Erica Hilde, Owner of Absolute Style Boutique, knows change can be scary. She talks with Lotus Midwest about major career changes, following your passion, and making work for you.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself.
A. I grew up in Moorhead, which is one of the reasons I wanted my storefront in Moorhead. I went to Moorhead High. After high school, I went to NDSU and studied apparel and textiles with a focus on retail merchandising. At the time I wanted to be a buyer and realized you can’t be a buyer in such a small area, and I wasn’t ready to move or leave the area. I went on to Minot State and got my master’s in business management. After that, I moved back to the Fargo-Moorhead area and found a storefront for my store. But back in Minot, I started the business online. I started there, doing pop-up events and using Facebook and the website to build a clientele. When I moved back people wanted to shop from my home, and that wasn’t an option. So I found a cute little spot close to home, and here we are!
Q. What drew you to get involved in your business?
A. The business in Minot had been started by two other women. They started the business online together and it grew more quickly than they anticipated. They were moms and working other jobs, so they posted it for sale. Someone contacted me and said, “I know you’re into fashion and you’d be great for this.” I made them an offer and bought the business with everything included: racks, inventory, all of that. I was free from there to do with it whatever I wanted. The products in our store support other women-owned businesses. That was really important to me and has been really important to me. I try to carry things in my store directly from women-owned businesses, and we have products from women in Michigan, Ohio and Texas. I think that makes my boutique unique. We sell earrings made by a student at NDSU. When you shop us, you’re supporting not only me, but other women. I love that about what I do.
Q. What were you doing before that opportunity found you?
A. I was working at Minot State University as the assistant director of enrollment.
Q. Quite the career change! What was that transition like?
A. I loved working at Minot State. I loved working directly with students. A big part of my job was traveling around to high schools and talking about college opportunities with students. I loved it. But in the back of my head, I was thinking, “I went to school for fashion and I have always wanted to work in fashion.” I worked at Herberger’s for my entire high school and college career. I always knew I wanted to get back into fashion I just hadn’t found the right opportunity. So, when this popped up I knew it was my chance and I needed to go for it. I was scared and I didn’t know if I could run a business since I had no experience in that. But I was willing to take the chance.
Q. What advice would you give other women who are interested in making a drastic career change?
A. I know that feeling of being scared to change. If it’s something that you’ve wanted to do for a long time, and can’t get it out of your head, if you find an opportunity that feels right just go for it. Even if you aren’t ready to go for it full time, try out staying in your current career and starting a side business in your off-hours. Get your foot in the door, and feel out whether it’s right for you before going 100% in. You can tiptoe into it!
Q. Obviously, you took this big risk by changing career paths and buying a business with limited experience. Was there a moment when you knew that you had made the right move?
A. When I first got started I had no idea what I was doing. For months I was teaching myself how to do inventory and just run their business. Someone from another store in Minot reached out and told me that they were going to be opening a store that sold repurposed furniture and handmade jewelry. She told me she’d been looking for a clothing boutique to come into the store. That was when it hit me that people actually liked what I was doing. I was so caught off guard that someone I hadn’t met would reach out to me and have so much trust in my service and product.
Q. We’ve been talking a lot about burnout and exhaustion these last few years. What does self-care mean to you, or how have you been taking care of yourself as a small business owner and personally recently?
A. Burnout is huge, especially if you’re running a small business and have a small team. When I started, I wanted to be open every day, but there was no way that I could do that on my own. So, we’re only open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and the first Saturday of each month. That is how I get some peace of mind and some time to do things outside of work. I can’t imagine being there all day every day. That was a big thing for me–realizing I couldn’t be working all day every day. I just feel like having shortened store hours is my way to give myself some peace.
Q. There is such a pressure on women to be on all of the time, or working all of the time, like you have more to prove. What was it like to put up those boundaries and say “no, I’m not working 24/7”?
A. It was difficult. I remember thinking, “I need to be working more,” and simultaneously thinking, “I can’t have a work-life balance if I do that.” It was important to put in the amount of time I knew I could commit to
Q. Who are you outside of work?
A. I’m a dog mom! I have a mini Goldendoodle. I’m a wife. I love fashion, so even outside of work, I’m going to buying events and buying markets. I love helping friends with outfits, shopping and traveling.
Q. It’s especially tough to put up those boundaries and find balance when you’re so passionate about your work. How do you keep things balanced between personal and professional?
A. We open at 11:00 a.m. which gives me time to go to the gym in the morning. That gives me an opportunity to clear my mind and get my head on straight. I make sure to get outside and take the dog to the park on days I don’t work. When I’m at work, I’m fully at work, but when I’m not at work I turn off my messenger and any notifications about the business.
Q. So, you turn your phone off?
A. Yes, I silence Facebook messenger which is how a lot of people contact me about the store.
Q. Is that tough?
A. Yes, and in the beginning, I didn’t do that and I was messaging at all times of day and night. My husband suggested I turn it off and it made a huge difference. As soon as I hear that ding I’m anxious to get to the phone and see who needs me, so I need to have it off. It’s hard. It wasn’t overnight, but little by little I was able to do it more. I came to the realization that this is clothing. I’m not a doctor. These questions can be answered in the morning. People are understanding, and they don’t expect me to be on at 9:00 pm.
I think that’s the fear, is that customers expect that you are on all of the time and that you will be on your phone at 9:00 pm, so it’s reassuring that you’ve found otherwise.
I’ve had some messages where people are surprised I’ve answered their messages at night. That reassures me for sure.