podcastsmall business war stories

Magpies: Starting a Kid-Focused Retail Business in Nashville, Tennessee | Maggie Tucker

Starting a Kid-Focused Retail Business

Nearly a quarter of the U.S. population consists of people under the age of 18.

Kids, more than any time in our history, are influencing the spend of household income. Kids influence an estimated $500 billion in household spending.

Further, spend on kids products is growing rapidly. Products targeting children between the ages of 4 and 12 are now responsible for $40 billion in revenue.

Children and their parents are savvy consumers and there’s great opportunities for those entrepreneurs looking to build a kid-focused business. To help us explore this topic further, we spoke with Maggie Tucker of Magpies Baby and Magpies Girl to discuss how she has built two successful kid-focused retail businesses.

Check it out:

The Soul of America Tour

This episode is part of the Soul of America tour sponsored by Tecovas Boots, Badger Maps, and Impact Dog Crates. During April 2017, I drove with my six month-old puppy Muddy Waggers, my guitar, and my podcasting equipment with the goal of recording podcast episodes with small business owners throughout the heart of America.

Listen to the podcast:

Show Notes

A summary of our interview with Maggie Tucker of Magpies is below.

You can use the links below to jump to your interests.

Tell me a little bit more about what you do. What is Magpies all about?

Maggie Tucker: We have two children’s clothing stores here in Nashville, Magpies Baby and Magpies Girl. And they are adorable.

Well, I learned a long time ago, I think I was in a discussion with a group of my girlfriends, and we were kind of really realizing that innovation is kind of hitting a wall, and it’s stagnant.

All of us were dreaming of opening up our own businesses and what we were realizing was that none of us were opening anything that wasn’t already out there. I’m opening a kid’s store. There’s kids stores already in our city. They’re all across the country. But I wanted to innovate and deliver products in a different way than other people were delivering them.

And so what that looks like is yes, our customer that’s going to be wearing the clothing is a child. We’re actually not going to be selling to the child. We’re going to be educating their parents on: Where does the product come from? What is the product made of? Why do you actually need this product? We don’t even use the word selling. We use the word educating.

So whenever we sit down as a team, whenever we bring on a new team member, it’s never about selling product or moving product. It’s about educating the consumer on the product so that they can make the best choice for them, on whether or not they need that product or a different product within our store.

What do you educate people about?

Maggie Tucker: So basically things that you can’t see when you just look at a garment. So if you look at an outfit, you can see it’s cute. Well cute doesn’t teach me anything. I don’t know … is it from Peru? Is it from China? Is it from America? What is it made out of? Is the fabric going to be soft? Is it going to wash well? Is it temperature regulating? So basically it’s all the things that you can’t see, just when you look at it.

How do you decide what products to carry?

Maggie Tucker: It’s always changing, first off. I go to markets all over the country. I would say the primary focus of where we back our decisions and the product that we bring in is our customer. If they ask for something continually, we hear that feedback, and we really work hard to act on it. So that we’re constantly bringing in things that people within our community are needing but also wanting.

What’s a recent example of people asking you for something that you ended up carrying?

Maggie Tucker: Well actually the biggest thing was opening the second store. So we had the baby store, where we were focusing primarily on newborn up to like a five, six year old. We were hearing every single day, “Maggie, you have to open up a store for our kids that are growing out of your store. Open up a store … primarily for girls. We need a store for our girls. Where are our girls supposed to shop?” We were hearing that feedback every single day. And we acted upon it, and we opened up a second store.

The original Magpies opened in August of 2014. So almost three years from today. With the new store, it’ll be one year in June.

The two businesses seem to dovetail somewhat, but they’re also different. How has that affected your ability to effectively run both of them?

Maggie Tucker: It’s tough. It is. It’s like owning a car dealership and a pizza joint, to be totally honest. I mean there is not a lot of overlap. The overlap is primarily in the way we do business. The way we take care of our guests. The way we engage within the community. And you know the products that we serve are totally different in both of our stores.

