4 lessons from böhme founder Fernanda Böhme Birkeland
Once a month, Utah Business hosts Founder Friday, a free event sponsored by BONCO that showcases the wisdom of Utah-based founders. In January, Kiln hosted the conversation between Utah Business Editor Mekenna Malan and böhme Founder Fernanda Böhme Birkeland. Here are a few takeaways from the event.
1. Scrappy entrepreneurship will get you where you want to go.
When Fernanda Böhme Birkeland’s family moved to the United States from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, they made a living by cleaning office buildings. She describes growing up as a “sink or swim situation” and says that if she and her siblings wanted or needed anything, they had to find a way to get it themselves. For 10 years, the Birkeland children went to work with their parents to help support their family financially. This early introduction to hard work built the foundation for the scrappy founder she would become.
Birkeland and her sister, Vivien, opened their first temporary clothing store in 2006. With no cash, no connections and no experience, Birkeland didn’t know if it would work—but she knew how to work hard. She applied for a credit card and upped the limit as often as she could to get cash for rent and to create the store. She pulled display chandeliers from Target dumpsters to decorate their space. At only 23 years old and despite still having a full-time job, Birkeland and her sister opened their doors. Three months later, they closed, having broken even.
When they opened a more permanent store later, Birkeland and her sister put up wallpaper, painted ceilings, painted cement and did all their own construction. “When I say I built 10-12 stores, I mean it,” she says. “We would work all day and do construction all night.” The gumption and drive cultivated as a necessity in their youth became the scrappy entrepreneurship böhme’s success is built on today.
2. Have faith in the higher powers helping you achieve your potential.
After the first temporary store closed, Birkeland had a decision to make. “I was done. I was exhausted. … I had no reason to go forward, and that is when I prayed,” Birkeland says. She was told to get up and go back to work. The voice promised her that angels would be by her side to support her success. Following those impressions, Birkeland put everything she had into böhme. “It’s like walking in a cave. You’re in the dark, and all you have is the flame of your faith,” Birkeland says. “We opened a second location.” Today, böhme has 16 store locations across the western United States.
3. Brick-and-mortar is not going away.
Many businesses do well with online sales but struggle when it comes to opening a physical location. “Instead of doing website first and then brick-and-mortar, we did it the opposite way. I like that. We got to perfect the brick-and-mortar aspect,” Birkeland says.
Birkeland believes there is a science behind the experience of a physical store that many companies forget about. She recommends watching your customers and doing market research to perfect an in-person experience. And, despite apocalyptic claims for brick-and-mortar shopping, Birkeland believes it is not going anywhere. “Experiencing a brand in the flesh—there’s no alternative to that,” she says.
4. Find your own frequency.
Birkeland hopes to help others “find their frequency,” meaning to find their higher purpose in life. We all are on our own paths with our own intentions and intuition to guide us, she says, which means what works for one entrepreneur might not work for another, and she encourages each individual person to find their own power. “Once you find your frequency and align your gifts and talents with the creator above, it’s powerful. It’s pure magic,” Birkeland says.