B-School Pieced It All Together

This SMU grad already had the imagination and love of fashion. But it was an accounting class that sparked her to start her own business

At age 23, there is absolutely no denying that I've been very fortunate in my short time in the business world. I am a co-owner of and buyer for a clothing and gift store called Kacky & Carl in Dallas.

At the age of 19 I decided to start my own company. I was sitting in my Accounting 101 class, looking at financial statements and balance sheets, and I started to think that it might be easier than I thought to run a small business. Since I knew I wanted to do something with fashion and utilize my finance degree from Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business, I taught myself to sew, made a few apron samples, got a tax ID (my dad's a corporate attorney and set up an LLC), and started selling aprons out of my college bedroom. It was fun and stress-free from day one.

Cutting the Apron Strings

After two years of sewing (some done personally, some outsourced), I made a profit, learned how to market my product, and was asked to intern for Kate Spade in New York by Kate herself! I spotted Kate and her husband on Christmas Eve at a restaurant in Scottsdale, Ariz., so I introduced myself and told her I had named an apron after her. She was so nice and down-to-earth, and I gave her my contact info.

I was planning to send her an apron just so I could say Kate Spade owned one, but before I sent it I received a phone call from her VP asking me to come and work with them. Then, during my senior year I was led to a job at one of the oldest fashion wholesale showrooms in the country. There, I met my present business partner, Lisa Barnes.

Fast forward a year and Kacky & Carl was set up as a limited partnership with Lisa and me as the two general partners. The store is a unique amalgamation of women's apparel, jewelry, art, home furnishings, and gifts. Kacky & Carl, which opened in September, is located in the Uptown neighborhood of Dallas and targets women and men ages 20 to 60.

8:30 a.m.—I wake up fairly late, make a quick breakfast, and run out the door to go to the gym. I need to work out every day to clear my mind.

11:00 a.m.—The store opens. Lisa typically does this. I clean up for the day and check personal and business e-mail accounts. Lisa and I have usually sent several text messages regarding what we need for the store that I can pick up. Today, the local NBC news affiliate is doing a story on Kacky & Carl so I pick up coffee and scones.

12:00 p.m.—I arrive at the store. Lisa and I go over new shipments we've received, enter them into the computer system, and decide how to price each item. We tag the clothes and display them in the store. Today, we are in full Kacky & Carl clothes and jewelry for our interview. We sell more than 20 brands.

1:00 p.m.—The local NBC affiliate arrives and stays for the next three hours. The reporter asks us questions about the store's name and how we started it, and the camera crew takes footage of Lisa and me around the store.

While NBC is here, a few customers come into the store. Lisa and I answer questions and give them gift and wardrobe ideas. A customer comes in today and has a big social fete later in the week, and we are putting together a unique outfit. This is definitely a highlight of the job. Lisa and I love taking items from our store and putting them on customers and seeing how they react. Positive or negative, we like to know what people think.

4:00 p.m.—The store starts to wind down. Lisa leaves at 5 o'clock, so we look at new lines together and either order for immediate delivery or for Spring '07. This is another fun part of the job! A showroom in New York has sent us pictures of a new line. We are loving what they have.

We immediately get on the phone to try to lock in the clothing line before anyone in the Dallas area gets it. We get the line and have several pieces being delivered in the next few weeks.

5:00 p.m.—The working crowd comes in. I talk to different customers about what we sell and answer questions. My girlfriends come by after work and we sit outside and drink iced tea. It's so nice to have a job for which socializing with your peers is also a means of exposing your business.

7:15 p.m.—I print out the daily sales, match them up with my receipts, and check in any items I received later in the day.

7:30 p.m.—I drive back to my house to meet friends for dinner and a possible movie.

You do not need a business degree to do what I'm doing, however it gives me some advantages. The details of my business major may not be very useful all the time, but the broad understanding of how businesses are run and need to be run is paramount.

The basic accounting courses I took are most helpful four times a year (doing sales taxes and quarterly statements), and marketing classes don't hurt when trying to get your name out there. But the most important part of my business degree from SMU was that it's the reason for me starting my own business. Sitting in a classroom and hearing how to start and run a company made me curious and anxious to get going.

My best advice? Try to take it all in, whether it's psychology, sociology, calculus, or finance. You never know when it will come into play in your life. Also, don't be too shy to go up to the Kate Spades of the world and introduce yourself and ask them questions. I can honestly say that if I did not introduce myself I wouldn't be sitting in my own store writing up a journal for BusinessWeek.com.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.