Sue Kolupar spent 36 years in the medical field at a practice, and her daughters were in a German dance group and went to a formal ball every year. That meant that each year she had to look for dresses. Fast-forward years later and one of her daughters went off to college in California, and she returned home to Milwaukee to buy a specific dress for a dance. They went to find this special dress at the same shop they used to go to all the time, but they found out the shop closed because the owner passed away. Sue called the strip mall to see if they would sell her any of the remaining dresses, and the person on the phone asked, “you want to buy the store?” and she first answered, “no, just a dress!” But after thinking about the business opportunity, she told her husband that it would be fun to have the shop as a side business, so she did! She bought the shop in 2006, and a year later she was diagnosed with breast cancer and fired from her medical job. “That helped me decide to take over the shop.” Dressed in Time sells prom and pageant dresses mostly, along with some mother-of-the-bride and bridesmaids dresses, too.
Jenn Prystupa, OnDeck: What do you wish you knew before you started your business?
Sue Kolupar, Owner of Dressed in Time: Social media marketing! I wish I was more technically savvy. I’m trying to market a different crowd – teenage girls. Back in the day, we would advertise on radio, newspaper, the Yellow Pages – that doesn’t work for this type of business anymore and definitely not for my target customers. We need to compete with the online stories and to do so, we need to advertise online. We’re doing that now, but I wish I knew more much sooner.
JP: Who makes up your client base? How do you establish relationships, especially with families?
SK: High school girls and their parents are my core clients. I’m super hands-on in my shop and I have hardly any staff, so each customer takes up a lot of my time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m all about customer service, and I will bend over backward for them.
Word of mouth at the eight local high schools is huge for me. I have the opportunity to sell a dress to one girl at least twice in her high school tenure, so it’s important to provide the best possible customer service to her, her parents, siblings, and friends so I can keep that relationship going. I also hire a few girls who have the opportunity to work co-op. It’s great because they get retail experience and see all the new dresses coming in…and then they go tell their friends and parents! I have some girls that were prom customers coming back for white gowns later on in life, based on their relationship with me.
JP: What marketing tactics have you had the most success with?
SK: Much of my marketing is also based on social networks, like Instagram. On that network, I have pictures of girls holding their dress bags, and in the background is a huge banner with my logo. That has gotten me a fair amount of followers because the girls share the photos and their friends see them, too. I also work with an Instagram account called PagentPlanet, which posts a featured dress of the week from my store, and I’ve seen growth in followers from that partnership. I find it very important to identify online influencers that your target customers are following and see how you can engage with their audiences.
JP: How do you access your business growth?
SK: Each year I’m trying to grow my sales by $50,000. I’m always looking at my sales, what schools are sending me the most customers, and what schools I need to target. There are some schools that buy less than me versus others, so it’s always a challenge to see how I can break through and bring more of them into the fold.
JP: What made you look for funding?
SK: Every year we’ve grown, but there are times we get low on cash that coincide with opportunities to stock up on the latest fashions. I sell a chunk of inventory January through May, and a little bit through August. Then it kind of drops, but prime time inventory season, even if I still have old inventory on my floor not selling as fast as I’d like. I haven’t taken a salary from this business because of the medical job I had, and I’ve just reinvested my profits into inventory each year. Until I found OnDeck, my old position fed into Dressed in Time, but I still needed additional capital to really get ahead.
JP: What did you like about OnDeck that made you choose us?
SK: OnDeck was the easiest to work with. The process was fast, and I felt like they valued my business for what it is. The customer service was fantastic each time I needed something or had a question. That’s very important to me and it defines my business philosophy. You don’t get that personal touch with online and department stores, and for that matter, banks, nowadays.
JP: How has OnDeck helped your business grow?
SK: We’re on track to hit $70,000 more in sales this year thanks to OnDeck providing me with funds to purchase inventory. I need to be able to buy what I need when it must be bought, and OnDeck was there for me.
JP: What are you most excited about when thinking about the future of your business?
SK: Every year is exciting, trying to beat the previous year’s sales. And I love seeing girls coming into my store each day. It really is a happy atmosphere…the medical field, not so much. I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I approach retirement, but I love the work I do and I love the reward of seeing a smiling face.