Updated: Jan 15, 2022
For this week’s episode of The Quest for New Inspiration, I am joined by Claire Engelken, owner of KB&Co, a collective retail boutique in Lawrence, KS. We chatted about women’s leadership in business and the adventure of starting your own business. This episode is the perfect episode if you’re looking for extra inspiration to get started on a business of your own.
Claire Engelken is the owner of KB&Co and Stripes Boutique in Lawrence, Kansas. She has a BA in journalism from the University of Arizona and an MA in education from the University of Kansas. When not working, you can find her reading, caffeinating, watching Bravo, and spending time with her family.
hello, and welcome to another episode of the quest for new inspiration. My name is Katie Maschler.
I am so excited for this week’s episode. I had the opportunity to sit down with Claire angle, Ken, the owner of KB and co in Lawrence.
I have been a big, big fan of KB and co the entire time I’ve lived in Lawrence and I have been able to watch. Claire girl, from having her little boutique to now becoming the owner of KB and cope.
This is the perfect episode. If you’re thinking about starting a business of your own and needing a little extra inspiration. I hope she inspires you as much as she’s inspired me.
Claire E: So I own KB and co, which is a collective boutique. So we have 13 different stores in it. all female, small business owners, lots from Lawrence, Kansas [00:01:00] city to Piqua, kind of all over Kansas. And I also own a store within that.
so I’ve done that for the last three years. I bought KB and co in 2020, right. Shut down. what else? It’s been kind of a non-traditional path. I have two degrees that I don’t use. Um, I have a journalism degree. I have a teaching degree and then I started working retail just for fun. And it sort of has opened up into this amazing path to small business owners.
KT M: that’s awesome. I, as you know, I’m a very big fan of KB and co and definitely who, anybody who follows my Instagram, um, because I, yeah, I’m obsessed anyways. So what kind of, I love the fact that like KB and co has like these, all these multiple boutiques, what kind of like inspired that method versus just like opening your own retail.
Claire E: Yeah. Sure. [00:02:00] of course with the rise of online shopping, brick and mortar has been a lot more difficult. It’s faced a lot of challenges that never had in the past decades. specifically, you know, paying rent on a brick and mortar store. And so collectives have become big because we all can join together.
I have this great location specifically in Lawrence or gets beyond mass street, which is, you know, the biggest place for commerce. and the rent there is crazy, but when we all get to do it together, it helps all of us. And it also helps customer-wise because we could write. So many people in the family were getting the daughters and the moms, and we have a gift store and we have kids.
And so it really helps collectively, we all can rise up together. And so I think it’s really helped, combat some of the online sales, having a collective brick and mortar is easier, it’s safer. And it also has a lot of cool advantages.
KT M: When I was working in the office, I would like get my like office clothes and then I’d be like, [00:03:00] oh, but I need something to wear.
Like after, when I get home and I could do it all at the same time. And then it’s like, I saw something for my home decor. I had to stop by and get it. so what kind of gives you the motivation to continue to do this? Not only like through COVID last year. I watched all of your methods to get people in stores and I loved them.
Um, do you want to explain a little bit about
Claire E: that? Yeah, I would say the motivation was. Just owning a small business is so personal. So, I mean, I’ve always been a hard worker. I’ve always been motivated to just be good at whatever I’m doing. Just in the sense of wanting to feel proud of the work that you do, no matter what work that is.
but when you own a small business, it’s like, you’ve really, it’s personal. You’ve put your name out there. It’s it’s public, you’ve put your financing behind it, you know, an investment. And so wanting it to succeed as. The biggest motivation [00:04:00] ever. Um, and so during COVID, it was like we had owned KB by partner Jeff and I for six weeks.
And then COVID and I think it was just like, we looked at each other and it was like, this isn’t going to be the end of KB. We’re not this isn’t how it’s going to go down. And so it was just about getting creative. The staff was super helpful. Our customers are wonderful. And so that, that they were giving us ideas, they were making it a point to buy things like you, you know, like when you would watch her videos.
Yeah. So that was the motivation. Like once COVID started, it was like, Uh, we’re going to get through this. Like I did not just buy this business and go through all this paperwork and pay a lawyer and an accountant for us to just fold because we had to be closed like everywhere else in the world. And so that succeeded, and then now the motivation is just like, how can we keep making the collective better?
How can we make our employees happier? How can we do [00:05:00] more for our community, all of that. So I think. Owning your small business is a motivator in itself because it really is personal people know that you own it. And it’s people know if you’re succeeding or not. That’s a big, big motivator to do
KT M: well.
That’s one thing I did want to touch on is I love how much KB and co is like committed to like doing things in their community. I love how many events you guys have posted and just all over. Little things. It’s just, I love watching you guys has been amazing. So it’s one of my favorites.
Claire E: I learned a lot of that.
I feel like. So I bought, I bought KB and co from Christie Bowen in 2020. And I feel like I learned so much from her because I worked there from day one and I was the manager and watching her interact with the community and. Participate in local events and go do pop-up shops and get to know the other small business owners and really make a name [00:06:00] for herself and like positively impact the community was such a good education, like such a good blueprint to follow.
cause that’s something nobody teaches you, you know, like when you’re running yourself as this, it’s also like how. Helping this community at large, what else can I, you know, contribute to? So, or what causes do we want to put our name on and what do we not want to kind of thing. So she was so helpful in that that was an education.
I feel like she knows everybody in Lauren. She’s very, very helpful. She does know.
KT M: Um, along that line, do you have any other people who like you go to when you were like either lacking inspiration or just general people who inspire you on a day-to-day basis?