We did learn some good lessons that crossed over. We realized that community engagement was making us super successful with the baby store in that first year and a half of being open. So we knew when we were going to open the second store, one of the pillars of who we were going to be as a store was, how are we engaging with the community? What are we doing for our greater Nashville area? So that’s where really most of the synergy and the overlap comes from, is the way we do business. Not so much the products that we’re delivering.

The products definitely matter. But you’re going to see things in Magpies that you’re going to see in other stores. You may not see them in other stores, but you’re going to really see them in Magpies because you’re going to be educated on them.

Can you tell me more about how you educate your customers? How do you design your displays? How do you craft this educational experience for people walking into your store?

Maggie Tucker: We don’t do anything cookie cutter. Every guest is different, and every guest deserves an experience that’s catered to them. We help moms. We help aunts. We help grandparents. We help uncles. We help young girls. So everybody gets their own guest experience dedicated to them. As far as merchandising goes, we change our merchandising every single Friday morning, before we go into the weekend.

We kind of take a step back as a team and look at both of our stores, right as you walk in the door. So what would we feel if we were a guest walking into our store? And what do we want our guests to feel? So if we’re walking into Magpies and this coming weekend is the last weekend before Easter, we want people to feel excited about Easter.

So we’ll go through and we’ll completely change the front table. We’ll bring forward all of the gifts that would perfectly fill a child’s Easter basket, put that on the front table. If there’s any remaining clothing items or outfits, put that there, kind of help people create that story that they want to feel when they go home. So if they see something in our store, and it’s making them feel a certain way, we want them to be able to recreate that at home.

Now when you iterate that fast, I’m sure there must have been times when things backfired. Can you tell me about a time when things didn’t work the way that you thought they would?

Maggie Tucker: I’m going to speak on this with regards to our store for girls. That market is a challenge. I think one of the main reasons you don’t see a store like Magpies Girl in every single city is because it’s an interesting demographic that you’re having to appeal to. So, we’re having to make mom happy, and we’re having to make daughter happy. And it’s an age group where girls are really growing, and they’re changing. It caters to girls 6 to 14.

And so these girls are definitely coming into their own. They are developing opinions. They have Instagram. There’s probably a lot of peer pressure and bullying. There’s a lot different things that are going on in the lives of these girls. And so creating a store and a space for them and making mom happy definitely has been a challenge.

For example, I go to market, I see a pair of leggings. They’re covered in ice cream cones and emojis, and I’m like those are the cutest things ever. Every 12 year-old girl in Nashville’s going to want a pair of leggings with emojis and ice cream all over them. We get it into the store and moms are like, “Oh my God, are you really selling that to my child? She just was wearing a smocked dress last year.”

And so it’s really been interesting to see what our customer response to … Little girl loves the leggings with the emojis. She wants a matching emoji top. She wants an emoji headband to go with it. But mom is still like, “Wait, I need a hair bow in that hair.” So kind of bridging that gap is like definitely the place where we’re always learning and growing as a brand. Bridging the gap between what little girls want-

Can you think of a time when things went wrong with your business? What did you do to navigate that?

Maggie Tucker: Okay. I take incredible pride in all of the girls that are on our team. Everyone that has come to work for me has stayed with me. No one’s ever quit. One of the main reasons we continue to grow as a brand is because we have people that believe in this brand and want to stay with us.

We had our first employee quit. It was devastating. I, literally, lost my mind. I went home from work. I was crying hysterically. Everyone that worked for me thought I was having like a total meltdown. And I was. I was having a total meltdown. So that was a time, definitely, when I’ve built this perfect, wonderful, amazing everything and a little, tiny block of it pulled out, and the whole castle felt like it was crumbling down. And I learned a lot from that. I learned-

I learned that that awesome employee who left our team left us better than when she came in. She got the next job, that she got after Magpie’s, because of skills and confidence and courage that she found from working for our company. And when she left, as sad as it was for me, I flipped it to see, okay you know what, there’s another girl out there who needs the same opportunity and needs to grow as a person. And this is going to be an opportunity of a lifetime for someone else to come on board.

