Taking the Plunge from Corporate to Entrepreneurship

Shelley DeMerchant

Shelley DeMerchant, Owner of The Urban Shoe Myth
Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-Journal

BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS: WORK THROUGH THE HESITATION

In my most recent Leadership Unleashed interview I talked to Shelley DeMerchant of The Urban Shoe Myth about taking the entrepreneurial leap. The full interview with Shelley published in the Telegraph-Journal on Saturday, September 14th, 2013. Here it is…

Shelley DeMerchant has always had a weakness for shoes and now shoes are her business. After working on the Point Lepreau project with Atomic Energy of Canada, Shelley kicked off her work boots in 2011 and jumped into the entrepreneurial world with both feet. She opened The Urban Shoe Myth – a woman’s shoe and handbag boutique in Uptown Saint John – with her husband, Nick DeMerchant, and set about providing Saint Johners with a unique shopping experience. You can feel as if you’re shoe shopping in Toronto or New York without having to leave the province.

As she nurtures both her growing business and family, Shelley has learned a thing or two about the benefits, and the challenges, of being an entrepreneur. She also has an intuitive understanding of the advantages of leveraging social media to drive her business and has systematically built a base of satisfied and recurring customers who enjoy the extra touches and perks of being frequent Urban Shoe Myth shoppers.

I began my conversation with Shelley by asking her about her choice for the store’s location in Uptown Saint John.

A: I spent a lot of time Uptown and could see things changing. With new businesses and restaurants opening up, I thought that a unique shoe store would be a good fit and I wanted to get on it before somebody else did.

Q: Where did the name of your business come from?

A: Naming the store was one of the hardest things to do. We needed a name that we liked and that was available. The name comes from the TV show Sex and the City .

Q: Who is your typical client?

A: We service a lot of the businesswomen in Uptown Saint John – women anywhere from 20 to over 50 years old. We get a lot of women from the Kennebecasis Valley and have a big clientele that come from Fredericton and Moncton too.

Q: My wife, a big fan of your store, tells me you do a great job of leveraging social media to drive your business and to keep in contact with your clientele. Where did you learn how to use social media as a business driver?

A: When I was at home on maternity leave in 2006, I discovered Facebook. … OK, I actually became addicted to Facebook. So when it came to opening up the store and trying to figure out marketing strategies for going to market for minimal cost, I chose Facebook. It’s not free (it was initially when we opened) but it’s still a really good bang for our buck.

Q: How do you use Facebook?

A: I based our Facebook page on what I liked seeing on other companies’ pages. Every time a product came into the store, we’d take a picture of it and post it in our Facebook album – the “likes” just started to grow exponentially. Now it’s amazing – we’ll post pictures of new products that just came in and maybe two or three people will come in the same day to purchase the product – all because of Facebook posts (facebook.com/TheUrbanShoeMyth).

Q: What’s been most surprising to you since you opened in March 2011?

A: One of the things that most surprised me right off the bat was the support from the business community in Uptown Saint John and in Saint John in general. I was happy to see how many other business owners were willing to help me out, to get me started and to just be a sounding board or to collaborate on projects together. I wasn’t expecting that.

Q: Can you give some examples of collaboration?

A: Yes, we collaborated on a fashion show back in the spring with two other companies – Handworks and Design for Space. We are all female entrepreneurs and showcased jewelry and shoes at the Handworks location. It was very well attended.

Q: What helped you to take the leap to become an entrepreneur?

A: It was just a drive.I thought,”I will regret it more if I don’t try this than if I do try and I fail.” I don’t want to retire saying, “I wonder what I could have done.” Q: So, failure for you was not attempting to open the store?

A: Right. Mind you, failure at this point is not an option. I know I will not personally be a failure if the business doesn’t succeed; I used to think if this doesn’t work I’m a failure, but now I realize that’s not the case.

Q: How do you balance being a mother and an entrepreneur?

A: I think it’s a great ride. I have two daughters and want them to know that they can do whatever they want to do. I started out in construction – as a construction engineering technologist and now I’m running a shoe store.

Q: What do you find most challenging in running a small business?

A: There have been a lot of things. I would say just being able to shut it off. I’m grateful that I have two little kids at home because they force me to shut it off when I get home. I wasn’t prepared for how all-consuming this is.

Q: Where do you want to see your business in the next five years?

A: We always said that by year five we would like to have a second location.

Q: How do you stay connected to your clients?

A: Connecting with clients on a personal level is important. We host private shoe parties here at the store – it’s a different dynamic than selling through the day. It gives us a chance to have conversations and build relationships with the women that attend.

Q: Are there other ways that you connect with women locally?

A: I get involved in different charities and different fundraisers that our customers are involved with. Last year I took part in the One Nite Wonders fundraiser for Mind Care New Brunswick. I got to know a group of 19 other women very well as we tried to learn a dance together – many of us could not dance.

Q: It sounds like you have a lot of fun with your business.

A: What would be the point if it wasn’t fun? There’s so much hard work so I think it’s important to have fun. Otherwise I think the passion would just die.

Q: How would you finish the following sentence,”A leader’s job is to

A: I would say to inspire. Definitely. The only way I can grow my business is to have inspired people working with me. You can’t do it alone.

Q: What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?

A: Work through that hesitation because once you do – and once you go for it – it’s really, really rewarding. It’s super hard work and it’s the hardest job you’ll ever have, but I haven’t looked back. I’m so glad I did this. I find it so rewarding.

Q: What’s your all-time favourite shoe?

A: That’s like asking me to pick my favourite kid.

Dave Veale is a leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or via Twitter @Dave_Veale. To read past columns and watch videos go to LeadershipUnleashed.ca.

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