Small Business Success Story: Voxn Clothing
Since expanding from an online business to a retail shop in Boise’s BoDo neighborhood, rapid growth is the new normal for entrepreneur Erica Becker and her signature line of athleisure wear.
Erica Becker is a cautious risk-taker.
After graduating high school in Carroll, Iowa, she planned to pursue a degree in apparel design, but wanted to be certain before investing a lot of money into her education. So, she started her schooling at the less expensive Kirkwood Community College before transferring to Iowa State University.
One of her college graduation requirements was to have an internship, which she was offered at Obey Clothing in California. But it came in the middle of the Great Recession, and her dad had recently lost his job. Without talking to her parents, Becker accepted the internship, and decided to figure out how to pay for it later. She sold “everything” and started printing shirts on the side to save enough money to support the move.
Before launching her own clothing business, Becker again took a cautious approach, investing first in inventory sold in established stores to test the market for her clothing before opening her own business.
That healthy balance of entrepreneurial spirit tempered with caution has laid a strong foundation for Becker as an entrepreneur and founder of Voxn Clothing. Her clothes are designed in Boise, Idaho, and sold both wholesale and retail, from a shop in the city’s BoDo neighborhood as well as online and in more than 50 stores across the U.S.
We sat down with Erica to learn more about the challenges and opportunities she faced in creating an online business and expanding to a brick-and-mortar shop in the digital age.
Why did you start Voxn Clothing?
My mom worked full time as a seamstress and then would come home and continue to do alterations for people in the community. I hung out with her a lot in her sewing shop. Starting a clothing company was something we’d always talk about doing some day — chasing that dream and opening something together.
After college, I had my dream job but wasn’t happy with the commute. I started taking the train and using the WiFi to develop a website.
I started Voxn three years ago after my partner Nathan and I moved to Boise. I had a hard time finding a job in the fashion industry, so I was doing what I could to keep my skills keen. I started doing drop shipping as a form of angel investing for friends who had boutiques. I did that for a couple of years and kept data, and that’s where I started feeling confident on my buying skills. It started developing into something I could take off and do on my own.
Why did you want to expand from an online-only business to a brick-and-mortar shop?
People like to try on and want to be able to touch and feel garments. A size 2 in one brand fits different from another brand, and that’s really hard if people don’t know brands. Boise is so outdoorsy and athletic, I was surprised there wasn’t something already here. To me it seemed like that was the next step.
One day I came home with all these fixtures loaded into my Jeep and didn’t know what I would use them for. I just had a feeling. We were walking to happy hour and walked past the shop when it was up for lease. It was such a perfect time.
What is the biggest opportunity for Voxn?
Location is such a big part of the success of a brick-and-mortar shop. With a lot of the remodeling with the city’s roadways, library, and all the hotels, I really feel like the BoDo area will shift to become more of the downtown hotspot. Boise is becoming such a huge tourist destination and being in the center of all these hotels, in five years the foot traffic will be unreal.
What was the biggest blind spot on your journey to small business owner?
The hardest thing was really how much work goes into opening a business — it’s a lot. It took me off guard. As a startup, you wear multiple hats and you’re literally responsible for absolutely anything. The first year especially was really intense.
What has been the biggest obstacle on your journey to becoming a small business owner?
My biggest obstacle has been managing how fast our business is growing. Growth is a very good part of business, but you have to sustain that growth through labor, time and finances. When founding, operating and sustaining a business that is growing this fast, there is a lot of stress that comes with that. I have had to learn new stress management techniques such as an increase in exercise and scheduling downtime to decompress to keep myself from burning out. It can be very hard when you have a packed schedule, but you must take care of yourself. After all, you are your best asset.
What is the biggest challenge for you as a small business owner?
Winter is hard in general. We planned for that but being new and going right into winter was really hard.
We also wholesale, and that’s growing like wildfire. We’re in 20 stores and some of them have multiple locations. There’s so much opportunity there it’s almost overwhelming. We are just barely getting the tip of the iceberg on that.
Name one thing that prepared you for being a small business owner?
My parents are really practical with Midwestern values and they look at everything in a practical way. They were both entrepreneurs and my dad was part of startups. It’s how they raised us.
What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
My first piece of advice comes from Warren Buffett, who said to write out your top 20 goals, circle your top five, and cross out everything else. Just focus on the five. If you look at all 20 it becomes too much.
The second piece of advice is from an accounting professor, who encouraged us to take steps to prepare ourselves to become business owners. Get your finances in order, build your credit, build savings, understand debt-to-income ratios. Take care of your financial health. When you’re healthy, banks and investors look at you in a different light.
What role did Zions Bank play in your journey?
We didn’t reach out to Zions Bank until after we had signed our lease. We had signed up for classes with the Small Business Development Center and they had a resource book and Zions Bank was listed in the loan section. In order to apply for a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan, we were required to have a business plan. Working with Karen Appelgren and the Business Resource Center, it got way more refined and way more beefed up with real numbers and good data. Karen was able to offer a fresh, professional perspective.
Looking to follow in Erica’s footsteps and start an online or brick-and-mortar small business? Zions Bank offers online tools including business templates, columns, videos and financial calculators. Our Business Resource Centers in Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho, provide counseling and training for entrepreneurs.
Nicola McIntosh is social media manager for Zions Bank.