And the person that left will be an ambassador for us. And I have to see it from a bigger picture. I want every person that ever comes into our store, whether they’re a guest or they’re a team member, to leave as an ambassador for our brand.

How do you get customers? I saw you are a heavy Instagram user, and that’s an understatement. That’s awesome and I’m sure that that’s a big channel for you. How do you think about that within the context of customer acquisition and what else do you do?

Maggie Tucker: Okay. I’ll be honest, I try not to think about social media that much. I know we have a lot of followers. I try not to focus on that though. It stresses me out.

Instagram changed all their algorithms. It’s not been great for small businesses. From everything that I’ve learned, you know it used to be your feed would be something that wasn’t generated based on your activity on Instagram. Your feed was generated based on time. So you would see the newest to the oldest posts, in that order.

Well now, your feed is generated on all these things that Instagram thinks that you want to see. And that, at first, really stressed me out because we don’t do any advertising. Everything that we do is on social media. And then I took a step back, and I was like you know what, we have to stay consistent. And what does consistency look like? It looks like putting out quality images, quality content, and just doing the best that we can. And our Instagram accounts have still grown despite the changes in algorithm.

Who shoots your images? How do you think about what to post? How do you think about how to define your voice on social media?

Maggie Tucker: I do personally choose and post everything for both stores. We do put a ton of thought in it, mostly because our Instagram is a direct connection to us and the rest of the world. And our guest experience in our store is fun. It’s quality. It’s colorful. And so whatever we put out on social media should be fun. It should be quality. And should be colorful. And I really stress quality probably the most of those three. I believe in quality images. I believe in quality guest experience. And that quality element really needs to transcend everything we do.

But it is funny people are always like, “Maggie, you are so stressed out. You need to take something off your plate. You should hire someone to do your Instagram.” And I have to share, that I think it’s incredibly important that I’m the one doing our Instagram. If I can’t be in the store every single day, that’s okay. Our customer isn’t in the store every single day. But if she can feel me or that dad can feel us and feel our presence, authentically through Instagram, I could never give that up.

I just try to do the best that I can. But we decided a long time ago, as a team, you know we are shooting for perfection. We’re trying to be great every single day and just do the best we can.

What are some of the oddest, wackiest things you’ve come across?

Maggie Tucker: Probably one of the craziest things that has happened, we keep a skateboard in our store. I bought it, originally, so that I could skateboard back and forth between the two locations. We have had dads come in our store, and they get a little bit bored. I mean it’s understandable. We have so many dads that come in, and they get on our skateboard, and they skate around our store. And, honestly, it’s like the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. I’m going to take it from being an oddity to not, it’s something that’s adorable that happens in our store.

What would you say is the number one lesson or piece of advice that you have for small business people that are either in the trenches now or thinking about starting a small business?

Maggie Tucker: I think that when I started Magpies, I knew we needed to fill a void with both of our stores. When we started the baby store, I reached out to several of my friends that have children. I don’t have kids. I think actually I should probably point that out. I’ve owned two kids stores. I do not have children. But what I did see was a void. I heard it from my friends in the community, from lots of my mom friends, “There’s a void. We need more options. We need new stuff.” So I think whatever you’re doing, whatever you’re working toward, whatever you’re thinking about in your head, the possibilities that kind of you’re working around, make sure that at the center of that is an opportunity to fill a void.

Because that, to me, is what’s probably made Magpies, both of our stores, very, very successful. Is that we filled a void that was very clear in our community. And more than just filling a void, I think it’s important to say this, we filled a void and we became profitable. And I think a lot of small business owners are very hesitant to talk about you know making money. We filled a void and we’re making money. And what is that money doing? It’s allowing us to grow as a brand and to open up additional locations.

Tell me about Nashville. What’s it like to do business here? What’s your relationship with other small business owners and with the government?

