The Best Proven Start-Up Strategies for a Creative Retail Business

The Best Proven Start-Up Strategies for a Creative Retail Business with Sonja Thompkins

Interview with Creative Start-Up Strategist for Retail or Service based Entrepreneurs, Sonja Merritt- Thompkins of

Sonja Thompkins has spent the last 20 years working, owning & operating 4 businesses in St. Louis, and Jefferson City, Missouri including a Day Spa Salon and 3 Brick and Mortar Boutiques, as a licensed Cosmetologist working as a Self Employed Hairstylist.

Sonja says her favorite part of what she is doing is being able to share her knowledge with others.

I love sharing her content because I believe in her and her ability to motivate creatives. She is helping those with dreams and aspirations of starting their own brick & mortar business.

She started with a low budget. Born into a family of entrepreneurs. It was normal for her to start a business, she knew at age 3 or 4 years old that she was going to be in this position. She laughs that the only games she ever wanted to play growing up were “Store” or “Beauty shop”. She realized that it was just a matter of creating a plan, and go from there.


She stated that her passion was centered on being a service to people, helping people, and being around people. Sonja says that the vehicle that allowed her to do that was fashion and beauty. She gives props to her passion for doing hair while encouraging others and talking to various people. All of this played a part in her dream to having a location for her business and got on her path towards accomplishing this goal.

“It possible to make your dreams happen on a small budget.”

She’s accomplished a lot! She started a brick & mortar business with a mere $3,000. At the time that she opened her boutique, she already had her day spa fully operational and going. She realized that her customers were asking for advice regarding style and outfit choices, after doing their hair. She started with a small corner of accessories and handbags. She admits that the $3000 does not include, renting or leasing a building or actual brick & mortar location. With just a refurbished baker’s rack and her already used physical building, she began her boutique. She stated that close out sales at local retail location sell mannequins and fixtures, which also helped. She credits the spring season as the perfect time to start a retail business. She saw stores closing at a local mall, and found out what to buy and how to buy, which led her to turn a profit from month one. She says it was extremely easy to do.

 “Most often we are scared, because we haven’t really committed to doing this (i.e., opening up a boutique or salon) Fear will mess you up every time.”

Sonja talks to entrepreneurs one on one. The main thing Sonja says that she does is that she helps people get to their goals based on their ideas and their desires. She doesn’t want people to follow in her footsteps, but to do what they have dreamt of doing when it comes to opening their business location-based on their goals. A lot of people get stuck at the starting point. She wants to help them get clear about exactly what they want to do and jumpstart that idea.

The Best Proven Start-Up Strategies for a Creative Retail Business with Sonja Thompkins

Sonja says that many people haven’t developed a niche or have a clear idea. She says that it’s better to start at one thing, master that, and build from there. Sonja suggests that creatives find out who your specific customer is to learn to get to a successful end result. She loves using her experience to help them avoid the trial and error that she went through in her career.

Most Common Retail Entrepreneur Mistakes:

  • People get stuck at the starting point, asking questions about what they need such as formal education to start. Sonja says you don’t need a special education to start a retail business
  • People believe that they need a huge budget or loan to start a retail business. Sonja says that’s not true. There are so many ways to start a retail business without requiring a lot of money.
  • People get stuck at the business plan. Sonja says that’s too overwhelming and that leads to over thinking. She admits to not spending a lot of time on over thinking because she doesn’t want to spend too much time not doing what she loves.

Sonja’s Expert Retail Tips:

  • The Springtime of year, Major department stores are selling store supplies for pennies on a dollar
  • Be strategic and have a plan
  • Be open and aware of when opportunities happen.
  • Call into existence what you want, be specific! Then be ready to make a move.
  • Don’t spend too much time gathering all this information, learning, and perfecting a business plan, that distracts you from even beginning. It’s another example of fear, that you will fail or you will not be perceived as perfect. Take some steps!
  • Being strategic and having a plan is as simple as writing a checklist and give yourself a short-term deadline. Consider something weekly, accomplish at least three out of five things you set out to do that steers you toward accomplishing your goals.
  • If you have people who are showing interest, that’s a good indication that you are on the right path.

Social Media Marketing

Sonja says she is not against an online business in any way, admitting to online shopping personally. However, she attests to her real life experience in running a physical location as being far superior to running her online websites in the past.

