Whether you’re an influencer looking to build a brand or a shop owner seeking social capital, there are ways to expand your business authentically and organically.
For Kensee Auld of Southwestern Gringa, being an authentic Instagram influencer comes down to sharing her unique mix of vintage and modern Western style with the world — particularly her 20,000-plus followers — and designing all her outfits and photo shoots herself. Now Auld is moving toward also being a business owner: After success selling her handpicked vintage pieces on Instagram, she knew she could turn it into “something more,” and created a website, online store, and separate Instagram page for Southwestern Gringa.
Auld has recently ventured into manufacturing her own designs, which she can do authentically, she says, because her style has always blended new with old. By collaborating with a close friend who creates sketches for the clothing, the final product is something Auld loves — true to her brand and what customers already go to her for. And while she embraces the importance of communicating and creating relationships with her fans, her ultimate expansion goal is driven more by a conviction that Western fashion can and should be enjoyed by the masses.
“I want to make everybody feel like they can dress like a cowgirl,” Auld explains. “I want everybody to be involved in it because I know how happy it makes me.”
The move from influencer to boutique owner can also happen in reverse. When Jessi Roberts opened a small boutique in Idaho, her goal was to sell other people’s stuff in order to feed her kids. But it turns out Roberts had found her calling: Less than a decade later she has grown Cheekys into a robust Western retail company and brand with original products online and in about 3,500 boutiques across the United States and Australia. When you ask her for the key to expanding successfully and authentically, Roberts explains that she took the route of being totally engaged and herself with customers and encouraging customers to be just as open. “I’m not allowed to grow if I’m not authentic,” she says. “I really believe that authenticity is the one thing that you can’t buy.”
With Cheekys designing and manufacturing its own graphic T-shirts, jewelry, and accessories, it has depended on a strong and dedicated customer base. Roberts and her husband decided early on that they would build this by being super involved, so they frequently share honest and personal social media posts, live videos, and stories, which can reach up to 3 million people a week on Facebook and Instagram combined. “There’s nobody behind the curtain — these people get us,” she says. This approach enables Cheekys fans to know Roberts and trust her decisions, whether it’s adding a new product or moving into “town” so her kids can attend a good school.
Because Roberts believes that truly understanding your customer is just as important for authentic expansion, she peruses fans’ shopping carts and social pages almost daily — getting to know them and looking at what brands they wear, what they do in their free time, what TV shows they watch, if they are rodeo girls or farmers. “It allows me to have a pulse on what is going on,” she says. When Cheekys launches a new product, it is typically done intentionally and one at a time with a goal to either fit a specific personality while not offending others or to work for everyone.
Like Roberts, Aya Reimer has built and expanded a business by embracing her clientele. Reimer’s idea for Western Velour Beauty Co. sprouted when she realized that many potential customers lived in rural Texas, as she also does, but most makeup and hair professionals were based in the city.
“I noticed there was a gap that needed to be filled,” she says. “I wanted to help the girls who didn’t know how to do their hair and makeup feel beautiful.”
So Reimer and a friend created a company that travels to do hair and makeup for weddings, women attending the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, brand photo shoots, and more.
Because she wanted to be able to scale operations, Reimer didn’t name the company after herself as many stylists do, which she believes has allowed Western Velour to serve more people. She hires additional stylists as demand requires, looking for employees who can interact genuinely with clients. Her team’s goal is to provide a space where women can feel comfortable, and Reimer says she’s learned to go the extra mile on a case by case basis and develop friendships. “You don’t always have to be in business mode because it is a relationship,” Reimer explains. “A lot of these girls come back year after year.”
Tips for Avoiding Overextension
Start Within Reach
Auld has grown Southwestern Gringa in a measured fashion, starting with peddling vintage pieces on her Instagram because it was attainable — she could spend just $150 and make more than a thousand. “It was an entry door to what I really wanted to do, which was design my own stuff, produce my own garments.”
Never Risk More Than You Can Afford to Lose
This became one of Roberts’ mottos several years ago when she received a cargo container of mis-sized shirts and had to pay for them despite the manufacturer’s error. Still, Roberts was able to stay afloat. “If I hadn’t been prepared, if I hadn’t been able to make payroll even with [their] mistake, that would have been my mistake.” Don’t aim to be Wrangler overnight, she says, so that you are able to handle big storms.
Stay True to Your Vision
Reimer has gotten lots of business and expansion advice — some good, some bad. When somebody suggested she open brick-and-mortar salons, she ignored the tip because it didn’t line up with her original plan. “It is my business and I don’t want to veer off track,” Reimer says. “I want to stay within my goals and the vision that I see for myself. We truly want to stay mobile, we want to come to you.”
Photography: Courtesy Abby Orsini/Southwestern Gringa, Western Velour Beauty Co.