business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Retail entrepreneur Jessi Roberts knows only too well how storm waters can threaten the survival of a small business. So even as Hurricane Harvey was thrashing Texas last week, the Idaho-based founder of Cheekys Brand was marshaling a plan to help her “sister” boutique owners survive and rebuild after the killer storm.

Roberts reached out to her vendors, her wholesale clients in Texas and her customers as well as The Boutique Hub, a multi-faceted digital media community serving both consumers and boutique owners, to work together. The down-home force behind her “country girl” apparel and accessory business also ordered 10,000 blank tee-shirts to start printing hurricane relief tees to raise funds.

As of Monday, the joint effort has raised some $250,000 in cash, goods and services, including donations of jewelry and apparel so many of the impacted boutiques could reopen for business immediately.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that almost 40 percent of small businesses impacted by a hurricane or disaster will never re-open because the costs are too overwhelming.

Roberts said she felt it was important that small retailers get support – ranging from product to a box of business supplies – quickly so they could get back on track as soon as possible. “Most entrepreneurs want to be empowered. Giving them tools, and an opportunity to rebuild rather than a handout, is the best that I can offer.”

Roberts and her husband Justin started Cheekys in 2011 in New Plymouth, Idaho, population 1,400, as a tanning salon with some hats and jewelry in the front. The retail sold out instantly, and the tanning beds were soon sold to purchase more inventory.

Today the successful rural chic brand and its sassy signature tee-shirts are available in their flagship store, some 1,500 small retailers (including a handful of feed stores) across the country and a booming online business. Sales are expected to reach $10 million this year, with a typical tee-shirt selling online for $24.

Cheekys faced dangerous waters two years ago, when a storm caused flooding in their facilities and Roberts was stunned to learn the damage would not be covered by insurance. She credits the support and patience of their “community” of online customers, vendors and wholesalers for helping them recover from the hit and continue to grow.

In addition to business partners, enthusiastic backing for the Hurricane Harvey relief effort has come from Cheekys’ customers - who refer to themselves as “Cheekys Chicks” – and are very engaged with the moderately-priced brand, particularly through Facebook.

Once Harvey finished its path of destruction through Texas, all eyes turned toward Hurricane Irma in the Atlantic Ocean. So did the attentions of Roberts and Ashley Alderson, founder of The Boutique Hub, which works with about 8,000 boutiques, brands and vendors.

With the Harvey relief effort continuing, Roberts and Alderson are commencing a similar effort to help small retailers in Florida impacted by Irma, and eventually starting a non-profit foundation for similar crises. Said Alderson: “The second we got into this, we realized it’s not just Harvey. We realized there’s a need for us to do this in the long run. We want to get businesses up and running and rebuild the community for the long haul.”

For more information or to make a donation to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, click here or here.

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