Too many people believe that online business and online websites are easier and less expensive than brick and mortar locations, which Sonja states is a common misconception.

She says you have to do the same things online and physically. You need marketing, advertising, branding, and displays regardless of what you decide. For those that don’t have the expertise in coding, SEO, graphic design, etc. will have the added expense of hiring outside help to deliver these necessary items to work towards success. She says you can throw up online stuff, but it doesn’t guarantee customers.

It actually takes more work to run an online shop, because you lack the foot traffic and off the street marketing. The same amount you paid for $250 to $500 for a website designer and/or graphic designer could go towards renting/leasing overhead for your boutique.

The Best Proven Start-Up Strategies for a Creative Retail Business with Sonja Thompkins

Sonja states that emulating others and their success isn’t the right route to take when building your store. She strongly suggests having a budget, however in the process of running a business it easy to blow a budget dreaming and getting caught up in your personal taste matching up to your professional ambitions. Learn how to price items and how to stock items (buy merchandise).

Many people think it’s easy merchandising a boutique, never taking into consideration that there are far more than 4, 000 vendors to market. It can be addictive, almost like shopping for yourself, so you have to be professional and tone it down. Where are you in your business endeavors?

Sonja says many people believe that having a business means that you don’t have to work as hard, which is a straight myth.

“When you go into business for yourself, you will work double what you would have worked if you worked for someone else. Be prepared for mistakes, failures, and be prepared to have a cushion. You may have to work twice as hard for a quarter of the income that you would have earned working for other people. Have a side hustle and a strategy.”

Expert Business Advice for Mothers Who Are Entrepreneurs:

Sonja says she balances motherhood, marriage, and business by not even trying! She says she isn’t balancing a thing. Sonja admits that some weeks her business is on point, and the next week it will be all about family time. This is a topic that she admits to talking about often.

“Do the best you can, as you can. You just do your best and be the best at it.”

Sonja says that she built her business and brand before she had her family. Admitting she has a respect for anyone starting their business with their little ones in tow. She prides herself on starting her dreams early on. She describes the challenges she faced during the period of having her small son while operating her boutique. She says it was hard. Sonja says that she is just now learning to juggle it all. She recommends anyone looking to start their business, to do it now before you cross the threshold of becoming a mom and wife if you can. It was a huge undertaking for her, and she says she almost lost her mind, crediting her supportive husband as being her backbone.

The biggest breakthrough that Sonja’s clients have are a sense of knowing what they want to do. She goes through workbooks and worksheets that provide step by steps guidance on achieving their dreams. She states their work together helps build the confidence needed to be successful for each of her clients. She states that with a clear plan and the tools to get started eliminates the fear factor that she says that keeps them from getting started.

Once completed, Sonja says her clients maintain their newfound skills by participating in her monthly emails and encouraging courses.


3 Reasons Springtime Is the Best Time to Open Your Brick & Mortar Boutique (+ FREE Downloadable Worksheet)

With her straightforward and down to earth attitude, she is prepared to give her client’s the real. She understands the struggles and successes of those she is trying to help. So with compassion, Sonja aims to show her clients the right direction by making them accountable.

“Don’t pick a niche because it will make money. You have to like, love, and have passion for what you want to do in order to be successful.”

Sonja’s words of wisdom for those that are interested in starting their retail boutique:

“Just Start! Wherever you are, with whatever money you have, whatever time you have, you don’t need to wait. Just start! Start thinking about what you can with what you have right now, start busting some moves. Even if you have to start small, you can start with what you have. Also be ready to work, because it is definitely work involved.”

Follow and connect with Sonja Merritt- Thompkins at

Sonja uses her experience and knowledge to teach others how to start, run & scale their own profitable boutiques or other service based businesses through her online business, Sonja also does Public Speaking and One on One Coaching Programs.

The Best Proven Start-Up Strategies for a Creative Retail Business

Listen to the Full Interview Here:

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I'esha Hornes

Author, Lifestyle Blogger, Model, & Vintage/Thrift Stylist. Motivating unique individuals to love their flaws and still rock an awesome life. Through Fashion, Culture, Entertainment, and Personal Experience, I love to inspire others & make people laugh. Mother of two awesome superheroes, wife to Mr. Incredible, & a mentor to those looking to learn to love themselves. I am the Baddest Creative Motivation!

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