Spotlight: How T.C. Elli’s Survived the Recession and Lived to Thrive Another Day

Spotlight: Community Building Strategy Helped Retail Business T.C. Elli's Thrive Post Recession


You’ve heard all the Great Recession horror stories — or experienced them as a business owner first hand. Now it’s time for a tale of fledgling brand tat weathered the storm and live to fight another day.  T.C. Elli’s is one retail business that was able to make it through that difficult period due to a carefully crafted mix of in-store and online sales and marketing strategies. You can read more about the business and how it has gained notoriety among its target customers in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does

Sells women’s fashion in person and online.

Founder Tahnee Elliott told Small Business Trends, “T.C. Elli’s is an ecommerce fashion boutique with a flagship store in the West Texas college town of Lubbock; just across the street from Texas Tech. We offer the latest trends in women’s boho-chic fashion; each piece is hand-selected and TCE Honey approved [a reference to the company’s loyal ambassador program].”

Business Niche

Creating a community that extends beyond the products.

Elliott says, “In addition to our mentorship model, we have built a wildly successful blogger and ambassador program (TCE Honeys) that has helped build our social media presence to more than 45,000 followers. T.C. Elli’s is not just a fashion retailer. The business operates with the help of ~30 high school and college-aged women. Part of the mission of T.C. Elli’s is to prepare and empower women to start their own business. By delegating essential duties such as social media, buying, and budgeting, we hope to teach all of my employees how to start, run, and expand their own company if, and when, they decide to after college.”

How the Business Got Started

After graduating from college.

Elliott says, “18 years ago, I founded my company at age 24 just after graduating from college. We survived the financial crisis, moved our company into a positive cash flow and today, we have more than 40 thousand followers on Instagram (and customers all over the world). Having lived in the small college town for four years, I knew there was a serious need for a quality fashion boutique. After opening the boutique, word quickly spread and T.C. Elli’s began to grow into a beloved shop where luxury is about being one of a kind, not how much money you spend.”

Spotlight: Community Building Strategy Helped Retail Business T.C. Elli's Thrive Post Recession

Biggest Win

Making it through the recession.

Elliott explains, “T.C. Elli’s was growing at a steady pace when, in 2009, we experienced the worst financial season our business had seen up to that point. The recession succeeding the housing crisis had a massive impact on our customer base. Foot traffic in our flagship store experienced a drastic decline; a lethal combination of rapidly declining foot traffic and extremely high price points (this was the era of $300 high-end denim) resulted in the worst financial situation we’ve seen in 18 years of business. I stepped in to “(wo)man the counter” and absorb most of the shifts to keep payroll low enough so we could stay afloat. I injected my own personal funds into the business to keep the doors open. After experiencing the brutal impact of the recession on our customers that we’d grown to love, we strategically reduced our price points to accommodate the financial hardship our community was living through. Long gone were the days of high-end luxury. We had to strategically revamp our inventory to accommodate the financial times. It took a solid two years to recover from our plunge into the red, which was a difficult time for T.C. Elli’s and other local brands. Now, we are extremely conservative with our financial decisions and keep a tidy financial house. We’ve strategically extended our decision timeline when it comes to purchases and adding new line-items; we’ve implemented a healthy model to keep payroll lean while always delivering excellent customer service, a fresh and innovative online user experience, and influencer outreach and social media strategy.”

Lesson Learned

Find team members you can rely on.

Elliott says, “ I think for all business owners when you’re just getting started it’s not an option (financially) to hire a team even if you need it. So, you end up taking on the huge task of running a company by yourself. For me, I got used to it. I loved having my hand in every part of the business so even once I could afford to hire, I didn’t. I was working days, evenings, and weekends and was on the brink of burn-out before I hired my first full-time staffer. Today, we have a team of over 30 employees who help me run the show. While I still play a very active role in the day-to-day business as well as behind the scenes, my work-life balance is much healthier than it was in the first few years. I only wish I had acted sooner.”

Spotlight: Community Building Strategy Helped Retail Business T.C. Elli's Thrive Post Recession

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000

On an emergency fund.

Elliott explains, “I’d save it for a rainy day because we all know those happen.”

Favorite Quote

“You were born with potential.
You were born with goodness and trust.
You were born with ideals and dreams.
You were born with greatness.
You were born with wings.
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t.
You have wings.
Learn to use them and fly.” -Rumi

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Find out more about the Small Biz Spotlight program

Images: T.C. Elli’s, Tahnee Elliott 1 Comment ▼

Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles, interviews, feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. When she’s not writing she can be found exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

One Reaction
  1. As long as you did your share of building your brand and solidifying yourself in the minds of your target market, that is all you need.