It's not like Madeleine Murray grew up in the middle of nowhere. With a population of almost a million, Edmonton is Canada's sixth-largest city. Plus, the economy is booming--Edmontonians, like the rest of Albertans, are flush with cash.
Yet as Murray wandered the aisles at the 2005 International Contemporary Furniture Fair in Manhattan (a gift from her mom for finishing her industrial design degree at the University of Alberta), she knew that back in Edmonton she'd never find Vera Wang platters, micro-cotton towels or scented candles with names like St. Moritz and Palm Springs.
When she got home, the 24-year-old put together a plan for a home-decor boutique, and went looking for financing. Everyone turned her down. "Nobody will even look at a young woman starting a business," she says. Instead, Murray scraped together some money, and got help from her folks.
Six months later, in November, 2005, Madeleine's Home & Gift Boutique opened for business in the city's west end. Personal service was key. "I realize how much customers appreciate having the owner in the store," says Murray, who has just one casual employee--her mom. But she wasn't prepared for the realities of running a business. She had no idea she'd have to spend so much time reordering stock--at least an hour a day. Managing cash flow was tricky, too. "At first I was too casual about it," she says. Every couple of weeks she'd pay a whack of bills, then find herself short when she needed to place an order. "Now I have a calendar of scheduled payments, so I can track what's going out and what's coming in."
So far, traffic is steady, and she grossed $120,000 in her first year. Murray keeps on searching for unique products--she makes frequent trips to the U.S. and is constantly flipping through magazines. "I don't want to sell anything that's going to end up in a big-box store. And I think people feel the same about what they put into their homes."
Pitfalls: Stocking the wrong stuff. A case in point: Early on, Murray decided to carry a line of French dishes by Guy Degrenne. "But no one recognized the brand, so they weren't selling." She swapped Degrenne for Villeroy & Boch--a line that's similar in quality and price, but with better brand recognition. Sales took off. "Understanding the market around me and knowing what my customers want is hugely important," says Murray.
Why do it: To bring high-end home decor to her hometown. Murray figured if she was willing to pay good money for designer products, her fellow Edmontonians would be, too.
Where the money is: Jewellery.
At a 500% markup, Murray says, "the profit margins are much higher than on any home item we sell."
WHAT IT COST
Murray designed the store herself, and a contractor finished it in three weeks$35,000
BAGS AND BUSINESS CARDS
TOTAL START-UP COSTS
1,250 square feet
Murray and her mom
TOTAL MONTHLY EXPENSES $10,450
Number of $129 Vera Wang platters Murray needs to sell every day to break even: 3
Madeleine Murray makes herself at home in her Edmonton boutique
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