Buying a Mobile Boutique: Lodekka Changes Owners in Portland

I've seen pictures of the double decker mobile boutique Lodekka on Pinterest and recently heard, via Instagram, that they'd be changing ownership. Original owner Erin Sutherland announced that she was handing the keys to Lodekka shopper and Portland resident Nicole Wood. Rather than going through the process of opening a mobile boutique from scratch, it seems like taking over someone else's  might be a bit easier, so I was curious how that process worked.

Can you describe a little bit what you were doing before you took over Lodekka from Erin? 

Before I bought Lodekka, I was (and still am) working as a full time graphic designer for a company in Portland.

Is this your first business venture?

Yes, it is!

What made you decide to throw your hat in the ring when you heard she was selling the business?

I had been a customer of Lodekka's since the beginning, and it was one of my very favorite shops in town. I grew up in Portland and have seen it change a lot over the years. Sadly, a lot of the amazing little places that make it so unique have begun to disappear as gentrification has really kicked into high gear, and when I heard about Lodekka closing, I jumped right on my email and sent Erin a message asking to meet up and chat about the possibility of selling the business. I was pretty nervous and I really didn’t know how I’d be able to convince my husband... but it all worked out so smoothly and seamlessly!

I grew up having been on many thrifting adventures. My parents instilled that love in me from a young age, they are avid thrifters. I have many fond memories of thrifting together. It has been and still is so exciting! I really gained a unique appreciation for vintage when my husband was in firefighter academy and was busy with classes. We lived just a couple blocks from a vintage shop, so I would go down there while he was in class, find vintage pieces, and then either bring them home to research and learn about or I would take them apart and I would teach myself how to sew and mend vintage fabrics.

How big of a leap was buying a business for you?

It is a lot of hard work starting up a business and it was a big leap for me to acquire the business since I had almost no retail experience and no business experience. There was also getting finances together, putting together a business plan, and gathering stock. It was all very exciting but there were a lot of unknowns and things I had to learn along the way. However, Erin poured countless hours, sweat, tears, and funds into getting Lodekka up, running, and doing so well. She really set me up for success from the get go. I can’t thank her enough for supporting me through the whole acquisition process.

What was the process like once you told her you were interested?

It actually went pretty quick once I visited her at the shop and told her my ideas for keeping the shop open. She had a few other offers, but loved the idea of keeping the shop open. Her and I clicked, too. She’s really the best. I was in the midst of many holiday plans and ramping up for a trip out of the country while she and I were discussing all of the details. We met a couple of times to chat about details and what the acquisition would look like. I had to secure funds, open bank accounts, and secure an LLC. Those were the very first steps. I had a million questions and a lot of research to do in order to get my self ready to buy and reopen a business in a couple of month’s time.

Did you go through legal channels to finalize the sale?

Yes. Erin’s husband is a lawyer and he works specifically with business acquisitions, so he really saved us from a lot of hassle. I would highly recommend going through the correct legal channels when starting up or acquiring a business. I didn’t realize at all how necessary it was until I met Erin’s husband and went through the process with them.

How did the financial aspect of the sale work? Did you pay her up front, buy her out, agree to pay her a royalty/monthly fee?

I paid her up font. She signed over all of the business to me including stock, branding, website, etc. It was a whole package type of deal. I thought it worked very smoothly!

What was the advantage to you of buying an existing business versus launching your own?

Much less time and work up front. I had always been interested in owning my own business, specifically a vintage shop, but the idea of starting from the ground up deterred me. Having a foundation set already was a huge plus for me!

What has been the hardest, or scariest, part for you so far?

The hardest part has been juggling my schedule between my day job and the shop. The beginning stages of running a business takes a lot of extra hours, funds, and energy.

The scariest part? The idea of failure after all of the time, money, and energy both my husband and I have put towards Lodekka. We have really poured ourselves into the shop and I have grown to absolutely love being there.

What's been the best part?

Seeing the support of my husband, friends, and family. Being surrounded by and learning lots about beautiful vintage treasures. Also, the people I’ve met. I’ve had a few rough days coming to the shop after my day job and those seem to be the nights that some of the most interesting and fun people come in. I have really enjoyed the stories of and connections people have with double decker busses as well as the smiles and joy that the bus gives young kids.

Anything surprising?

A lot of friends have come out of the woodwork offering their expertise as well as products that they make for sale at my shop. I love that! I didn’t even realize how many talents there were in my friend group.

What did Erin do that you will not continue?

Erin went shopping for stock on a weekly basis. I have chosen to buy bigger lots of clothing at a time so that I can go several weeks without shopping again. This saves time for me and allows me to be at the bus on the weekends.

What are you adding?

I’m expanding the men’s section. I have also starting collecting up and adding housewares to the shop. I need to rebrand just a tad and instead of calling it a “double decker dress shop,” I’d like to have a tagline that is a bit more general.

Do you think you will stay located in Tidbit?

I do. I absolutely love that spot. It is a really well done food cart pod. I like that I get to hang out there so often. Plus, I have built-in foot traffic, so I get a lot of people stopping in that might not have stopped by if they weren’t grabbing cart food. For now this is a perfect location for Lodekka.

Any plans of going mobile versus staying stationary?

The idea of going mobile sounds SO fun to me. I have discussed it with my husband a bit. We both have jobs that we love here in Portland though, so I really don’t think we would go anywhere far. I’d probably just go to events and such. But the bus would need a lot of work before that could happen.

What are the advantages of setting up in a cart pod versus taking your business on the road?

It’s wonderful having the built-in foot traffic from the pod. Being in a pod is a draw in and of itself. I don’t have to advertise too much on my own because so many people come to the pod anyway. I also love that I am always close to home at all times and get to stay in Portland and not have to think about where my next stop will be.

Do you have plans of expanding?

For now I’m very happy with the location and size of the shop. I think the only expanding I plan on doing in the near future is opening an Etsy shop for some higher-end vintage pieces.

Who are some of your business mentors?

Erin has been the biggest help. She spent a lot of time putting together manuals for everything. I have several other friends who run Etsy shops and a few who have brick-and-mortar shops in town. I can always go to them with questions or for advice. The small business community in Porltand is very supportive.

What do you think your business strengths are and where could you use help?

I’m a graphic designer with some marketing experience. This has been so helpful. I’m also organized, good with money. However, I’ve never set up books or done bookkeeping for a business, so I’m hiring someone to help with the books.

What business questions do you wish you had the answer to right now?

How to run a successful Etsy shop. That is a big question mark to me right now. I have yet to set up the Lodekka Etsy shop and keep putting it off because it feels like a big time investment and more complicated than it looks. You can definitely tell when you come across a great Etsy shop and when you come across one that needs improvement, so I really need to just chat with my friends who sell on Etsy and get some tips. Then, I just gotta start somewhere!

What do you hope to do with the business in 5 years?

I really want to have a thriving men’s section. Also, I want to support friends of mine who have their own shops and open a section for local handmade type items. I already have a few friends who are making things for the shop now! It’s been fun to support them and to find new handmade items that feel like they go in a vintage shop.

photo by Ryan Flood