Jennifer Kole

Jennifer Kole

Suburban Princess: From eBay to Top 40

Summerland business owner leaves online sales behind

This week’s newest member of the Top 40 under 40 took an unusual road to her entrepreneurial success.

In a time when many businesses are moving to online sales in order to reach more customers, some even abandoning their storefronts, Jennifer Kole started her business online, then built a bricks and mortar store, leaving online sales behind.

Kole started the Suburban Princess Boutique as a small, home-based business in 2001, selling overstock women’s clothing and shoes from major U.S. department stores through the online auction site, eBay.

“I saw other people that were selling clothing online, and I thought if they could do it, why can’t I do it? It was kind of a way for me to buy as much clothing as I like, then keep half of it and sell off the other half to pay for my shopping habits,” said Kole, explaining that her personal love of fashion was one of the driving forces behind the growth of her business.

“That is basically why I got started. I have had to make some rules for myself so I don’t just take it all home,” said Kole.

“I love clothing, shoes, accessories.

I love getting the new stuff. With overstocks, I never know what is coming, it is like Christmas morning opening up a shipment of clothes.”

Kole hadn’t planned on going into retail, though now she says she can’t imagine doing anything else or working for someone else.

“I used to do bookkeeping for a number of different businesses before I started doing this, so I kinda knew the ins and outs,” said Kole.

“It’s kind of a hobby that grew into a business, I didn’t have a master plan.”

By 2007, Kole was able to expand to a shop on Main Street in Summerland, and has continued to grow the Suburban Princess Boutique, which now occupies two floors, with four employees.

But she has left eBay behind.

“I did that for the first few years, both retail and online, and now I find I just don’t have time for the eBay side of it anymore,” said Kole.

“Selling retail in the store is much quicker and easier than selling online.

“If I can just sell it to someone without having to list it and ship it.”

Kole is also remarkable for having managed to grow her business through the economic downturn that drove many businesses into bankruptcy.

That, she said, may be due to the discount prices she is able to offer by reselling overstock items.

“We offer discount clothing, so maybe people aren’t going out and paying a couple of hundred dollars for a dress, but they don’t mind coming to us and paying, say, $30,” said Kole.

As with many of the business people profiled here, Kole said giving back to the community is a key part of her business plan.

But besides donations to groups like minor hockey, dry grad, SOWINS, epileptic awareness and others, Kole is able to help out through participating in  fashion shows.

Working with groups like Dragonfly Pond, the Kinnettes or the South Okanagan Women’s Shelter, Kole said they supply clothing, and the groups are able to sell tickets, with the funds raised supporting the charity.

A big benefit to being self-employed, said Kole, is having more time to spend with her family.

“My husband is a realtor in town here; he just works a couple of doors down. He is always helping me out and carrying the big boxes around, doing the heavy lifting and stuff,” said Kole, who also has two children, 13-year-old Dylan and 11-year-old Sydney.

Sydney, she said, is just starting to understand what it means for her mom to have a clothing store.

“She is just starting to fit into some of the clothes,” said Kole.

For budding entrepreneurs thinking of following Kole’s path, she points out there are now many more people selling through auctions sites than when she started.

Her expansion plans for the future, she said, would more likely include a second location rather than returning to online sales.

“It is quite saturated. There are a lot of home-based businesses doing that thing,” she said, adding that it is harder to sell apparel online than electronics.

“People like to come in and try on clothes.”

Kole’s advice for new businesses is to stay within their means while they are getting started.

“I always tell people start off small. That’s why I think I found success. I didn’t get in over my head with a high rent or lease,” said Kole.

“Start off small and grow your business.”

Penticton Top 40 under 40 is presented by the Prospera Credit Union and White Kennedy LLP Chartered Accountants in partnership with the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, JCI Penticton with support from Community Futures Okanagan Similkameen.  Nominations should be sent to manager@penticton.org with the subject line ‘Top 40 Nomination.

Please include nominees contact info and a brief reason for nomination.