While some worry that online shopping will soon lead to the death of brick-and-mortar stores, others note that e-commerce represents only about 10 percent of all retail, according to a 2018 article in Forbes. Finance major Lauren Walker Corwin ’14 and her sister, advertising major Haley Walker ’17, have figured out how to have the best of both.
On Founder’s Day 2018, sisters Lauren Walker Corwin ’14 and Haley Walker ’17 drove from their home in Rock Island, Ill., to Bradley’s Pi Beta Phi sorority house in their mobile trailer. Inside were racks and cubbies of artfully displayed young women’s clothing — from dresses and rompers to tops and bottoms, as well as jewelry and home décor. There were even bandanas for poochies.
For anyone looking in, it would be easy to mistake these young women for carefree twenty-somethings, but Corwin and Walker are a new breed of entrepreneur who have found a way to hedge their bets against the decline in brick-and-mortar retail and booming online sales.
Their aptly named company — Brick and Motor Boutique — has the advantages of a physical space, including a changing area in the back, but the trailer is a much less expensive option than a retail store for the small startup. In addition to their combined savings and excellent credit ratings, Corwin and Walker opened a business credit card with zero interest for a full year. This allowed them to purchase the trailer and their stock, and they pay down the balance every month.
“I knew that I wanted to open my own store eventually but I definitely thought it would be more of an actual brick and mortar store,” said Corwin. “We thought we’d start slow and try not to have too many costs right up front. That’s why we went with the trailer concept.”
Launching the business last July, the sisters have traveled the Midwest where organizations like sororities, farmer’s markets and local businesses host them for shopping events; they also sell their wares online at brickandmotorboutique.com. While sales have gone well so far (“July to December were absolutely amazing”) and they were able to quit their day jobs, the pair admitted there’s been a learning curve.
“Starting out, we went a little overboard with the amount of merchandise we were buying,” said Walker. “We (no longer) buy huge size runs ... We have a huge variety of items now where before we were focused on certain things.”
The entrepreneurs made another smart move by taking a short-term lease at The Shoppes on Second, a small business incubator in downtown Rock Island. This way, their customers wouldn’t have to shop in an un-heated trailer during the winter months.
Corwin and Walker said their Bradley education has helped tremendously through the knowledge gained in their classes, as well as from the support through the people they met. When asked what advice they have for aspiring entrepreneurs, the pair were enthusiastic, even while acknowledging their friends and family had a few doubts.
“As we got closer to us quitting our nine-to-fives everyone said, ‘Are you sure? You guys are crazy,’ (but) I’m so happy we did it,” said Walker. “My advice would be to take the risk and do it because it’s been the most rewarding experience ever.”
“Definitely plan for it,” added Corwin. “Save up some money and try to make sure you’re getting some experience in the area you want to go into. Just going in blind can be a little scary.”