Nikki Pedigo spent more than 20 years managing a scrap yard and learned all about the ins and outs of running a business. The next step in her career was working at a bank for a few years, but while there, she felt a call to entrepreneurship.
'I was living in Havana, a dying town of about 2,500 people in Illinois, and I told my husband that I wanted to build something here,' Pedigo said. 'I planned to start a boutique so I worked into it slowly by selling on Facebook and doing a lot of pop-up markets, at-home parties and online selling. As I did, the business took off.'
With her daughter, Maggie Simmons, helping with the technical aspects of the business, Pedigo found a small space and opened Market Street Boutique.
The community might have been small, but the business was so successful that Pedigo needed to move to a larger space within three months. It was mid-2017, and Simmons helped with marketing, design, creating a logo and filling in at the store. During that time, Simmons was also attending law school. She received a degree from the Southern Illinois University School of Law.
It seemed like both were in great places in their careers. Pedigo was operating her growing boutique and Simmons was practicing law. But Simmons and her husband had choices to make. They were living in Illinois, yet wanted to relocate.
Simmons said: 'For me, that meant sitting down with my husband and looking at our lives. He supported our family (the couple has a 6-year-old daughter) when I went to law school, and we didn't know where we wanted to settle. But we had taken trips to Wisconsin and loved it, so we took a few more trips and decided we wanted to come here.'
Her husband, a pipe fitter, easily found employment, and she went to work with a nonprofit legal association. They were just settling in when the safer-at-home order came across.
'When COVID-19 started, we had to re-evaluate our lives. My daughter was doing virtual learning and I decided to stay at home with her', Simmons said. 'A few months later, I found that I didn't miss the law. I loved studying it, but once I started practicing, realized I wasn't passionate about it like I hoped to be.'
That's when she started thinking of opening a boutique like her mother's.
'Maggie came to us and said she wasn't happy with what she had been doing and was thinking about opening a boutique,' Pedigo said. 'We tossed around the idea for a few months, and Maggie started looking for a location. The plan was to be one corporation with two locations with the advantage of having the two of us to bring different skills to the table.'
For Pedigo, those skills include a flair for fashion, the ability to connect with customers, and being motivated and driven. Simmons adds expertise in marketing, customer service, and legal issues.
Once the decision was made, Simmons found a location in east De Pere and recently opened Market Street Boutique in the downtown area. She credits her landlord, Ryan Jennings, with helping her get started and for believing in her business. The shop was set up for retail, so she was able to save on build-out costs.
Still, operating or planning a business during a pandemic brought challenges. Her mother's store had been subject to a mandated closure for several months causing her to rely on online sales and curbside deliveries. Fortunately, once reopening was allowed, Pedigo said customers had missed the boutique and were anxious to shop in person.
She added: 'We do what we can to sanitize, we keep our distance, we ask people to wear masks, and are as careful as we can be.'
Simmons is doing the same as her boutique gets up and running. She has connected with Definitely De Pere and is meeting other business owners. She is confident that, just like it is with her mom's boutique, people will be drawn in by exceptional customer service and an interesting array of fashions.
'We have unique clothing,' Pedigo said. 'The things you get at a boutique are different than those you get at a chain store. And when you come in, I know you. And, having Maggie come on, because she's so much younger, makes me believe we can make things happen.'
Both say that making it happen means long hours and days when you run around 'like a wild woman.' They encourage other would-be entrepreneurs to count the cost.
'Make sure you are passionate about what you are doing and be honest with yourself,' Simmons said. 'We both work all the time; this is our baby; this is our life. Doing what you love is huge.'
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.