Hard lessons lead to smart beginnings

“We are all doing the best we can with what life hands us. That’s all we’ve ever been able to do. This is how we live our story.” – Bright As Heaven

Of all the small businesses I have launched, MODE is the one that will forever hold a piece of my heart.

It all started with the launch of Mama Mia, a maternity store and my first brick and mortar retail concept. We transformed an old dilapidated building downtown into a vibrant retail experience – just like the pumpkin was transformed into the carriage in the story of Cinderella. Mama Mia was my brainchild. It was a beautiful boutique through which I would learn the value of customer service and the challenges of retail business.

A few short months after opening, I was presented with a new opportunity to sell several truckloads of salvaged freight, so I opened a second store right next door to my first. I called this store MODE. For about a year, I ran these two retail operations next to one another. When the 2008 recession presented challenges for traditional retail businesses, we adjusted for the needs of the community by transitioning the two stores into a boutique-outlet concept. I was happy with the evolution, but overall, I was not content.

Wanting to build a brand, my goal was to open five stores in three years. So when a customer walked up to the counter one day and asked if we would consider providing franchise opportunities, I thought, “Why not consider it?”

The road to building the MODE concept was a great experience. I learned what “margin” meant, how to negotiate and advocate for your brand, how to market a concept and how to manage a team. The growth of MODE opened countless doors for me professionally, and I relished in the opportunities to learn from industry leaders and challenge my entrepreneurial mind in ways I never had before.

As with almost everything in life, I also learned that some of our circumstances are brought on by choices we make, and forces beyond our control can create others. As Rory Vaden says, “Success is never owned, it is rented, and the rent is due every day.” About seven years into the franchising of MODE, I learned firsthand the reality of this sentiment.

Critical to our personal and professional development is the ability to take ownership of both our success and our perceived failure. So while I can acknowledge that the road to building MODE was an amazing experience, I also must own the fact that maintaining MODE brought considerable challenges. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, I can pinpoint the moments along the way when the forward momentum of the business shifted to stagnant, and then backward. But at the time, these shifts were so gradual that I did not understand or accept that they were building toward a seismic event.

When you are the founder of a small business, living and breathing life into that business every day, it soon begins to take on a personality of its own. After I closed the doors to my last remaining retail store, the word MODE was like a four letter word to me. I hated the monster I felt it had become as its presence chased me every day and stole my sleep every night. I cowered as it devoured our family’s life savings and what I felt like was every once of dignity I had left. Because the MODE story held the title of my greatest professional success, and then ultimately my greatest perceived failure, as things began to wind down, the failure cast its shadow over everything I had accomplished – both professionally and personally.

Those final two years of that chapter in my entrepreneurial journey cast an enormous shadow over the previous decades of a joyful, fulfilling experience. Closing my last corporate-owned store and selling the brand name and all its rights to someone else, and then filing for bankruptcy, left me full of shame and unable to pull even one good memory out of the past 10 years.

However, as I slowly began to heal and push through the fog after shuttering the doors, the “what for?” question that once haunted me became a gentle push to reflect honestly on my difficult experiences and learn from them. I chose to dig deeply into the questions of “what I could have done differently,” only this time, not from a sense of guilt and remorse, but from a place of acceptance and learning. Through this experience, I applied the honest truth as a balm to my deep wounds, which, when healed, left a hard-earned scar that tells an important and beautiful story.

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