From Banker to Baby Boutique Owner: A Mom’s Entrepreneurship Journey
PIVOT is a series of interviews with inspiring individuals who made major career shifts and decided to start LIVING instead of just making a living. We’re talking to engineers who became comedians, lawyers who became entrepreneurs, and everyone in between. These career chameleons are proof that your wildest job aspirations are possible- and that there is never just one path that will take you there. For a weekly dose of inspiration in your inbox, subscribe to our mailing list: https://mailchi.mp/83e53e22830f/vienna
Karen Saunders earned her degree in management from the University of Texas at Austin and became the VP of JP Morgan Private Bank in San Antonio. While working at JP Morgan, she made her first foray into entrepreneurship by opening Kantik, a line of hand-block printed textiles in organic cotton. She later dove into business ownership full-time when she decided to take over Bambinos, a baby and children’s boutique that gives back to the community by supporting families of preemies and medically fragile infants and local preschools.
What made you decide to make your career switch?
I loved banking and JPMorgan and the teams I worked with. With 15 years in my field, I never really planned a career switch. My second daughter was premature, arriving 10 weeks early, and that changed me. The challenge of that experience gave me the courage I didn’t know I was lacking. I returned to work 6 months after her birth and my heart wasn’t in it in the same way. Through a friend of a friend, I learned Bambinos was closing unless someone came along to carry on its 20-year tradition. I couldn’t let this beloved business disappear from our community and knew my business and finance skills would serve me well in a new adventure.
Did you face any criticism when making your career change?
I think I was most critical of myself. Walking away from a full-time, high-paying, private banking job for a baby store often had me thinking “What am I doing”? I love being a business owner, empowering other young women who work for me to learn more about business, supporting families during the very special time of having a baby or even a preemie. My husband, friends and family were all supportive, but I had to find the ways that I was making an impact so I could justify the big leap within myself. Redefining success has been a big part of my journey.
What was your greatest fear when starting your business?
I was terrified I would fail. In my education and career, my path was always forward-moving and the measure of success was in dollars. I knew instant financial success wasn’t a likely outcome in this venture and that was scary. I was also afraid of all that I didn’t know. All of it was on my shoulders and though the business was 20 years old, Bambinos needed a refresh, a physical move, and an e-commerce presence. The pressure of being the business owner, the creative developer, the manager, the trainer, the buyer, the salesperson, and the customer service pro was at times overwhelming.
What skills from your college education and/or former career, if any, do you use now when managing your business?
My corporate business management experience has been invaluable in understanding how to use data to drive results in this business. The discipline we have around buying merchandise, budgeting, event planning, and analyzing daily, weekly, and monthly results are all based on how I managed business units in the corporate world. With a profitable business and continued year over year growth, we took a huge risk last year and moved to a new location. I chose to do this for many reasons, but more space was number one! I wanted to have a community area to host events that would bring moms and babies together with activities, charity events, and more, and that vision would not work in our old space. Negotiating a lease and finish-out at the Quarry was a major undertaking and my corporate experience was a huge asset in getting the deal done. Moving to a premier location opened up additional full-time management positions and gives me the ability to share my career experience in leading the Bambinos team, teaching and empowering young professionals in all aspects of the business.
Do you ever feel like you “wasted” your education?
Not at all! Without my education and the career that followed, I wouldn’t have been able to lead Bambinos to success. I have nursing students, women with marketing degrees, and a varied group of people who have worked with me. I love teaching them skills they can take with them as they pursue their dreams.
What advice do you have for others looking to make a major career change?
Make sure you aren’t running away from anything and are instead running to something you are deeply passionate about and committed to. As exciting as change can be, when the setbacks come and frustrations occur, it’s that passion and commitment together that sustain you to success.
Our favorite nugget of career wisdom:
“…I had to find the ways that I was making an impact so I could justify the big leap within myself. Redefining success has been a big part of my journey.”