Born and raised in the Finger Lakes town of Waterloo, New York, Marie DeNicola grew up in a blue-collar, traditional, Italian family. The youngest of four kids, DeNicola and her siblings were always told by their parents that they could do anything they set their minds to and that if they worked hard, they could create a great life for themselves. “When I graduated from high school, attending college was not optional, it was a matter of which college I was going to,” laughs DeNicola, adding, “My parents set me on a path for future success.”
Attending the State University of New York in Geneseo, DeNicola studied management science and marketing. “I knew by my first marketing class that I wanted to be a buyer in fashion,” she says. After graduating in December of 1983, DeNicola and her husband Nick moved to Los Angeles. Working for Windsor Store for six years, their next move was to Atlanta where she found employment as a buyer for the International Art Institute before being promoted to Director of Purchasing. “I chose passion from day one. Money has never been my motivator, it wasn’t then and it isn’t now,” DeNicola explains. “From a young age, I went with my passion, and it’s why I am where I am today.”
In 1991, Nick accepted a job offer in Minnesota and so the couple packed up and moved again. “Since Nick was the primary breadwinner, I had to leave a job I loved once again. It was heart wrenching, but made it clear to me that I had to start something on my own so that when we moved I could expand the business rather than start over,” she says. With a longing to own a clothing store or boutique during a time when direct sales and home shows were booming, DeNicola began piecing together the building blocks for what would become Mainstream Boutique.
“At the time, I had a small child. The idea to start a direct sales clothing company came from a desire to look great, but not having the time to shop from store to store. This is something many working mothers can strongly relate to,” she explains. “I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if someone could come to me with fashionable clothes?’”
A solution to DeNicola’s passion to bring the product to the consumer, she launched Mainstream Fashions in 1991. The company offered unique, trendy clothing in the convenience of the woman’s home or office. “I didn’t know anyone in the industry at the time; I just had a dream and a passion. I hosted my first show in my home and invited the neighbors. That’s where it all started,” she says.
Quickly catching the attention of the press, business in the Twin Cities took off and not before long, DeNicola starred on The Oprah Show as a successful entrepreneur. “After being on the show I got calls from women all over the world asking how they could do what I was doing. That’s when I knew I had to expand nationally,” says DeNicola. Franchise consulting firm, Fran Corp, also caught the segment of the show and invited DeNicola to Chicago to discuss franchise possibilities. “I met with the President of Fran Corp. He was a brilliant man and gave me the information I needed to make the business work as a franchise and suggested inventory solutions,” she explains. Heading back to Minnesota, DeNicola then sought out the expertise of law firm Gray Plant Mooty, and after connecting with vendors to finalize the business plan, Mainstream Fashions began franchising in 1998.
Focused on direct sales and consumer convenience, Mainstream Fashions began opening franchise retail locations in the early 2000’s. “The corporate side ended up building a million dollar business from shows alone, so I wasn’t interested in retail space,” DeNicola explains. “But when franchisees began opening stores and customers slid in, the retail locations were a nice compliment to the direct sales, especially since by this point home shows were so saturated.” With the opening of retail locations, Mainstream Fashions became Mainstream Boutique to better reflect the brand and concept. While retail stores are now the focus of the business, direct sales through fashion shows, fundraisers and special events are still a part of the company’s practices.
The ongoing trend of convenience plays a crucial role in deciding where Mainstream Boutique stores are located. “From the beginning, people would look at us and say, ‘you can’t put a store in there and be successful,’ because there wasn’t a lot around that would bring in business. But the key to our success is making it possible for women in suburbs to drive up, park in front, walk in, and shop,” she explains.
Today, Mainstream Boutique has 40 franchisees in 15 states, with exceptional growth occurring over the past few years. “The first few years my passion for fashion was tough to translate into franchising because it’s a completely different entity and requires a unique set of skills. It took us a while to get it right, but now we’ve got it and we’re soaring,” she says. In 2011 Mainstream Boutique grossed 4.8 million in revenue, which then jumped to 6.9 million in 2012, and 11.3 million in 2013. “The growth has been unbelievable and we’re going to keep going at that pace. It’s been very exciting,” she says.
Dedicated to seeking out the best fashion collections each season, Mainstream Boutique is now in the early stages of developing its own private label. “I have a lot of experience in buying, and I see what works and what women want. Now I want to bring it all together to create my own line,” DeNicola says. “With the average sales per franchise doubled, we have happy franchisees, a wonderful system, a healthy company, and only the sky’s the limit.”
Women in Franchising
When discussing the role of women in the franchise industry, DeNicola says that although being female is not a requirement, all 40 Mainstream Boutique’s franchisees are women. “I’m proud to be creating jobs for hundreds of women all over the country. We have cultivated an environment of women who encourage and lift each other up. Our franchisees are happy people who support the brand because they know they are all in it together,” she says.
Explaining how a woman’s skill set differs from a man’s, DeNicola describes a females’ as relational and nurturing, characteristics that can be carried into their businesses. Bringing with them the human component, DeNicola says her franchisees work together as a team; “It’s not about ringing in sales, it’s about being the best we can be.”
Finding inspiration in motivational speakers such as Zig Ziglar, Rick Warren and John Maxwell, DeNicola shares a life changing moment she experienced in 1994 while attending a success seminar. “Zig said, ‘If you help enough other people be successful, then success will come to you.’ I 100 percent bought into it that day and have carried it on ever since. My true desire is to help other people be successful, that’s where my heart is, and it’s been a big part of my success in business,” she explains. A true believer in the importance of growing as an individual to enable growth in all areas of your life, DeNicola’s role models are personal friends who have experienced highs and lows and came out on top.
To women interested in joining the franchise industry, DeNicola says to take time to study and know what you’re getting into. “Do your due diligence, learn what’s going on in the industry, and learn from others’ successes and challenges,” she says. “Be a sponge, put 100 percent effort into researching and find out what’s working in the market.” Most importantly, DeNicola notes the willingness to change and adapt to what’s going on in order to stay fresh.
The Future of Franchising
Looking ahead, DeNicola believes the future of franchising is bright. “Franchising is a growing industry and, as we’ve seen, the business climate changes with challenges of the economy. People don’t want to put their success in the hands of someone else when they can do it their self,” she says. “Franchising is growing businesses, so individuals can build their own dream and be responsible for their own destiny and paycheck.”
Discussing how individuals who buy into a franchise benefit from a proven business model and therefore have a greater chance to succeed, DeNicola says franchising also offers the best of both worlds. Owners can be independent; while at the same time are part of a family to foster their success. More importantly, they are given the tools, technology, and processes that they would not ordinarily have access to.
A dedicated CEO, but also mother of three, DeNicola’s most rewarding experience with Mainstream Fashions has been having her eldest son Corey join the business as Director of Franchising. Presenting her with a PowerPoint presentation upon completing his university degree, DeNicola agreed to a six-month trial period, which he started in his basement with a pad of paper, pen and computer. Today Corey is highly responsible for the company’s growth. “What Corey has been able to do with the company and franchising is amazing. I never dreamed my son would not only join the company, but take us to new heights,” she says. “The most important thing is my family, and being able to mesh the two is beyond satisfying. I love everything about what I do, how many people can say that?”
The future of Mainstream Boutique is also growing. Recently opening the new corporate headquarters, this new space provides more resources to assist with the company’s immense growth. “I’ve invested back in the business to make sure everything is in place to service franchisees at the same intimate level even as we continue to grow.,” DeNicola explains. “The infrastructure and amazing staff will continue to help women all over the country grow and be successful. We’re changing lives. It’s all about making a difference and helping someone do well.”
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