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Courtney Coughlin, owner of boutique CCXO

Online boutiques boom in South Dakota

MITCHELL, S.D. — A hobby in high school soon turned into a successful online business for Courtney Coughlin.

It was in 2008 when the Mitchell native began creating custom jewelry, but the demand for her products skyrocketed faster than she could string necklaces. That's when she knew she had a knack for entrepreneurism.

After graduating from Mitchell High School in 2010, she attended South Dakota State University for entrepreneurial studies. By 2013, she began focusing on her business in the retail world full time. She called her business CCXO — which stands for Cowgirl Crush XO. Despite starting her brand nearly 10 years ago, it was after college graduation when it became a full retail line with clothes, shoes, scarves, jewelry, candles and some home items.

"I've always had an interest in fashion, but more importantly, growing up in the cattle business, I learned from my parents to have an entrepreneurial spirit," Coughlin said, noting she grew up on a ranch north of Mitchell. "Just like in farming and ranching, failure isn't an option for my boutique."

But unlike some South Dakota boutiques, Coughlin's is completely online. And she uses social media, specifically Facebook and Instagram, to intrigue customers through "sneak peaks." Establishing an online shop made the most sense for Coughlin — who also is soon expecting a child — adding that online shopping is a continuing trend.

And while Coughlin began hers nearly 10 years ago, there's been an "uptick of boutique owners" in South Dakota lately, according to Jennifer Kelly, a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Small Business Administration South Dakota District office. And they range from startups to longtime businesses trying to keep afloat, she said.

Statistics are difficult to track, Kelly said, because boutiques fall under the administration's "Women's Clothing Stores" description, lumping them in with larger retailers that are not considered boutiques. But Kelly said there's definitely more local boutiques around the state, especially online, as it's easier to set up through ecommerce resources such as Squarespace or Shopify.

And Coughlin agrees, noting she's seen more startups and continues to be asked for advice in beginning a boutique, sometimes requesting how-to tips. She advises those that it takes a lot of work, and is not as easy as some might think.

"It takes guts to start your own business. It certainly isn't for the faint of heart," she said.

Unique boutiques

In Mitchell, the boutique business has been booming.

This month, a Mitchell-based online boutique — called Evie Rose Couture — celebrated one year of business after opening in October 2016. And a Main Street business, called Adorn Boutique, is going on its eighth month of new ownership after Megan Reimnitz took over for Erin Geuke in March. Geuke opened Adorn in 2012.

And most recently, the Backyard Boutique in Mitchell opened its doors. But the Backyard Boutique, owned by Jenna Morrison, is a bit different than most standard boutiques as it's neither completely online nor a full retail store.

Morrison is an independent sales rep for Agnes and Dora — a national clothing company — for which she is contracted under. She works as her own, just like a normal boutique, she said, but the difference is she is provided with a marketing department, design team and factory from Agnes and Dora.

And it's this difference of being an independent rep that sets her apart, she said.

"My customers get a very personalized experience in my boutique," Morrison said. "For a lot of women, the fact that our clothes run consistently true to size is super important. I carry styles that are the same price and style for XXS to XXXL, which is very uncommon."

Morrison received her first set of inventory in April, but since moved to a new home with a space dedicated to her boutique in August. And since word has gotten out in the past two months, she said business has been great.

But one big factor is having an online shop.

"My website is a big part of the business," she said. "Most of my local ladies will watch videos and take screen shots or look at a picture online and then come and look."

Becoming aware of the online market

Online shopping is becoming the way of life, and one Main Street boutique owner believes it's important for physical stores to "stay ahead of the game."

That's why Reimnitz, owner of Adorn, launched an online component to her boutique over the summer.

"I'm not truly worried about keeping doors open or anything like that," Reimnitz said. " ... As a business owner you would be kind of silly not to know there are other online boutiques out there and be aware of them."

Reimnitz said for Adorn, she still has a lot more women stopping at her store on Main Street versus online, adding her customers still like to touch, feel and try on clothing.

But it's not just about the clothing.

It's also gaining one-on-one interaction, Reimnitz said, as many women will ask for her opinion on certain outfits, particularly if they have an upcoming event.

But just as she has many in-store customers, she also has several online shoppers. And while Reimnitz herself prefers to shop in stores, she said many of her friends like to stay home and shop completely online.

"There's someone for everyone," she said. "There's someone for the physical locations, there's someone for the online boutiques."