Maggie Tucker: Okay, Nashville’s amazing. I have so many friends that own businesses in other cities, and they’re like, “Maggie, how have you been so successful? Tell me your ways.” I’m like you know what, small business owners are loved and celebrated and supported in Nashville like I have never seen in any other city. I mean it’s unbelievable. We will have an event in our store, we will have tons of people show up and support it. It’s wild.

This past weekend we had pop-up shops in both of our locations. Meaning that we partnered with local entrepreneurs who are starting businesses of their own and allowed them to come into our stores and sell their products. It was insane. There was not a parking spot in the lot to be had. And that is a true testament to our community. Sure, we have a great Instagram that marketed it. But people show up and support people in this city, and it is wild to see.

And one thing that’s super cool about it is the pop-up shop that happened in our girls store was three sixth-grade girls, from three different schools, who are all friends, created a line of bath and body scrubs. They came in, set up their little pop-up shop, friends came in from all three schools. There were probably 40-50 sixth grade girls that came in to support them. So you see it at all different ages. It’s just, it’s the Nashville way. People are doing and supporting others.

Where do you want this to go in the next 10 years? Are you going to open a store for teens, and then a store for people in their 20s, and then one for 30s, make sure they’re still your customers, right?

Maggie Tucker: No, but everybody does ask. They’re always like, “Maggie, are you going to open up a store for moms next?” I’m not. My cup is so full. I feel very fulfilled with where I’m at. And at the same time I recognize that I have an amazing team of employees, who all have incredible gifts and talents, and a desire to grow. And for that pipeline to continue moving upwards and them to have additional opportunities, we do have to always be open to the possibility of growth.

I would potentially open more stores for the girl group, that age 6 to 14 year-old girl. I think that, like I said, the most important thing about opening a business is really recognizing that void. We’ve recognized that. There is a void. We hear it. It’s in other cities. We go and we see that it’s in other cities.

There’s also a huge social vision behind that brand. There is one with the baby store, too. We do tons of diaper drives and lots of things like that. But with the girls store, I feel like what we’re doing every single day, there’s such a social concept to it.

So we have to sell pants and shirts and you know headbands and jewelry. It’s what pays the bills. But with the girls store, we have built a space that loves and celebrates these girls just in a whole another way. So while sure, we’re selling clothes and pants, they are coming in and they are saying, “Oh my gosh, there’s a whole bunch of girls that work here. They have fun. There’s cool music. My friends are on the wall,” because we hang pictures of girls that shop with us on the wall, and, “this place is positive. There’s positive words on the wall and, oh my gosh, my friend’s having a pop-up shop there this weekend.

And we give back so much to the community. And so that whole social aspect, it’s just been a really authentic extension, honestly, of who I am as a person. And so, for me, that’s where I can really feel that you know what, this is so true to me. I know we can replicate this because it’s a piece of who I am.

Where can people find your business? What are your locations and social media handles?

Maggie Tucker: We have two great stores. They’re both in Belle Meade, which is a west Nashville suburb. It’s a big shopping center. Then we are online. We have a website. It’s www.magpiesnashville.com.

We are partnering with, this June, a new online sales platform called Shop Kids. We’re really excited about it. It’s an extension of Shoptiques, which is an online shopping platform that has over 500,000 retailers. They have selected 250 kids stores across the country. We have been selected. And so 100 of our best-selling items are now going to be sold on Shop Kids, starting this summer. And then we do have our two Instagram accounts: @magpiesnashville, @magpiesgirl. We ship packages everyday out of our store, and shipping starts at just $5.

Final Thoughts

Maggie started Magpies Baby because she saw and heard about a void in the market. Recognizing that void, she took action and has worked hard to create two successful businesses.

She recommends that other entrepreneurs also seek these voids, focus on profitability and then re-invest those profits to help grow your brand. 

If you have any question or comments about today’s episode, please leave a comment below.


Pablo Fuentes

Pablo Fuentes was the Founder and CEO of Proven. He was also the host and producer of the Small Business War Stories podcast. Pablo is currently the Founder of makepath, a spatial analysis firm. He is a graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and UCLA. He loves dogs, film photography, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is also a blues guitar player and builder.

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