BABE #127: KATIE WERHNER,
Owner @ Fig & Willow Boutique
Today's Babe is doing all the things. In addition to owning and managing one of Jacksonville's leading women's fashion boutiques, she's also a mama to a toddler (with another baby on the way in two weeks!) With 12+ years of experience working in corporate retail (and most recently as a buyer for Stein Mart,) she brings a wealth of knowledge, passion, and grit to her work, and we're excited to watch her beachside business continue to flourish. Thanks for chatting with us amidst such a busy time, Katie! You are most certainly a babe.
Babe you admire and why?
Christine Andrew. She’s a wife and mama who still has the time to run a successful blog and clothing line.
How do you spend your free time?
I hang with my husband, our 16-month-old son, Cade, and our pup, Kinley. We love going to the beach, biking, boating—anything outside.
Favorite app, website or blog?
Pinterest seems to be my weakness right now.
Must-have item in your purse?
I can’t function without my old-school planner.
Go-to adult beverage?
Wine! Sauvignon blanc—usually Kim Crawford.
Three things we can always find in your fridge?
Milk, pickles and cheese. And that’s not just because I’m currently pregnant.
Bad Moms! It makes me feel normal.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
I would have coffee with my mother. She passed away three years ago and I miss her every day.
Tell us about your hustle:
I opened Fig & Willow, an affordable boutique located in the heart of Neptune Beach, FL, last November. It’s been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and family. My goal: quality fashion at affordable prices for all women - the busy mom, modern fashionista, and hustlin' babe. I manage and run everything within the store. It’s very busy and demanding, but absolutely worth it. I feel very lucky to be able to work for myself and do something I love.
What does your typical workday look like?
My typical day starts at 7 a.m. when we chat and connect as a family over breakfast, and I'm out the door by 8:30. By 10 a.m., I’m in the store, constantly shifting between managing, assisting clients, and attending meetings. At 5:30 p.m. I make dinner for my son before playtime, and then put him to bed by 7 p.m. Then, it’s time for cleaning the house, preparing dinner for myself and my husband, and getting ready for the following day. 9 p.m. is the only chance I get to shower and have me-time. Then, I work on emails, bookkeeping, buying and inventory, orders, and hopefully I’m in bed by 11 p.m. to start the whole process over again.
Have you always had a love for fashion and boutiques/retail? Where do you think that comes from?
I’ve always loved fashion. Aside from my very first job in the restaurant business, every job I've held has been in retail. I think I get my love of fashion from my grandmother who was always dressed to perfection and always in style. I remember playing dress-up in her closet every time I would visit.
What events and people inspired you to take the leap and start Fig & Willow?
The birth of my son inspired me to take the leap, actually. I wanted a career that I could make flexible when I needed to be there for him. My husband is my biggest supporter, and stood by my side to push me through, even when I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. The journey has been amazing; I’ve learned so much along the way, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
Have you always been organized and on top of your work, or is it something you’ve learned with time?
I have always been a type-A person. I have lists for lists, so staying organized and on top of things is my specialty. It definitely helps when running a business.
How has owning a business influenced your relationship with/connection to your local community?
Jacksonville has an amazing small business community that I feel so lucky to be a part of. I have loved meeting the other business owners and being a part of their community. One of my favorites is Gwynne from Gwynne Mims Salon and Gloss Goods. She was my go-to when I first had the vision of opening Fig & Willow, and she really gave me the confidence to go for it.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
Most people think being in the fashion industry and buying clothes is all about runways and fashion shows, when it’s actually a lot of number crunching and data entry!
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
Learning how to manage criticism. As a company grows, it obviously opens more opinions from all viewers - especially on social media. Sometimes people are not nice, which has been a learning curve for me, as I take everything very personally. I’ve learned to keep striving forward. Negative comments are few and far between, and are outweighed by 10-times as many great comments! We just keep doing what we’re doing and stay true to our vision of the company.
How do you decide on what to stock in the boutique?
I’m very picky with my selections for the store. I want everything to be of the best quality with an affordable price. I scour the markets trying to find the best prints and silhouettes for all of our customers, making sure to carry clothes that work for every woman.
What do you look for in interviewees/applicants when building your team?
Personality is key. I want to make sure all of my employees are going the extra mile for our fabulous customers.
What standards do you set for yourself as a business owner/manager?
I set the same standards for myself as I do for my employees. Honesty, reliability, compassion and teamwork are all very important to me.
What makes Fig & Willow stand out among the other boutiques in town?
We have been able to capture an untapped market here by offering great quality pieces at affordable prices, with an inventory that's suitable for every age bracket. We are also just steps from beautiful Neptune Beach!
What kind of support system do you have behind you and your work?
My family, friends and employees are all amazing. None of this would be possible without them.
What would you say is your biggest strength in your current role?
My background has really helped. I’ve been in corporate retail for almost 12 years, and most recently I was a buyer for Steinmart stores. Buying and maintaining inventory and staying on top of fashion trends for 300 stores has definitely helped in running a store of my own.
What’s the skill you most need to improve?
Probably shutting off work at home. Being my own boss is amazing, but it definitely means I work all the time. I need to make sure I turn off work after-hours and focus on my family, and that's something I struggle with.
What are some notable (funny, embarrassing, intense) experiences you’ve had on the job?
I am a complete klutz, which doesn’t make much sense as I was a ballet dancer growing up. We’re supposed to have grace and great balance! I, however, do not, and I find myself tripping and falling all the time. It’s super embarrassing when it happens at the store in front of customers, or at a market in front of my vendors. But I’ve gotten so used to it that I just laugh it off every time. One of these days, I’ll learn how to walk.
What’s next for you?
Within this first year, I’ve already grown more than expected. I’m hoping to be able to grow my team and online store next year, then hopefully expand to more stores. One day at a time.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Life is short; do what makes you happy.