Their store was off to the proverbial flying start, and then they got a phone call that changed everything all at once.
Kim Wenko and Deanette Piesik opened the Mode clothing store last year in November in the Renaissance on Main building. It was the first boutique to open in the Renaissance, and it sold designer fashions at closeout prices for women of all ages.
It was the 11th store in the Mama Mia franchise to open nationwide, and seemed to be among the few brick-and-mortar retail outlets that were on the rise. But in August, less than a year after opening, the two received a phone call from their parent corporation, informing them that Mama Mia was closing its Mode stores.
Wenko and Piesik were guests at the October Million Cups meeting Wednesday, where they told the story of what they did next to reopen their store with a fresh new name and look. The two had a soft opening Wednesday, and as of today are open for business again with a new name in the same location.
Wenko happened to be on vacation at the time of the call, so Piesik had to take the initial news alone. She learned they had two options — to continue with the Mode name and pay a yearly fee, or just be free of their 10-year agreement.
To each of them the decision seemed absolutely clear. And, to their consternation, completely different.
Wenko knew immediately she wanted to leave the brand. The idea of the store truly becoming their own, with their own vision, was “super exciting.” They would be the captains of their own ship.
But Piesik’s gut reaction was equal and opposite to stay.
“I didn’t want to go through a rebranding process,” Piesik recalled. “We’d have to buy new bags, change all the stickers.”
Replacing everything would be a big expense. It would be time-consuming. And all the money, time and advertising they’d already done for branding with Mode would be wasted.
They had one week to make a big decision. It would have lasting implications for their business. And maybe even their friendship.
“It wasn’t easy,” Wenko said. “And I want to say that was probably the first time Deanette and I really challenged each other as business partners. But we got to be better business partners because of it.”
They talked the option over with each other, and with friends, family and other business owners. Ultimately, Piesik agreed that a name change could be good for their business long-term.
The Mode name hadn’t yet been integrated into the Williston community, so they weren’t really losing any ground there. What they had spent on branding was a “sunken cost.” It couldn’t be recovered, and that is often a psychological barrier in making business decisions, but isn’t always the best deciding factor.
Once past that, Piesik agreed with Wenko that a name change would let them strike out in new and better directions, and that if they were going to change names, now would be the best time.
This decision meant closing their shop for a month — a not insignificant expense in terms of lost opportunity for sales. But there was too much to do to keep it open if they were leaving. Mode would require certain tasks completed in a certain time frame to close out their agreement without penalty.
“It was a whirlwind,” Piesik said. “To know Aug. 10 we were leaving the franchise and that by Aug. 31 we could no longer use Mode. … That isn’t much time to liquidate merchandise and do all the stuff they were asking us to do in our termination agreement.”
“Having the gumption to make this decision in two weeks and figure it out as we go, that was an amazing task,” Wenko agreed.
The two met with the bank, their landlord, their accountant and an attorney to talk through all the challenges they faced. They needed to know their rights as far as using the merchandise they already had. They wanted help getting creative with the inevitable financial crunch. Their store had been doing well in the Williston market, exceeding sales goals the first month by 12 percent, but it hadn’t been in business long enough to readily absorb the costs of a sudden closure. And, perhaps just as importantly, they needed support and encouragement to stay positive and keep going.
They got it, on all counts.
“Everyone has been very good to us,” Piesik said. “They want us to succeed. And it is nice to know that you have a business community working to help you.”
Into that whirlwind of activity came yet another difficulty for the two. Settling on a new name.
“It was unreal the amount of time we spent on that,” PIesik said. “We could not come to an agreement.”
They reached a point where Wenko approved every name Piesik suggested, just to get past the obstacle.
But that didn’t feel comfortable to her partner. Piesik feared they would regret it if they didn’t choose something they both genuinely loved.
“It needed to be something that means something to us.,” she said. “I didn’t want us to be changing it again in five years.”
In the end, it all came together a little like a good outfit does.
First, they latched onto the word “style” as the primary element to build the new name.
“I like the word style over fashion,” Piesik said. “Fashion is what is out there that you can pick from. But you take it and make it yours.”
Then came the next style element. Uncorked.
Piesik can’t remember exactly how that word came about, but its presence energized them both. They were both a little “uncorked.”
“I think Kim and I are a little quirky, so to me, it explained who we are,” Piesik said. “That was important.”
They soon realized that “uncorked” invited pairing their fashion store with wine. Both of them got excited about that, and it sealed the deal.
“We have cork purses and jewelry, so there are just some cool things we can play with on that,” Piesik said. “It fits us. We will have the staples, but we will also be able to carry some unique things for women.”
Most importantly, however, all of their outfits will be affordable, as well as fun, Wenko added.
“A lot of the younger customers out there want a big clothes closet,” she said. “And for that, they want affordable clothes. That’s what you need when you are just starting out in high school, college or with a new career.”
Piesik hopes the store will also bring to the community a certain sisterhood attitude. She explained that with an incident that happened several weeks ago in Las Vegas.
“This was before the shooting,” she said, “but I was waiting at a bus stop with this lady and four of her friends and their husbands. I noticed that one of the lady’s clothes were tucked into her pants, and it didn’t look good.”
Piesik went up to her and said quietly, “I just want you to know that is the cutest poncho I’ve seen, but it’s tucked into your pants, and I can see your underwear.”
Then Piesik took it a step further.
“Tell your girlfriends this,” she said. “We look at each other from now on, and we tell each other when it looks bad!”
That is what she hopes their newly named store, Style Uncorked, will offer the community.
“We are not style professionals, but we are going to be your friend and tell you what looks good and what doesn’t,” she said. “Every shape is different, and people have their own style.”