Claire E: Yeah, for sure. I have a lot of boutique owner friends kind of scattered around the country.
some more local than others who have been so helpful. Being mentors and being real, giving really honest feedback and also who I go to with just to sometimes. So, you know, we’d need to vent or commiserate or, or disaster, like, you know, I’m in like the slump or, you know, what can I do that kind of stuff?
So I really look up to those specifically, like the female small business owners in my life, because I think we go through a lot of the same challenges that are really unique to just that type of profession. So definitely definitely to them
KT M: there, are there any like tools and resources that you could [00:08:00] like recommend for people that are also kind of.
I dunno, maybe thinking about opening their own small business or just kind of in that process right now.
Claire E: Yeah. In the most base. Cause I helped a few people I’ve been there since I’ve opened mine. Kansas has this great website. I read like randomly it’s like state of Kansas small business, how to get started.
So I did that and then immediately found a good accountant. That’s huge. Do that. And my accountant is also a female small business owner. So that do that. And then, yeah, and I just reached out to people who I could trust, who I knew had done this. Then just ask really honest questions, you know, like you have to be able to ask those questions, like realistically, how much money or what is this risk or what’s reasonable to do, you know, that type of stuff.
When can I expect to start paying myself kind of thing, you have to be able to ask. Really honest questions. And so I was lucky to made some contacts through Christie, with [00:09:00] women who own their businesses. And I just reached out and said, Hey, I want to do this. Can I just ask you questions? And I found that now that I’m on the other side of it, people have done that to me.
And so I’ve been happy to help on the other end. So I feel like that cycle is you got to just get in on that. And then when it’s your turn to help you. That’s
KT M: the perfect example for like this podcast. Like at first I had no business reaching out to like, I don’t know, like just random people are like, why is this blonde chick randomly asking me about her podcast?
I don’t care. But then when they actually. There are more than happy to give whatever advice they can share along the way. So along that question, what do you think your, uh, like 25 year old self would think about what you’re doing? Or what advice would you give her?
Claire E: I think I would thought this is so cool.
And I wish I had done this sooner. Like [00:10:00] when I was 25, like I would have been like, why are you not doing? Cause like my first job ever was in retail and I was 15. And then it went on all these tests. Halves and studied different things and had all these random jobs. When it’s like fashion has always been a part of my life in the background.
It’s always been an important part. And so I sort of like, I don’t know why it took me so long to come here and like, I had so many people in my life to be like, you know, have you thought about working in like owning a boutique. It took like four people that I was like, yeah, I should do that. I think Tony five-year-olds, they’ll be like, oh, cool, good.
Let’s do that. Let’s not waste for time. Let’s not go to grad school cause you don’t actually want to be a teacher and Hey, let’s instead start doing this. So I think it’d be very, very excited. But I do laugh sometimes that it took me this long and had so many people had to like push me in [00:11:00] this direction when I’m like, this is what I wanted to do since I was little.
I don’t know why to do this, like at age 20. Ah, that’s perfect.
KT M: I love that. Okay. A couple of last questions, um, don’t have any, like go to mantras are kind of like affirmations that you like to say, whether that’s in your personal life or directly related to like KB and co.
Claire E: Bye go to one for a long time has always been whatever you are, be a good one.
Um, and I feel like can apply it to everything. Friend, business, owner, girlfriend, sister, daughter, you know, all of those things. If it’s worth any of your time, it’s worth going all in. I feel like. And then lately I’ve been trying, working on the side that act as if everything is just going to work. It’s like, okay, I’m still working on that one.
That’s like a new one I found during, COVID tried to have that positive manifesting of like, let’s just assume it’s going to work [00:12:00] out and go from there.
KT M: Yeah. Hopefully every single work out.
Claire E: Right? Like that’s what I still have to really consciously try to keep reminding myself, but I liked the idea that.
KT M: Yeah, I love that so much. Okay. Do you have any like last piece of advice just for generally future business owners or anything like that?
Claire E: I mean, for future business owners, I’m like, just go for it. We’re second happen, you know, and I’m a worst case. Scenario person is like, don’t fail and you’ll start your next career and it’ll be fine and it’ll be fine.
And why not just go for it? You know, you don’t want to be working some job. You hate forever. If you have this great idea. And like, life is short, we spend a lot of time working, tried to try to do something you like, like don’t waste that time. And then. The most general piece of advice, which I feel like is so cliche, but has been so true for me is just to trust your gut.
I’m such a chronic over-thinker, but with all the big decisions, it’s [00:13:00] like, I just know instantly, like Christie asked me if I wanted to buy KB and co at the end of 2019. And I was like, just give me a night to sleep on it. And I woke up and was. Yep. I’m doing it. It’s my time. This is my shot. I’m taking, it looks like you can overthink and overthink, but trust your gut.
It’s going to lead you in the right direction, whether that’s towards the right relationship, place to live job. Trust your intuition. I love that
KT M: so much. Thank you so much for your time today.
And if you have not had a chance and you are in Lawrence, please, please, please go check out KB and co it is literally one of my favorite stores and probably the United States. So
Claire E: That was awesome. Thank you so much for asking.
And that is it for this week’s episode. [00:14:00] Thank you again for listening to my little podcast is seriously means the world to me, that you even press play in the first place. Be sure to follow my inspiring guests on all their social media platforms as well as the quest for new inspiration on instagram of course and we officially have a twitter
so go make sure to follow new inspiration pod on Twitter, as well as leave a review and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform. It really does make a world of difference. Thank you so much and be sure to tune in next time.