Jennifer Ankrum is the owner of the chic accessory boutique On a Whim, located in the First & Main shopping center in Blacksburg, Va. Jennifer is originally from West Virginia and graduated from West Virginia University with a major in political science and minors in accounting and commerce. She journeyed to Blacksburg after she got married, and opened On a Whim in November 2008. Jennifer sat down with FMDS Daily to discuss the beginning of On a Whim and what it takes to run your own business.
Q: You majored in political science at WVU. How did you go from that to owning a boutique in Blacksburg?
A: Actually my major for three years was accounting. So I changed at the last year and switched to political science because I wanted to go to law school. And then after I did a summer internship in law, I just did not want to do that. So I graduated with political science and minors, and then I worked in sales- advertising sales. So I kind of went into marketing, kind of went back into the business thing…got married, moved to Blacksburg. You know, actually it was the center, First & Main coming to town. I probably would never open a store anywhere else in Blacksburg. So the opportunity kind of presented itself. I’m a shopper, I like to shop when I travel, so looking around Blacksburg, I felt like it needed a cool little accessory boutique that had a little bit of everything in it. And with [First & Main] opening, it was a good fit.
Q: How long did it take you from having the idea to actually starting your own business after you found out about the First & Main shopping center?
A: It was about two years in planning. Between lease negotiations, design, layout, a business plan, and loans. And then, of course, I hand-picked all of the merchandise. It’s not franchised, so it was completely by concept.
Q: How did you come up with the name On a Whim?
A: The name actually changed. The original name that I had kind of come up with was “Whimsy Chic.” I wanted something whimsy. And when I emailed the development company showing my interest, I listed the name “Whimsy Chic” as an accessory boutique. They called me back and left a message that said they wanted to talk to me about my boutique “Whimsy Chick.”
[Laughs] And right then I knew, “Okay, that’s just not going to work.” So I went back to the drawing board and On a Whim is what I came up with.
Q: Are you considering expanding On a Whim to more than one location?
A: Yes, I have considered franchising the store, but I’m not there yet.
Q: What is the biggest obstacle you have come across in starting On a Whim?
A: I think it is branding and awareness of what we have. We have people come in on a daily basis who have never been in. I think it’s just getting the word out about how many different product categories we have, you know, that we have things for personal use, we have gifts in every category, and we have custom-order merchandise. I think people are always surprised at the depth of products they can get at the store. I think that’s one of the biggest obstacles.
Q: So have you ever had a moment of doubt in starting On a Whim?
A: You know what, I think it’s been so fast-paced that those moments are few and far between, but I think with everybody who starts a business, at some point you have a bad month or make a bad product decision or purchase and think “Oh gosh, what have I done?” But it turns around so quickly and it’s so up-and-down that probably for the first year, you’re just learning, and in those moments of learning, you start to see a pattern and you start to plan. And in that first year you kind of have an idea of what your patterns are, who your customers are, when those customers are shopping and that demographics always change, so you kind of have to just be ready for it. But otherwise, I’ve been very pleased.
Q: Is there anything you would’ve done differently?
A: No. I don’t think so.
Q: Is there one piece of advice that you could give to a young person looking to start their own business?
A: One, stay true to your core values and don’t change who you are. But also, you have to keep in mind that you’re there to provide service and your customers are important. If it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t be in business, so the day you start treating your customers like you’re not there to serve them is the day you start being in trouble with your business. You’re not doing your customers a favor by being there, they’re doing you a favor by coming to your store. And I think you always have to keep that in mind, no matter how big you get and no matter how busy you get. You always have to take the time to remember to thank your customers. They’re the whole reason your doors are still open. And I think the day you forget that and you think that your customers should thank you for being there is when you’re in trouble. I guess to just not get too big for your britches!