Tahnee Elliott is the founder and CEO of T.C. Elli’s, an ecommerce fashion retailer based in Lubbock, Texas. An entrepreneur since age 24, Elliott runs her company with the help of 30 high school and college-aged women, fueled by the vision to prepare and empower women to launch their own brands.
Where did the idea for TC Elli’s come from?
Having lived in Lubbock for four years, I knew there was serious a need for a quality boutique in the small college town. I wanted to take advantage of the gap in the market but as a 24-year-old, recent college grad, funds were pretty tight. To cut down on costs, I split the rent of my first store-front with my mother. An artist, she wanted to open a gallery in the downtown district of Lubbock. By day, I rolled out racks and sold young women’s clothing. By night, we would move all the clothing out and run the art gallery.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I usually spend the first part of the day responding to emails, following up with vendors, and reviewing social media channels. I like to spend some time on the sales floor helping the girls, and then it’s inventory and other back office management. I think the key to my productivity is my ability to delegate. Part of the mission of TC Elli’s is to hire and train young women in retail and small business management, so I really trust them with key business tasks. It not only helps me stay focused and productive but also empowers them to take on responsibility while providing the real-world skills they’ll need once out of college.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I bring ideas to life by jumping in with two feet, and I encourage my employees to do the same. Have an idea? Test it out. We learn the most from doing, so I try not to second guess myself.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m really excited about the smart mirrors coming to stores. I believe it will be a great way to teach our in store customers how cute and efficient our online platform, plus it might free up the dressing rooms.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I touched on this before but I’m a great delegator. Learning to let go of tasks that I know my employees can handle has really helped me stay productive and focus on working on the business rather than in it.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Hire a team as soon as you can afford to take on employees. I think for all business owners when you’re just getting started it’s not an option financially. So, you end up taking the huge task of running a company on yourself. For me, I got used this kind of work. I loved having my hand in every part of the business so even once I could afford to hire, I didn’t. I was working days, evenings, and weekends and was on the brink of burn-out before I hired my first full-time staffer.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Most people probably doubt the power of a cute outfit, but I truly believe that you are more confident when you feel great about your appearance.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Save your money when you are ahead, you might need it later to continue growth or expand.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We’re really heavy on social media. Having a younger customer base and a very visual product, we’ve seen explosive growth over the past three years due to our success on Instagram. Instagram is a great opportunity for us to interact directly with customers and share our favorite cute outfits, new products, and office culture. We’re also very active on Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
TC Elli’s hit hard times during the financial crisis back in 2009. Above all, it had a huge impact on our customer base. Foot traffic in our store experienced a massive decline. With high price points (these were the days of $300 denim), we found ourselves in the worst financial situation we’d seen in 18 years of business.
To stay afloat I took over most of the store shifts to keep payroll expenses to a minimum. My husband and I also invested a substantial sum of our personal savings until we could figure out a more permanent solution.
After much testing, to dig ourselves out of a bad situation we had to completely shift our strategy. We reduced our price points to accommodate the financial hardship our community was living through. The days of high-end luxury had come to an end, and we had to change our strategy to reflect that.
The change proved successful–foot traffic increased, and as the country worked its way out of the recession we were doing even better than before the crisis.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Develop great software for small retailers. I’m in desperate need of an efficient solution to get clothing on the floor and online quickly. This should start at the buying process.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
It was more than $100 but I recently went to the beach with my family for Thanksgiving. I think we all really needed the break as we hadn’t been on a vacation together for some time. Quality family time in an exotic location far away from work was the best money I’ve spent in a long time.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I love anything that helps me organize my time or simplify tasks. I use Trello to organize my day/week into small, manageable tasks. I also use Toggl to keep an eye on how long I’m spending on each task and ensure I’m not spending too long on any given one. Slack has been a great communication tool for us as well.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I love reading, so it’s pretty difficult for me to pick just one book. My top picks would be 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss, The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, and E Myth Mastery by Michael Gerber just to name a few.
What is your favorite quote?
You were born with potential.
You were born with goodness and trust.
You were born with ideals and dream.
You were born with greatness.
You were born with wings.
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t.
You have wings.
Learn to use them and fly.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.