Owning a business is not something that Vicki Tompkins grew up dreaming of, but in her now decades of entrepreneurship she said she “loves every aspect of it.”
Tompkins has run the For Men Only (FMO) and For Women Only (FWO) downtown clothing boutiques since they opened in 1999 and 2001 respectively.
“It’s not perfect every day by any means, but for the most part, it’s great,” she said.
Even through the quiet early pandemic days, the stores stayed open.
“Actually just coming into the store, even if nobody came in, was just really nice to be able to come in and sort of calm down and not be sitting at home freaking out,” Tompkins said.
When the losses hit, Tompkins laid off almost all her staff – upwards of nine – though she has since been able to bring back a full time employee in each store.
She said there was a lot of thinking “oh my god I’m going to bankrupt,” but then “I just started persevering and started to really try and calm down.”
Tompkins reduced store hours and worked to “beef up” her online presence through social media and the stores’ websites. FMO and FWO began offering delivery services and taking shopping appointments so patrons could come in one at a time to look around without fear of coming into contact with other residents’ household bubbles.
She said the losses are significant but that she’s “still here.”
“I still eat well, I drink wine on Fridays,” she said. “It’s not great, but it’s fine.”
Government assistance has also helped, she said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m still open.”
By trade, Tompkins is an artist.
She didn’t have a background in business at the time, but when the possibility of opening a store came up in discussion with friends, it seemed like a way of bringing together the skills Tompkins had amassed through various jobs throughout her life.
“Sometimes you just fall into jobs. It just sort of happens.”
She acknowledges there are challenges to running a store and frequently facing risk head on, but when Tompkins said she “loves doing this,” she’s quick to list the reasons why.
“I like the buying, I like doing the books, I love the customers. I love finding people things.”
“It’s very satisfying to sell somebody something when they come out and they love it and you love it, when you both just feel like ‘yes, this is the right thing for you right now.’”
From working in a small town for so many years, Tompkins said she’s gotten to know the people who come into the store. That way, when she does the buying, she said she really knows who the product is for and say “that line will really work for that person.”
On the other hand, Tompkins said it can be a challenge to manage customers’ expectations. She decides personally each item that is sold in the store and as fashions change, so do the products. When customers come in looking for the same pair of pants they bought five years ago, or a specific boot, she has to remind them “I’m not Amazon.” She said it is just another way that customer service fascinates her.
To other entrepreneurs, Tompkins said “you really have to find your passion.”
“There’s a lot more to jobs, as everybody knows, than what meets the eye,” she said, so you have to have a love of the work to keep you motivated.
Tompkins emphasized the importance of buying local, in Yellowknife and across the country.
“I think it’s really opened people’s eyes to, ‘if you don’t support us, then we’re not going to be here.’”