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Inspiring Conversations with Robyn Coden of Sum Girls Boutique

Today we’d like to introduce you to Robyn Coden. 

Hi Robyn, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstories with our readers?
Sum Girls Boutique is actually inspired by a blog I started writing in 2011 called “Dim Sum and Doughnuts.” (I have one daughter adopted from China and one biological daughter, that’s where the name comes from.) “Dim Sum and Doughnuts” is a real-talk blog about growing up, making mistakes, and lessons learned. It’s for my girls to have when they get older. You see, my mom was just 13 years old when her mother died, and she doesn’t remember much outside of her being sick. I’m not planning on anything happening to me, but life is weird and just in case something crazy happens, I want to make sure my girls know me. 

As the blog grew to become more widely read, we started considering ways to grow the Dim Sum and Doughnuts brand. After several years and several ideas, Sum Girls Boutique was born. 

We opened Sum Girls in October of 2017 in Downtown Berkley. We loved the neighborhood feel and vibe of a downtown area, and after many months of grueling renovation, we had the most perfect, inviting, and whimsical space to bring the “Dim Sum and Doughnuts” blog to life. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
If there are entrepreneurs out there who have had a smooth road, I don’t want to meet them because I think I will not like them! (Just kidding. Sort of). 

A huge part of being an entrepreneur is the grind, the obstacles, the risk. It’s all part of the job. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you’re going to be entertaining all of those things on a daily basis, just in varying degrees. 

For me, struggles have always come from an unplanned and unexpected place. It’s being faced with an issue and not being prepared for it. That gets me every time. 

Opening Sum Girls in a suburban, downtown area, I thought we’d have lots of people at our door as soon as we opened. But no, that’s not how it was. Not even close! I had consignors and boutiques that wanted to work with me from the word “GO,” so inventory was not an issue; attracting shoppers though – that turned out to be much more difficult than I had anticipated. 

I didn’t get it. I had a solid business idea, a beautiful space, an excited crew, and great inventory. Opening all of this goodness in a quaint, downtown area…I thought I was pretty much good to go. Business doesn’t work like that though. Whatever it is you’re selling, it has to be the right customer and the right fit – and when you’re selling items at very affordable prices, you need A LOT of customers – and we weren’t getting nearly enough. 

Very early on, my husband (who does our books) let me know we were way under the numbers projected in our business plan. I remember feeling so very exhausted and defeated. I had another job I needed to attend to, two daughters who needed me, and a new business to learn and run. Was I also expected to spend endless hours taking and branding photos, marketing, advertising, creating, and engaging on top of it?? 

Turns out, I was. 

Of course, I could have paid a company or a social media expert to do our marketing for us, but we were a start-up business. We had already put a bunch of money into renovating the space; I certainly didn’t want to spend anymore! So, it was up to me to find “our” people and get them in the shoppe. 

As of today, it has been almost four years of me grinding away on social media for several hours a day to get people to our door. Being at the helm of our advertising, however, has also allowed me to meet all kinds of cool people and respected business owners, and I have been able to curate our customer base to fit our vibe and our brand. 

I can now boast a very comfortable amount of truly special, loyal, and supportive shoppers, but it was a struggle. I love this question because it’s fitting for Sum Girls Boutique, and also a topic I will absolutely expound on one day in our “Dim Sum and Doughnuts” blog. 

There are always going to be struggles, always. But if they are turned just the right way, they can lead to places of hope and positivity. We just have to keep reminding ourselves of that during the struggle. 

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Sum Girls Boutique?
Sum Girls Boutique is a sustainable fashion + new apparel and accessories boutique for Ladies, Teens, and Pre-Teens. Inspired by the blog “Dim Sum and Doughnuts,” written by me (Robyn Coden) since 2011 for my daughters to have when they get older, Sum Girls Boutique is our way of bringing the blog to life. It’s a warm, whimsical, and inclusive place filled with current, timeless, and unique brand name pieces. It is also a place of empowerment, sisterhood, good values, smiles, and memories. Sum Girls Boutique is located in the heart of downtown Berkley, MI. 

If you had to, what characteristic of yours would you give the most credit to?
Can I pick more than one? 

If so, I’m going with the ability to adapt and persevere. When things go sideways or upside down, you can either rise to the occasion or perish. I also wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am now without cultivated relationships, an admirable team of all-stars, and the perdurable love I have for sustainable fashion and empowering others. 

I asked one of my favorite girlfriends for help with this one and I just got her response: “…there are so many things…like your connection to people and the community where you built your business. Your hustle. You are thinking one step or more ahead all the time. Knowing what people want and need, not just from a consumer standpoint but from an emotional and connection standpoint.” 

I love that she said that about me, so I’m going with that too! 

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Image Credits

TJ Samuels

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2 Comments

  1. Barbara

    November 4, 2021 at 12:45 pm

    Love this place and Robyn even more. What a light and a rockstar for her family and community! Shine on.

    • Robyn

      November 15, 2021 at 2:22 pm

      Thank you! This comment is everything and I appreciate you taking the time so much. You made me smile so big right now. We are grateful for you!

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