Ashley Rush Wakefield calls herself a shoe girl. It’s an apt name for someone who estimates a personal collection of 200 pairs. But, according to Wakefield, who’s counting?
Four years ago, Wakefield turned her love for shoes into a business plan while taking a fashion-merchandising course called Establishing a Fashion Business at Missouri State University. The course taught students how to open a fashion business – everything from determining target markets to choosing funding options. Each student submitted a business plan to a banking professional as part of the course’s final grade.
Wakefield chose a bank in her hometown of Joplin, Mo., to review her plan to open a shoe boutique. Wakefield got more than a course grade. After she graduated in 2006 with a degree in fashion merchandising, she was able to secure a Small Business Administration loan and a line of credit to start her own business.
Within six months of graduation, Wakefield had Sophie up and running in Joplin. “The area doesn’t have any independent shoe stores,” said Wakefield, explaining her choice of location. “I carry things that nobody else does.” The small boutique’s product lines are mostly shoes and handbags, although it does carry jewelry, wallets, sunglasses and other accessories as well.
Many of her customers know Wakefield from when she worked at a Joplin clothing store during her college years. Others have heard of the boutique by word-of-mouth, looking for a unique item to accentuate an outfit. Already, Wakefield is searching for more square footage to accommodate larger events and display options. She also needs more space to add a small product category of clothing.
While contending with the difficult economy right now, many business people would like to be in Wakefield ’s shoes. After three years of operation, Sophie is breaking even financially. Wakefield said, “The shoe industry can be fairly recession proof. Even though you can’t buy a new wardrobe, you can still buy a pair of shoes.”