “this old thing”.