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Meet Maggie Stoll of Burke Mercantile

Today we’d like to introduce you to Maggie Stoll.

Maggie, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Nine years ago, and two weeks after college, I packed up my car in Cincinnati, Ohio and headed west with whatever would fit in my Corolla not knowing what I was bound to do, but knowing I was bound for California. At that time I thought I wanted to work in professional sports (pretty humorous to think about now!), but I landed in Long Beach and haven’t left since! I made my first income out here working as a sales associate for a large corporate fast fashion retailer and also as a waitress part-time.

I had always had a love for fashion, but I was surprised to discover a love and a passion for the retail industry as a sales associate there and spent the next eight years growing with the company and being promoted there from associate to manager to visual merchandiser. I also got to participate in multiple store openings throughout Southern California and Arizona, which really sparked my interest in opening and starting a store from the ground up.

As I grew older and got closer to my 30’s, I started to feel a bit of a disconnect from the fast fashion & corporate retail world as I was becoming more mindful and conscious about how I was spending my money, where the product was coming from, and the quality of the product I was spending it on. I started to purchase more investment pieces for both my home and my wardrobe and would find that a few well made and well-designed products far outlived any trendy fast fashion pieces I would buy at work. It became a passion of mine to then seek out and discover smaller, independent brands who were designing for quality over quantity, seasonless trends and wardrobe staples, and practicing strong values along every step of their business from sustainability to fair labor practices, to reducing waste, to giving back to charities, etc.

I then became a passionate consumer, seeking out such brands to support, but I was finding it hard to find this type of product near me and was having to buy almost exclusively online. I began to see a lack of these product offerings in my area and a lack of these brand and business values, but yet a high demand for them, and that is where the idea for Burke Mercantile first began. I saw a lot of small brands practicing these values, but not necessarily a lot of small shops and businesses, and it seemed important to me that I create that environment.

I decided to start networking a bit with other small business owners in Long Beach which I admired, and about a year ago quit my corporate retail job of eight years and sacrificed good benefits and a higher paycheck to work for another small business owner who had become a kind of mentor. Melissa Carpenter, who hired me, took a huge chance on me knowing I was taking this job to get the small business hands-on experience I knew I would need to feel confident to start my own business, and knowing I would eventually leave with that knowledge.

It turned out to be exactly the step and push I needed to turn my dream into a reality, and I will be forever grateful to her for giving me that opportunity and for trusting me & believing in me! 6 months into working for her, I began to buy inventory, complete my business plan and launched a website, and 6 months after that, I was moving into my now brick + mortar space!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
To me, it feels like I’ve been talking about and planning on opening my own store for over 5 years, so it feels like it took forever. However, a lot of that was wishing and dreaming without much action. So in reality, from the time I actually started seriously writing a business plan to when I opened the shop it happened very quickly and fairly seamlessly!

I’ve had so much support from my family and friends (I.e. my uncle working on hundreds of financial projections with me for months and teaching me what the heck a balance sheet is) which helped immensely, and surely I wouldn’t be here without! But it is very overwhelming to even know where to begin and I spent many years being overwhelmed and afraid and staying in a comfortable job which no longer made me happy or inspired, and thus not taking any steps to achieve my goals. So once I took the first leap of faith to take a new job, everything else started to fall into place.

I knew however that I couldn’t financially open the store I wanted on my own and would need some type of loan to really make it work. I started to ask around at banks and got practically laughed at, as most won’t even consider loaning you money until you’ve been in business a few years. So I worked with the Small Business Development Center in Long Beach upon writing my business plan to get some advising and find out what my options were, and they were extremely supportive and helpful and connected me with a company which offered start-up loans to new businesses. It took me about a year of working diligently with this company to get to a place of them considering approval for a loan.

The biggest struggle was constantly hearing from them and others that I had literally done everything right from having an extensive background in the industry I was going into, sacrificing pay and benefits to get the first-hand experience in the business I wanted to start, and having great personal credit, BUT I didn’t have a husband providing a secondary income for me and that would decrease my chances for approval. It made me wonder if they asked the same of single men in my situation, and was very discouraging to hear. But I did not give up, and am happy to say my loan was officially funded last month! I now believe truly anything is possible with perseverance and a strong confidence in your vision!

