A Tea-based women’s fashion boutique initially founded as an online store has rapidly blossomed into a booming business with multiple locations, a 15,000-square-foot warehouse, and its own clothing line.
We stopped by to chat with Laurie Karlson, founder of Lauriebelles, at the store’s newest brick-and-mortar location in downtown Sioux Falls.
The boutique, which took over the old Palmer Lea location on Phillips Avenue, is cozy and inviting for shoppers—a theme Karlson aims for in the clothing she sells, as well. Providing comfortable, yet trendy pieces, along with endless variety in both styles and sizing, is a large part of what sets Lauriebelles apart from other local boutiques.
Though Sioux Falls is now home to numerous women’s boutiques across town, there wasn’t much competition back in 2013 when Karlson launched her online store.
She had recently finished her master’s degree in education and was staying home with her two sons when she realized she wanted to get back into the workforce. It wasn’t a job in education that was calling her name, though.
“I just wasn’t sure that teaching was my calling anymore, and so I was looking for some kind of side gig to make some extra money to help with the bills,” said Karlson. “At the time, there wasn’t much around for boutiques, so it seemed like a niche I could fill.”
It only took four months before the online business had reached its tipping point.
“Opening our first small storefront in Tea became a necessity, and within a few months, we had to expand to the front of the building,” said Karlson.
Expansion continued at a rapid clip, and after three years, it was clear that leasing space wasn’t going to cut it anymore. In 2018, Lauriebelles moved into its current 6,000-square-foot store in Tea, and in 2019, they built a new warehouse across the street.
Online sales are the largest part of the business— Lauriebelles ships nationwide and to 15 countries internationally—but providing a quality in-store experience is still important to Karlson.
“We live in a special area where people still value spending time with friends and family in a shopping environment because it’s something to do to get out of the house,” she said. “We work really hard to accommodate customers with amazing products, customer service, and lots of community events.”
With a full-time staff of 17 and up to 60 part-time employees, Karlson says having a team she can count on is key to her success, whether that’s in online sales or in-store events.
“The crew that I’ve built up over the years is an incredible group of people, and we’ve really become a family,” she said.
Between building a warehouse, opening a downtown storefront in October, and launching a clothing line and influencer partnership, 2019 was a busy year for Karlson.
“I never get comfortable in this business—that’s when the growth stops,” said Karlson. “I’m always pushing to differentiate myself because if you just continue to buy and sell clothes, you stop being relevant.”
In the spirit of keeping things fresh, Karlson launched Lily and Lottie, a clothing line unique to Lauriebelles. The plan was to eventually wholesale to other boutiques, but for the time being, internal sales alone have been enough to keep Karlson busy.
The idea behind Lily and Lottie was to build out a line of affordable, staple pieces that people would continue to come back to. These include layering pieces like tanks, tees, and cardigans, as well as denim and jackets.
Recently, Karlson added another exciting element to the line in the form of a collaboration with local celebrity, Chelsea DeBoer, of Teen Mom. Together, DeBoer and Karlson have designed a few special pieces for the line, under the brand Chelsea DeBoer by Lily and Lottie.
The project began after the two were introduced by a mutual acquaintance. It started out as an opportunity to work together on photo shoots and try-on haul videos, but Karlson quickly realized how well DeBoer’s style meshed with her own.
Lauriebelles strives to appeal to women of all ages, whether they’re 17 or 75 years old, and it achieve that by providing high-quality, affordable, and comfortable pieces that are stylish, but not too risky.
“We want to be trendy and on point, but also safe in our style,” said Karlson. “I want something that I know I can wear for many seasons to come.”
Still, Karlson likes to inject personality and statement pieces into the brand from time to time, and she says DeBoer’s style is a bit edgier than what she typically carries. DeBoer’s current pieces for Lily and Lottie include a trendy buffalo check button-down and a camouflage cowl-neck sweater. The partnership between the two women has been going strong for about nine months now, and Karlson says it just keeps evolving.
“We’re always trying to find new catalysts to bring energy to our business, and we have so much in the works for 2020,” she said.
It would be easy to assume that expanding stores and designing her own clothing line might be the most rewarding aspects of the business for Karlson, but there’s something else she appreciates even more.
“What this has allowed me to do as far as giving back to our community, through nonprofits or individuals, is so rewarding,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed doing that, but I didn’t have the funds to do as much as I wanted to.”
Whether it’s hosting an in-store Shop for a Cause event, or getting the opportunity to make an impact on a woman’s self-esteem through her clothing, Karlson says she’s incredibly grateful for the customers she gets to interact with daily.
“They’re extremely loyal, and that means the world to us,” she said. “The relationships we’ve built and some of the feedback we get from these women is so humbling. It’s changing their self-esteem, and it’s not just the clothing, it’s my crew and how they treated them and made them feel.”
For more information, visit lauriebelles.com.