Itsy Bitsy Boutique, North Liberty
Nic and Kelly Mercer took some educational training from the Iowa Small Business Development Center at the University of Iowa and then received additional assistance with their business plan and financial forecasting, which helped them obtain a line of credit for their very unique boutique.
Itsy Bitsy Boutique is the culmination of Kelly Mercer’s dream of owning a business, inspiration from Etsy.com, and her interest in crafting jewelry and handmade items, plus the couple’s desire to try something different. Kelly has a studio arts degree from the University of Iowa and always wanted to sell her handmade items, but found having to sell items herself took too much time away from making art and jewelry. She wanted to create a fun place to shop where local artisans and residents could sell their quality goods and people could buy something that was made locally. The couple believes that small businesses are the key to economic stability and recovery, and want to help shift consumer behavior to look in their own backyard and “shop with a conscience”.
The couple took a chance and left stable careers to start the business. Nic left behind a 12 year career in pharmaceuticals at the University of Iowa and Kelly left her nursing job at the University of Iowa Hospital. They did not want to have any regrets ten years from now.
Having lived in North Liberty since 2007, Kelly took notice of the explosion of children in her neighborhood. Originally, she was going to offer just her handmade items at her boutique, but after doing market research at the University of Iowa’s College of Business library she realized that creating a niche focusing on children would be more advantageous. She decided to create a “hybrid store” - combining new, resale, and handmade items – and to offer customers a better atmosphere where people wouldn’t feel like they were shopping in someone’s basement, as it goes with many resale shops. She also felt that with the strained economic times, offering resale items would bring more flexibility to her business, keep start-up costs low, and offer a greater range of prices.
Kelly heard about the FastTrac course (now known as the six-week start-up course) from a friend and decided it would be wise to educate herself, as she had never owned a business and her educational background was in art and nursing. This is where she met Small Business Development Center Regional Director Paul Heath. He and the six-week start-up course, which helps potential entrepreneurs get into business, were integral to making her dream become reality.
Once the Mercers finished their course, the SBDC reviewed the company’s business plan and helped them develop a financial forecast for the business, which assisted them in obtaining a line of credit for their new business.
In March 2012 Nic and Kelly Mercer opened Itsy Bitsy Boutique in North Liberty, Iowa. This unique children’s store is located on busy Highway 965. It features one-of-a-kind, new, handmade, and resale clothing, artwork, and accessories for babies and children. Open seven days a week, Itsy Bitsy Boutique sells locally-crafted items, such as quilts, baby blankets, bibs, stuffed animals, baby toys, fit cards, hair accessories, skirts and other clothing, with sizes ranging from newborn through 10/12.
Iowa companies/artisans represented in the store that are the top sellers include Raygun, Locally Grown Clothing, Wise Owl Designs, Posh Petunias, Whitties Knitties, Bags by Bonnie, BabyBibBoot, Little Lollipop Designs, Marie Grace, Breezy Cards and Crafts, Simply Rooted, and Itti Bitti. Many of the items are so unique there are only one or two available in the store, which makes it impossible for the store to offer gift registries for expectant mothers. However, a customer can host a “shower” for an expectant mother where she can pick out items and friends can purchase them at the event.
Half of the store is filled with children’s resale clothing. Patrons can bring in gently used items and take cash up front or fifteen percent more in store credit on the spot. In the coming year, Kelly plans to expand Itsy Bitsy Boutique’s reach and sales by setting up an online store and attending craft/vendor shows in the region.
“Ten years from now we won’t have to go, ‘What if?’ We took the chance, and the SBDC helped us,” says Kelly. “We couldn’t have done this without the SBDC.”
If you want to find a unique gift for a baby or child, plus help Iowa artisans, check out Itsy Bitsy Boutique at www.itsyboutique.com.