What is your full name, title, and business name?
Maren Roth, Owner/Buyer, Rowe Boutique
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Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
Rowe is a women’s contemporary clothing boutique that has been a leader of the independent retailer scene in Columbus for the past 11.5 years. After beginning as a pop-up boutique in 2006, Rowe earned its place as one of the top boutique shopping destinations in Ohio. We carefully select a unique collection of contemporary and emerging designers for our fashion conscious shoppers. Our customers are a mix of the sophisticated urbanite and the modern suburban woman, looking for the perfect piece to wear to an event or staple pieces to keep her wardrobe current and on trend.
How did the idea for your business come about?
I have always loved fashion and after working for 5 years in the Fashion PR world in New York, I left to pursue my dream of living in California. I was freelancing for a wholesale showroom at the top trade show in LA, helping buyers and as I was helping them I realized, I didn’t want to be selling to them, I wanted to be buying and I decided right then and there I was going to move back to Columbus, where I could be close to my family, work in the fashion industry and own my own business. I really felt Columbus was brimming with possibilities as there was very minimal boutique shopping options at the time. I knew I could bring a fresh eye and a store with an identity and point of view that didn’t exist yet.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
Rowe began as a women’s and men’s store, and although I personally loved the men’s business, myself and my board of advisors were looking at the numbers and realized that it just wasn’t working. At that point (about 2 years in), I decided to remove the men’s and focus solely on the women’s business. I had a really successful third year and towards the end of it, the store-front next to me became available and I had the opportunity to take it over, knock a wall down and double my square footage. At that point, I knew I was on to something because my business was doing really well, I was in a good position to expand and I didn’t have to open another location. I decided to give the whole shop a new look and when we re-opened, we were received with such support and love, I knew that Rowe was going to be here for the long haul. I also had some pretty fantastic local and national press and the more exposure I got, cross promoting, pop-ups and events I did, the better the business did.
What was your most successful event?
Our Fashion Show has by far been our most successful event. It’s a huge production that involves sponsors, a caterer, a production company, a DJ, a look book, gift bags and almost 100 models, makeup/ hair professionals and volunteers. It takes about 6 months of planning and preparing and two days to set up and breakdown. We don’t make any money from the ticket sales, as we donate the proceeds to the Jack Roth Fund, but we have a pop-up shop on site that is where we make any money form the event. The onsite pop up shop is open for two hours at the event and the store is mobbed!! It’s a crazy, amazing and fun expensive to be a part of. After 9 years of doing the show, we took a break last year, never say never again, but for now we have moved forward from one big show and have been focusing on more small pop up events so we have more opportunity to change things up and try new types of events.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
To me, it means never being afraid to fail and to always ask questions, continuing learning from other successful people and surrounding myself with really smart and interesting people that know more than I do.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
I feel very proud to be a part of this vibrant and hidden gem of a city, that’s not so hidden anymore. To have had the opportunity to build a brand in a city that is growing and create such a loyal clientele and also give back to the community is something I never knew I would have the opportunity to do, but feel very fortunate that I have.
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you to here and ultimately what made you stay.
I am originally from Columbus, but I lived in Minnesota from age 10 until college. When I was in college, my parents did a stint in Berkley, California and then moved back to Columbus. My father was also an entrepreneur and started a company back in Columbus later in life. After he passed away, I wanted to be closer to my mom and moved back in 2005.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Follow your gut and do your research.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
I wish I had known that it’s okay to fail, I think I would have been a little riskier when I was younger, rather than waiting until later to start something else.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
I have so many, but I think my biggest flaw is trying to please everyone and a large amount of guilt and self-imposed stress.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
I am not different, I have failed and that’s okay. I think a big part of being an entrepreneur is failing but still moving forward.
What was you biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
My husband and I decided to open a men’s shop almost 2 years ago and although I had enough history to know that it was going to be difficult, we did a ton of research and we really felt like we had something that the community needed, and we were going to succeed. Ultimately, I think we both wished we had opened another women’s shop rather than men’s, women just shop differently than men and my experience was in women’s. Although there were a ton of reasons, we felt that Columbus just wasn’t ready for what we created, we opened in a construction zone and we were just a little too far from Rowe to easily move customers back and forth. Ultimately we made the decision to close for the betterment of our family. I don’t think about what it cost us, but rather what what we learned and what it saved us from.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
Instagram! We didn’t have a functioning e-commerce business until recently, but Instagram really helped us reach customers and sell!
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
I have a really fantastic board of advisors that help me make those tough decisions, when to hire and when to fire or cut back, we review the business on a quarterly basis and then I make decisions.
What is something that you did that was a game changer for your business?
Hiring a full-time operations store manager, she has grown within the company and has been with me 10 years and is now our Director of Operations.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out.
I thought I would try and bring kids in, but ultimately, it hasn’t worked like I have wanted it to.
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Accounting and bookkeeping.
What has investing in accounting and bookkeeping given you the time and flexibility to do for your business?
In general, accounting and bookkeeping is just not my forte, so I didn’t really have a choice, I needed help and I sought it out. It’s been a huge game changer to have people I trust and rely on focusing on that aspect of the business. It also affords me more time in the store to focus on customers!
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
The website. I am so into learning about it, it’s so different from the shop because it’s not something that’s tangible, but I love the process of creating content and adding new product to the site and seeing people shopping from all over the country!
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
PR and Events!
Who is your best Columbus resource (accountant, lawyer, marketer, etc.)? Please provide name and business name so we can give them credit!
Barry Adelman at Clarus Partners for accounting and my favorite lawyer, Emily Jackson of Harris McClellan Binau & Cox.
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
I ask my board of advisors, a peer or my mother–she is the best advise giver!
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
I see us growing online and I would ultimately like to open a few more stores in smaller markets like Austin, Nashville, Indianapolis and Denver.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
I love following Alli Webb of the Dry Bar, Emily Weiss of Glossier, Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s (she always is so inspiring and gives fantastic advise), Nate DeMars from Pursuit, I have watched him build such an incredible business!
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
Visit the Wexner Center, go and see the Franklin Park Conservatory Children’s Garden and eat at Basi (make sure and sit on the patio, even in the winter, they give you cozy blankets and have heaters and it’s magical).