SBDC insight, advice help young entrepreneur stake her claim

Megan West, owner Claim Clothing

Megan West, owner Claim Clothing

ELLENSBURG, Wash.–When Megan West needed funding to open a clothing store in Ellensburg, she knew it was a bad sign when loan officers asked about her age, but not her bona fides.

If they had asked, they would have learned that while working at Central Washington University’s Wildcat Shop, she created a women’s boutique that earned $100,000 in the first year, starting with one rack of clothing and a table of jewelry. By the time she graduated with a degree in Apparel, Textiles and Merchandising in June 2013, the boutique area had grown to 300 square feet and was a profit center for the store.

“I had become really good at knowing what customers need, when they need it and at what price,” she said.

West said she loved running the boutique and being involved in every aspect of the operation from choosing the clothes to placing the orders to designing the displays and talking with customers.
“Everything was trial and error,” she said, and laughed. “Everything.”

When she started looking for her first job after graduation, she realized there was a market for what she wanted to provide: a small women’s clothing store catering to diverse styles and tastes with a constantly changing inventory where nothing cost more than $48.

At the Wildcat Shop, she said, she had immersed herself in the business side of the operation and could quote sales figures from memory.
“It’s all about margins,” she said, and she was certain she could find inventory women would want to wear at a price they could afford.

She spent months creating her business plan, including visiting other stores in the area, looking at consumer trends and working on financial projections. But when she went looking for funding, no one would talk to her. “I’ve always had a go-getter attitude,” she said, but suddenly she was stuck.

Then she found her way to Evergreen Business Capital where senior loan officer Tom DiDomenico provided early stage support and recommended she talk with Linda Johnson, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

When West and her husband Jared first met with Johnson, West’s age never came up. “She asked what we wanted to do and then said, ‘Okay, let’s figure out how to get this done,’” West said.

With more than 20 years as a small business owner and a small business advisor, Johnson provided incredible expertise, West said. The fact that Johnson had once owned a retail clothing store was an unexpected and welcome surprise.

Together West and Johnson pored over the financial data West had already compiled and then worked through her small business credit scorecard. “It was daunting looking at those 20 tabs on the Excel spreadsheet,” West said, but with Johnson’s help she got it done.

When she and her husband finally presented their application for a USDA Rural Loan to cover costs such as tenant improvements, furniture, fixtures, working capital and building permits, she said, the loan officers were impressed.

“They didn’t take us seriously until they saw our projections,” she said, “but then it was like, ‘Wow, this girl really knows what she’s doing.’”

The loan was approved March 30 and West immediately set to work supervising the transformation of a fairly non-descript office space into an inviting retail space with brick walls, wood floors and high ceilings. The vibe is a bit like Emma Stone’s closet, if Emma Stone lived in a 100-year-old farm house in central Washington and shopped on a budget.

“We want to welcome everyone to downtown and be part of the entire community by catering to both local residents and college students,” she said.