Kijafa Vick, 30, and Blair Sandlain, 28, launched “PNK Elephant” in 2010 with a mission to provide affordable accessories and clothes to women. They initially started out with a web store but in 2011 transitioned PNK Elephant into a trendy clothing boutique in Philadelphia.
Sandlain and Vick (who is the wife of NFL Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Michael Vick) purchase clothing and accessories from wholesalers and select fashion designers. With prices ranging from $20 to $200 for clothes and $5 to $50 for accessories, PNK Elephant generated over $775,000 in total retail sales during the first two years of the store’s operation. The company grossed $240,000 in online sales revenue.
This is the second time around owning a boutique for Sandlain. She ran a retail store in Detroit but had to close shop when things didn’t work out financially. But a friend encouraged her to continue with the business. Sandlain was introduced to the owner of “Websetup.com” and decided to set up shop online, reading various books such as, Million Dollar Websites, as a resource for running a web store.
It was about three years after Sandlain’s Detroit boutique closed when she met Vick through a fashion designer and mutual friend. When the two signed on as business partners, they agreed to open a store in Vick’s hometown of Philadelphia.
After going down several paths, the ladies found success online and offline, creating a huge fan base, referring to their customers as “PNK party girls.” They also created the “Hustle Hard” campaign, which includes their line of “Hustle Hard” t-shirts featuring different city names on them. They donate proceeds from sales to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Philadelphia chapter. The business partners used the word “hustle” to represent women in a strong sense, whether it’s working two jobs, maintaining school, or holding a household together. Other philanthropic ventures include their PNKdress Foundation, which is dedicated to helping teen girls who can’t afford to attend their prom. This past spring the foundation gave away 15 prom dresses.
BlackEnterprise.com interviewed the duo about their entrepreneurial journey.
Does PNK Elephant have any outside investors or is it totally self-financed?
Sandlain: Before we opened, we spoke with a lot of potential investors. Some that were interested and many that didn’t believe in our business plan. It was difficult in the beginning because we wanted to offer our customers so much more, but we had such a small budget because we were using in-house funding.
Why did you open another brick and mortar store after what happened in Detroit?
Sandlain: At the time, financially, I could manage an online store. Call me old fashion but I still love the in store experience. I like to visit stores and try on things there.
What made you settle on your current store location in Philadelphia?
Vick: I am from Philadelphia. The city is supportive of me and the brand. There was a big demand for PNK Elephant to open a brick and mortar store here. The city kept its promise and supports us 100%. We have a large customer base in Philadelphia but I also wanted to add jobs to the market. I knew South Street would be the perfect place for the store, because it is a popular area where young people hang out, to go to bars and restaurants.
What have been your biggest challenges running the business?
Sandlain: It was a struggle finding employees for the boutique with real work ethic. Now we have four full-time employees who work in the boutique and three freelance employees who mainly work on the website. Another challenge was compromising and splitting the responsibilities. I’d like to think of myself as super woman. It’s really hard for me to delegate duties to my staff because I like things done a certain way, even down to the way our money faces for nightly deposits.
Was it the same set of challenges for you?
Vick: I’m learning to communicate better and trust the people who are helping the business grow. My challenges were different because of my personal life as a wife and mother (trying to find balance between work and life). I have two daughters. My children are still young and need me. Some days I would stay at PNK Elephant all day, and my family would need me home to make dinner.
How have you grown PNK Elephant’s customer base through social media?
Sandlain: Social media is the new age and way of advertising; but even with social media you still have to be honest and true. People can smell a fake from a mile away. We post at least five to seven times a day whether it’s clothes or pictures of our personal lives.
What are your plans to grow and expand the business?
Vick: We started off with Blair selling things from her car. She stuck with her vision and now we have a beautiful 2,500 sq. ft. store in Philadelphia and a booming, e-commerce business. We are moving into a new warehouse for online because we out grew our old location, and we are also opening a new retail store by the end of 2014.