“What keeps me going is the love for what I’m doing and why I started in the first place”……Johnetta Kerkula.
Please provide some background information about yourself.
My name is Johnetta Kerkula, Founder of Classa Boutique. I am from Liberia in West Africa and I have been in the United States since 2002. I graduated from the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis with a Social Work degree and a minor in Business Management in May 2016.
Tell us about the inception of Classa boutique.
I went back to Liberia in 2014 and that was where the whole vision started coming to life. I wanted to start a non-profit but before starting that, I want to make sure it’s my own sweat. The non-profit is called MAWAH foundation and it is currently being set up. I’m not ready to discuss details about it yet because it has not been launched yet. I thought about how I can make money to fund the non-profit and asked myself, “What would I love to do every day without getting bored? Then, I started doing my research on the clothing industry and realized it’s pretty competitive, which made me kind of scared to get into it. I read a lot of magazines and found out a lot of businesses fail but I turned it over to God and prayed about it and said I’m going to start it!! Everything started in 2014 but I introduced Classa Boutique to the public in Jan 2015. It’s been a learning experience because when I started, I was in school full-time then and I had three jobs, so it was tough.
Did you to talk to anyone during your research and decision-making process?
I relied on the research and my gut feeling. The only person I talked to about it was my Fiancé who asked if I was sure I wanted to do this and I said, “Yes, I really want to do it”. I was not a big talker before Classa Boutique, I had it all in my head, writing it in my diaries, I was scared and I didn’t want to talk about it. However, with Classa Boutique, I wanted to really want to make sure that this is not just something for a moment. I wanted to bring it to life no matter what it takes. So I traveled to Chicago for a designers’ showcasing event and met about 50 designers. Out of the 50 designers I met with, I considered 25 and I’m pretty close to 5 out of the 25.
What did you do when you met the Wholesale Designers?
I went there and asked them about how they started their businesses and how they were able to attract customer because they are wholesalers. They said they take their merchandise with them to fashion shows in Chicago, LA, NY, and Vegas. I returned from Chicago to Indiana and set up my website and started Classa Boutique. After that, I attended several events and there was this particular one I found on Facebook without being invited. It had a lot of old business people already in the fashion industry. I met a lady there who found out I had my business and I told her I was wearing one of the dresses from my Boutique. She was impressed and introduced me to other people and told me about a fashion event coming up in Vegas.
How did you get resources to start the business?
I had savings that was enough to start a business and get the paperwork done to register the business. I had the website and needed to get it running. I did research to build my website and had to try different designs to make it better before getting the current designs.
Who were your targeted customers when you started?
My initial targeted audience were ladies age 18-28. As I learned from other designers and observed people who liked the dresses from the boutique, I expanded my target and I’m currently serving 18-38.
What keeps you going in challenging times?
I get frustrated almost every day because I’m someone who likes to make plans and see how I want it to be; Of course, it’s not always going to come out that way. I’m pretty hard on myself and what keeps me going is the love for what I’m doing and why I started in the first place.
How do you currently manage your business?
I’m still managing it but I had to implement some strategies because you can’t build an empire by yourself. I have affiliates to support me in driving traffic to the website but I manage the website and process all orders currently.
How do you measure sales?
Initially, traffic coming to the website was very little. I put an affiliate program together and then reached out to some bloggers who can help showcase some of our products. I started with about 500 followers within the first year but it increased to 21,000 within the next year with more engaging strategies such as contests with prizes to win, and more advertisement.
Sales is measured on a daily, weekly to monthly basis. I monitor what drives traffic to the website, where traffic is coming from, and customer behaviors.
What have you discovered about online business?
It’s very competitive and if you’re doing an online business, you have to be very creative. You have to master your craft. I study other online businesses and noticed that, they are constantly posting things; so consistency is key. You have to create an image in your buyers’ heads so that they can keep coming back to your site.
How would you advise someone who is thinking of starting an online business?
First thing, make sure it’s something you love to do because if you don’t’ love it, when the storm comes, you would easily give up. Second thing, you have to do a lot of research. Master your craft, basically, keep improving on yourself and keep learning. Brand yourself and put yourself out there.
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