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Burke Mercantile – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Burke Mercantile is a curated, modern lifestyle shop with an ethical and eco-conscious mindset. The shop is inspired much by Long Beach and the juxtaposition it embodies as a dynamic urban city with a laid-back beach culture. With a focus on independent designers, sustainable and ethical production, original and handmade goods, and a unisex aesthetic, I have created an environment which supports emerging small brands and artists and gives back to the community while fulfilling the everyday needs of our creative customers. I offer a product that is made with form and functionality for people constantly on the move, that is unique and modern in style and design.

I believe in independence, exploration, collaboration, and personal expression, and my goal is to provide the necessary goods to support that lifestyle. I view fashion, design and art on a spectrum of colors, not one that is black and white. I believe in slow fashion vs. fast fashion, quality over quantity, timeless design, and merchandise made to last. I aim to provide products that work to blur the lines of age and gender. Things for people.

Simple as that. Fun fact – Burke should technically be my real last name, but my great-grandfather died when my grandfather was young and he ended up taking his adoptive father’s last name. So this was a way for me to pay homage to those roots. I also wanted a name that was simple and felt gender neutral, but also versatile so the business has room to change and grow, it was the first name I came up with and it just always felt right!

It felt a little odd to me to be opening a retail shop to just sell more things to people during such a sensitive political and social climate, and so I wanted to ensure everything I did had more meaning to it than simply putting more product into the world and trying to make a buck. I decided to try to base my business on the same values I had as a consumer. So from day one, I have been seeking to create a lifestyle shop that is welcoming and inclusive to all people, curates brands with strong business values, and gives back to the community at large. I am committed to donating 5% of my net sales each quarter to rotating charities and non-profit organizations and I am constantly searching for more ways that I can give back. I just finished up my first official quarter in the shop and was able to donate $308 to the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in Texas to support the work they are doing there.

At my grand opening party at the shop, I held a charity raffle to benefit local organization, Algalita Marine Research & Education Organization, which is working to end plastic pollution in our oceans. Most of my brands in the shop donated amazing products to be raffled off and all the raffle ticket sales were donated to Algalita, and we raised about $325. These amounts are small, but it makes me really proud to have started the business off with these goals from the get-go, and I hope that these amounts and percentages can continue to increase as the business grows. I want people to feel good about not only supporting brands leading the way for positive change in the fashion and design industry but that their money is also going to a little more than that, too!

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
My plans for the future are mainly to continue to grow the business on the core values it was founded on. I’ve always loved fashion, but as I grow older I am discovering a new passion for architecture and interior design as well. I have started really discovering and seeking out home design brands that are pushing the boundaries the way some of my clothing lines are. I would really love to expand on those types of products as well in the future. My brick + mortar space is a very small shared retail space right now, shared with my talented friends Kuarto, who are a retail & coffee concept. Sharing a space has been the perfect way for me to launch the business, but gives me limited physical space for expanding right now. But it is exciting to get inspired for the future possibilities of Burke if I am lucky enough to see the business and my retail space grow!

On the topic of giving back, I am also looking into more ways to creatively host events that are more than retail sale events. Right now I’ve been researching how I might be able to host a voter registration and information party or event at the shop to help the community become prepared and more involved in voting for the upcoming November elections. I see a need for this in my community, and it feels like a cool way to get involved and offer a service locally while bringing people together! Along with donating to and working with local charities and organizations, I hope I will grow enough to be able to become a platform for exposure for some organizations and non-profits who are doing really important work every day!

I am also really excited to have opened my shop in Long Beach at this time because the small business community here is truly booming! There have been so many new small independently owned shops and restaurants popping up around town over the last year, many small businesses growing and expanding, and the city is really starting to develop and thrive! It feels like Long Beach is becoming a real destination and I feel like in a few years time we could be compared to cities like Austin and Portland which really celebrate art, food, music, design and more! I love seeing small business communities that work together and support each other because that is really when they thrive.

I’m so inspired by everyone around me here, so many entrepreneurs are young like me, and SO many are women! I’ve been working hard to network with the other businesses and business owners here so that our community can continue to build and strengthen, and I hope to help put Long Beach on the map for visitors and residents alike!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Sheewa Salehi

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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