When Marissa C. Simms was graduating from Jackson State University, she looked around and saw many of her fellow graduates were having trouble finding jobs. She decided to solve that problem herself by creating her own job going into partnership with her mother, Camille Stutts Simms, to open the first boutique on the Jackson State University campus, Royal Bleau, in 2011.
The business has done well, in fact earning Marissa the 2014 Small Business Administration Young Entrepreneur Award Winner for Mississippi.
And now the mother-daughter dynamo have two more major efforts underway. One is a a rolling boutique, the Royal Bleau Express, that travels the South to sell at special events like the recent ESSENSE Festival in New Orleans. And another is their new book: The Bleau Print: How to Break Barriers as a Young Entrepreneur and The Bleau Print: Steps to Entrepreneurship in Midlife.
Marissa said the idea for the book came about because of customers who came to the boutique who were interested in more than the clothes.
“They wanted to know how we went into business,” Marissa said. “We realized there was value to the knowledge we had gained with so many people asking questions about starting a business. We have two different views in the business, me starting a business at 21 and my mother having a background from the perspective of a mid-lifer with business experience interested in career change or supplementing another career. It is basically one book with two different perspectives. We touch on the same topics.”
She believes the earlier a person knows the basics of entrepreneurship, the better off they will be. A lot of people don’t know the fundamental steps to getting started in creative economics.
Marissa said one of the first things to learn is the importance of having a vision, understanding in the beginning your end game. Start with the big picture in the very beginning. Then evaluate the stepping stones — the blueprint — to get to that big picture,
“It is probably not something that is going to happen overnight as entrepreneurships have so many challenges,” she said. “A lot of businesses close within the first three to five years. They don’t diversify with the economy. You have to learn to adapt and go with the ups and downs of the economy.”
After launching their book May 10, the next week they launched their mobile boutique.
“We did a paradigm shift adapting to what is going on in the economy,” she said. “We realized there was a market for a mobile business. Food trucks have become popular in some areas of the country. So how neat would it be for a person to be able to come onto a truck and be able to shop and off they go? It allows us to go from campus to campus.
“We just came back from the ESSENSE Festival in New Orleans. This is a festival predominantly for African Americans put by ESSENSE Magazine. Oprah spoke at the ESSENSE Festival this year for the first time. Small-business owners and entrepreneurs from all over the U.S. come to listen to different empowering speakers. And we were there not just selling our clothing, but our book, which is advertised on the back of the Royal Bleau Express. We will not only be selling our merchandise around the Southern region, but selling the principals of what we have done to help you in your journey of entrepreneurship.”
Marissa said entrepreneurship is particularly important in Mississippi because the job market is limited compared to other areas of the country.
“Entrepreneurship in Mississippi fills a gap for people who don’t have a job or the income they want,” she said. “For young entrepreneurs, it is an opportunity to pay off students loans.”
Her mother, Camille, says her portion of the book provides tips for women in mid-life who want to change their careers or lifestyles.
“There are a lot of changes that go on in women’s lives,” Camille said. “We make adjustments, but we do have a set of skills we have learned through past experiences such as job assignments. Entrepreneurship is an easy move for people who have gained skills and may want to explore other avenues to display those skills.”
Her suggestion is to first make an assessment of their work, life and energy balance. A second point would be to make sure they establish a mastermind team that would include experts in finance, the law, marketing and social media, and research.
“You have to research your opportunities in the area you are interested in,” she said. “In the financial structure, you should have a personal budget and a business budget. Also, it is important to understand the different types of insurances, as well as obligations and liabilities.”
Camille said it takes courage, as well as an overwhelming desire or passion, to succeed. It isn’t just a business. It is the fulfillment of a dream.
“The fantastic thing is developing and leaving a legacy with your children,” she said. “So it has a double impact.”
She said the book can help readers get started in a fashion business or a “passion” business.
“We have the book to explain how to get started and how to leverage your energies to take it to the bank,” she said.
The Simms have also developed Kidpreneur Mississippi, a non-profit outreach project that started with providing 100 families with school supplies, and now includes workshops on fundamental business principals.
“Kidpreneur helps promote the baby sharks,” Marissa said. “We teach the kids to start being creative at a young age. One of our students made nail polish using eye shadow. They created their own product and sold it for a profit. One of the other girls was bleaching and cutting up denim, and she made a big profit with little money invested. We want to teach kids to start young. There isn’t a certain age to start making money. I believe it is our responsibility to teach our younger generation business principals. They might not learn that from a traditional school setting.”
For more information, see the website royalbleauboutique.com.
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