Conventional wisdom says that women love to shop. Carrie Leum would disagree.
When the subject turned to shopping, Leum noticed, many of the women she knew spoke not about the thrill of the hunt, but about the hassle.
“So many women told me they hated shopping,” Leum said. “They don’t have the time, and it’s hard to find stylish clothes that fit.”
Armed with only that casual research and her own restless energy, Leum decided there was a market for a service that would make it easy for a busy professional woman to find clothing that fits her body type and personality.
About 18 months ago, Leum started Corset in her basement. Last fall, the business moved into a storefront at 715 Main St. in Hopkins and added a retail boutique.
Five outfits in each package
The premise is simple: For a yearly membership fee ranging from $1,200 to $2,250 annually, Corset members get seasonal wardrobes delivered to them four times a year. Leum and her staff select five complete outfits for each seasonal package, based on each member’s measurements, lifestyle, priorities and work environment. Members pay for the clothing but receive a 20 percent discount.
Fashion-related TV shows like “What Not to Wear” and “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style” have sparked renewed interest in fashion and shown women that dressing stylishly needn’t be intimidating, Leum said: “Those shows are fuel for this.”
While most entrepreneurs would be satisfied with one business, Leum hasn’t abandoned the business she’s already been running for 15 years: Leum PR Group, a public relations firm that serves a small group of longtime clients including Leinenkugel’s and Duluth Trading Co. There’s actually a lot of synergy between the two operations, she said.
“Serving a client is no different than serving an individual person,” she said. “You’re bringing them ideas, meeting their needs. And after running my own business for 15 years, I’m not intimidated by the demands.”
Her sister, Rebecca Martin, runs Corset day-to-day, while Leum serves as the strategist, splitting her time between the two businesses. Her PR clients know about the dual role and are fine with it, she said.
A regular segment on ‘Twin Cities Live’
She’s now using her marketing skills on her own behalf. Along with investing in a robust website, a key was landing a regular fashion segment on KSTP-TV’s “Twin Cities Live.” The appearances have generated a lot of buzz, Leum said.
Corset has a Facebook page and “a good mailing list,” Leum said. The retail store offers an opportunity to turn shoppers into clients. Corset has advertised in some local publications, including Metro magazine, and found that using local media offers some powerful side benefits.
“Metro has been great,” Leum said. “They invite us to their events; they include us in their e-newsletters.” She’s also bringing the marketing concepts of branding to life with her fashion clients, many of whom are in the business world themselves.
“Right away, by looking at you, people know who you are,” she said. “It’s your brand. Fifty-five percent of people will judge you on how you look, and only 7 percent will judge you based on what you say.”
Having spent the first year building the business, Leum said Corset is poised for growth. Several hundred women have signed up as personal styling members to date, and Leum said she expects to grow the business significantly this year as word of mouth builds: “When women find a good thing, they pass it along.”
And it’s a rewarding feeling to help already-accomplished women discover a new sense of self.
Said Leum: “I get a rush when women say, ‘I would never have worn that, and now it’s my favorite.’ “