Business

Bohme Founders Named Utah Small Business Person of the Year

Undaunted by economic recession and the “retail apocalypse,” sisters Vivien and Fernanda Bohme have grown their women’s clothing company from a temporary mall location to 16 stores in five states since its founding in 2007.

Kallee Feuz May 9, 2019

The odds weren’t in their favor when sisters Vivien and Fernanda Bohme set up a women’s clothing boutique in a temporary mall location during the holidays of 2007, or when they opened their first permanent store in 2008. 

At the time, the nation’s retailers were posting their lowest sales figures in 35 years, an effect of a global economic recession. With no retail experience and no investors, the women bootstrapped their way to entrepreneurship, funded only by a credit card at first. But thanks to Fernanda’s eye for design and Vivien’s head for numbers, their dynamic business partnership blossomed into a successful women’s apparel company.

A decade later, Bohme has 16 women’s stores in five states, appealing to shoppers from Idaho to Iowa with its unique clothing, shoes, and accessories. Bohme has appeared on Inc.’s list of 5000 fastest-growing companies and garnered national media attention.

During National Small Business Week, May 5-11, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is honoring Fernanda Bohme and Vivien Bohme jointly as 2019 Small Business Person of the Year for Utah.  They, along with Small Business Persons of the Year from each of the 53 U.S. states and territories, will be recognized at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Early Years

Raised in Rio de Janeiro, Vivien and Fernanda were 9 and 8 years old, respectively, when their family moved to Utah. Working alongside their parents as janitors for 10 years, they learned the value of hard work at a young age.

That work ethic would prove vital as the women navigated the unchartered territory of running — and growing — a retail business. Within a year of its official launch in 2008, Bohme led the mall in sales per square foot. The following year, Fernanda and Vivien opened a second location, which they remodeled themselves, lacking the funds to hire a construction crew. From 2009 to 2013, the company grew aggressively, adding multiple locations per year as consumers clamored for its affordable, fashion-forward apparel. Bohme landed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in 2012.

Overcoming Adversity

By 2013 Bohme had reached its brick-and-mortar peak, with 22 stores across the western and midwestern United States. At the same time, retailers nationwide were experiencing a crisis as consumers increasingly turned to online shopping. During the 2013 holiday shopping season, U.S. stores received approximately half the foot traffic they experienced just three years earlier.

While Bohme stores had been able to attract customers through the so-called “retail apocalypse,” the company experienced a financial crisis from fall 2013 to fall 2014 that threatened its future as it struggled to secure financing to give its stores necessary updating.  At the same time, the company was locked out of an existing line of credit.  After receiving a much-needed line of credit, Vivien and Fernanda were able to steer the company back to growth through careful rebuilding and extreme cash management efforts.

The company solidified in 2015 and returned to a strong growth pattern by 2016, increasing brick-and-mortar sales and launching an online store. From 2016 to 2018, Böhme’s online sales grew from less than $500,000 to more than $6 million, while overall sales growth neared 30 percent.

In 2018, the company experienced record profit and revenue growth, which is expected to continue in 2019.

Leadership

In leading their company, the Bohme sisters have learned to trust their intuition even when that means breaking with convention.

“They believe there is a better way and are always striving to innovate and be better; they never settle for mediocrity,” said Douglas Tilton, Bohme’s vice president of Operations.

On top of that, they understand the value of the team and the important role every member on the team plays, Tilton said.

They make themselves accessible to their 225 employees and make it a point to talk to employees at all levels to understand what is truly going on in the business, he said.

Bohme has ranked among the Salt Lake Tribune’s annual listing of top workplaces in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

With a core belief in investing in communities, the company supports a variety of organizations, including Salt Lake City’s Ronald McDonald House and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, through company fundraising and volunteer efforts.

Every Bohme employee, both part time to full time, is given three days of paid time off to engage in volunteer work of their choice, which might include helping at the Humane Society of Utah or organizing a prom dance for inner city teens.

If you’re an entrepreneur looking for SBA financing options, we encourage you to learn more about Zions Bank SBA loans or to contact one of our Zions Bank Business Banking relationship managers today.

Kallee Feuz is Public Relations officer for Zions Bank in Utah.

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