Owning Your Own Store
Jake Cathers and Erin Fitzgerald
Summary by Kristina Di Matteo
Jake Cathers and Erin Fitzgerald share a common thread: both are young retailers who own successful business in Rhode Island. Cathers, co-owner of Cathers and Coyne of Newport, and Fitzgerald, co-owner of La Femme Boutique of Providence, discussed the advantages and disadvantages of being involved in the creation and success of an independent retail store. Both Cathers and Fitzgerald stressed the importance of creating a business which fills in the gaps of what is needed and lacking in the surrounding world of retail.
Jake Cathers, a 1991 graduate of Rhode IslandCollege with a degree in advertising and human relations, started off by saying that an enormous portion of what he knows today was gained straight from experience. After working at Rockport in Newport, where he eventually earned the title of manager, he learned how to forecast trends, create a business plan, put out quality goods, and prided himself as well as his staff on customer service. Both Cathers and his partner, Seven Coyne, felt they had the drive, determination and experience to create a successful business in the predominantly summer-season-focused town of Newport. By opening a business named after the owners, “a sense of pride is attached. You want your customers to fell as it they are at home.” Cathers also noted that since your name is over the door you have a more responsibility than a corporate store has. There is always risk involved. Since Newport is mainly a summer town, in order to remain on top during the off months, the owners are very active in their community. They are involved with sponsorships, charity fundraisers, and give their time by reaching out to the locals. The store not only doubled in size within the first year, but continues to grow with the products and services offered. Cathers and Coyne is unique in having a mini-shop featuring Timberland products, and carries other brands like Puma, Asics, and Ben Sherman. “The next hurdle is to add a website to our store. Half the business the store receives is from people who do not live in Newport.
“I’m not in this business for a hobby, I’m in it to make money,” Erin Fitzgerald, a 1999 TMD graduate from URI said. She too started out working in corporate retail at Banana Republic and Bebe. She found her internship at a small boutique in Newport to have been the most rewarding. Like Cathers, Fitzgerald found a business partner who shared her energy, drive and experience which would lead her to her current business. The business plan and finding the financial backing were the two hardest struggles, Fitzgerald noted. She also emphasized that although rent is a huge cost, location is key. Being located on Thayer Street in an upstairs location helps business by giving employees the time their customers need, but also works against them in getting customers into the store. By creating a beautiful mood, with welcoming peach and pink tones, a feminine but not too outrageous atmosphere is created. As stated in her business plan, Fitzgerald offered lines which were not offered elsewhere in Providence to fill in the voids. Carrying brands such as Silver, Blue Cult, Jeffrey Campbell, and Dollhouse reaches a target market of college students as well as school prospects. La Femme Boutique, which is a copyrighted name, has been in existence for a year and a half. By the look of things, this business can only go up.
Although Cathers and Coyne and La Femme Boutique are both successful businesses, a lot of steps are involved in building a business. “It’s like reading a book,” Fitzgerald said. “Budgeting, staying focused and managing your inventory are key.” Not all businesses are successful. Many businesses change over time because they do not stay true to their business plan. “In order to be successful, you must stay true to your principles and stay focused,” states Cathers. Through their advice-filled presentations, Jake Cathers and Erin Fitzgerald gave a solid foundation for those many members who one day hope to pursue their goal of owning their own business.
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