Leanne de Kok
Picture Butte, Alberta
Expanding through New Opportunities
Following the path to organic growth with the support of Community Futures
Growing a business comes with all sorts of hurdles. From finding a new space to dealing with the increasing costs of operating, the path is rarely smooth or easy. With the help of Community Futures, Leanne de Kok, the owner/operator of Butte’s Fashion Connection in Picture Butte, was able to purchase and then expand her business from a home-based shop to a downtown storefront. “[Community Futures] always had ideas and proposals and found ways to open doors,” Leanne said.
The accidental entrepreneur – making the most of an opportunity
With over eight years running a successful store, it’s easy to assume Leanne set out from the beginning to create it. But success stories are rarely that simple. For Leanne, becoming an entrepreneur was as much about timing as anything else. “In 2012 I was laid off and at home with a young child and looking for something to do,” she said. “A retail business presented itself and the time felt right, so I decided to buy it.” The store for sale wasn’t called Butte’s Fashion Connection. It was a much smaller, simpler store called Ups and Downs Clothing & Accessories, and offered only bottoms and dress hats. But that wouldn’t last long.
Creating the perfect solution through balance
While she knew she wanted to buy it, Leanne first had to grapple with finances and life balance. With a young child at home, she knew starting a business would be a challenge. After
weighing the responsibilities of motherhood with the responsibilities of entrepreneurship, she came up with a solution – running the business out of her home.
With one challenge solved, Leanne looked at finances next. She needed money to buy the business, so she went to her bank to secure a line of credit. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t
give her the credit she needed to make the purchase. When she started to line up private funding, her husband, who had sat on the board for Community Futures in the past, suggested she turn to them for funding.
Crafting a foundation for the business
As a new entrepreneur, Leanne was ready for the responsibility, but hadn’t yet created the foundation for her business – her business plan. So, when she came knocking, Community Futures guided her first through the process of designing a five-year plan that both would increase her chance of success, and impress lenders. With a firm foundation set, Community Futures saw her potential and agreed to extend a line of credit. “Financial hold-backs aren't fun, but thanks to Community Futures there was a way forward,” Leanne said. However, after investing all that effort into applying for a line of credit, Leanne realized it wasn’t the best option for her. So, with more guidance from Community Futures, Leanne switched the focus.
“[Our representative] suggested, ‘Why don't we just do a straight-out loan?’ Leanne said. “So then we ended up switching it to a term loan.” With the funding in place, she bought the business and moved it into the basement of her home.
Growing beyond a home business
Within a year of buying the business, Ups and Downs Clothing had taken over her home, spilling out of the basement and into the garage. With nowhere else to go, Leanne had to shrink her business, or give it room to grow. So, she started looking for retail spaces in downtown Picture Butte. But, when she found a store that would work, it came with extra costs, including shareholder improvements. Once again, Community Futures was there to help Leanne get past a hurdle – only this time instead of funding her business, they walked her through the process of accessing a business improvement loan. With support once again assured, Ups and Downs moved into a whole new stand-alone space.
Sustained growth through new opportunities
As Ups and Downs continued to grow, Leanne began to look around once again for a larger shop. When a children’s clothing store across the street closed down, Leanne saw an opportunity to move to a larger storefront and expand her offerings to include all types of clothing for men, women and children. With a larger vision than Ups and Downs could convey, Leanne chose to rebrand, creating Butte’s Fashion Connection. To make sure the new store (and the new brand) excelled, she teamed up with Community Futures one last time to access another business improvement loan to cover new signage and branding. Today, Butte’s Fashion Connection is a hub on Main Street in Picture Butte, and draws in customers from town and the surrounding farms.
Crucial support every step of the way
After nearly a decade running the store, Leanne is enjoying her business and is continuously looking for new ways to improve. Currently, Leanne’s big project is revamping her website. She wants to expand her online reach and offerings to give shoppers the same great experience both in person and online.