A Passion for Fashion
Founded in 1978, The Lily Pad Boutique has become an icon for women in East Tennessee, but also for women from as far away as Chicago, New York, Atlanta and everywhere else in between. The Lily Pad Boutique has come to symbolize much more than just the area’s premier destination for women in search of the latest in designer fashions and trends. It also represents the vision and passion of its founder, Brenda Bryan.
The Lily Pad was launched 33 years ago at a time when women entrepreneurs were clearly in the minority. Brenda, whether she acknowledges it or not, has become a role model for other women-owned small businesses that today launch new start-ups at twice the rate of their male contemporaries. This month Everything Knoxville is privileged to interview The Lily Pad Boutique’s owner and founder, Brenda Bryan.
Everything Knoxville: What was your inspiration for The Lily Pad Boutique?
Brenda Bryan: My passion for fashion and for merchandising! Seeing a need in this area for moderate to better ladies wear, I trusted that gut feeling and ran with it. I’ve found true gratification in my chosen life path and try each day to pass along that joy to my customers in some small way… a great new product, a great deal now and then… a wonderful fit to make them look and feel better or a simple little thing like a smile and a warm greeting!
EK: What would you describe as the single greatest reason for the success of The Lily Pad Boutique?
Brenda: Starting small really fostered my entrepreneurial spirit and allowed me to be scrappy, creative and easily take risks. By surrounding myself with a great team of dedicated, creative people who understand that customer service goes far beyond making a sale, I’m constantly inspired… I’m very blessed to have such a phenomenal team!
EK: Were you surprised when you discovered that women were traveling hundreds of miles to visit The Lily Pad Boutique?
Brenda: Yes, absolutely, especially when it first began! We now ship merchandise daily to many cities nationwide! Most recently we received an email from a customer in Raleigh, NC who was shopping at a cosmetics counter there and recognized what another customer was wearing as being Lily Pad fashions! The two of them had quite a conversation, I understand!
EK: Some women believe that raising a family is an obstacle to building a successful small business, yet you raised a family and succeeded. How do you account for that?
Brenda: Starting the shop on a much smaller scale allowed me the time to be available as our daughters were growing up. During their high school and college years they worked part time, attended markets with me and were a part of the growing process. It’s much easier for your family to understand the stress you’ll sometimes be under when they are involved and aware of your business demands.
EK: Why did you choose historic downtown Sweetwater for the location of your boutique?
Brenda: Because of the central location, almost midway between Knoxville and Chattanooga; also, a charming 100-year-old building became available to purchase, thus allowing me to redesign the space into everything a great boutique needed… a sale room, a coffee bar, a comfortable seating area, plus ample floor space for displaying the merchandise… and most of all the character that comes with these fabulous older buildings! Our historic downtown is a wonderful destination, whether for a day or an overnight, offering unique shops and eateries! Beginning in May, a walking tour will be available featuring all of the historic landmarks. Maps will guide visitors along the sites.
EK: You’ve been happily married for over 40 years to your husband, David. How has David supported you in achieving your goals?
Brenda: Being a businessman himself, David’s first bit of advice to me was “There’s no product you can sell that someone up or down the street can’t sell also, so you have to make sure you do it a little bit better than everyone else.” I’ve never forgotten this and constantly try to do it “a little bit better.” My husband is my financial advisor, my “Mr. fix it,” and patiently listens to all of my stories at the end of each day whether they’re of frustration or elation!
EK: What recommendations would you offer to an aspiring mom with young children if she’s contemplating starting a small business of her own?
Brenda: Make sure you’re very disciplined and constantly reinvent yourself every day. Maintain a high energy level by taking care of yourself and find a balance with your personal life. Business owners are always ON… it takes a lot of work to turn it OFF! Balancing a career and family is always a challenge as a working mom; a family who is very supportive of your career, understanding the tradeoffs you’ll all have to make, is essential. Be prepared to work hard; owning your own business can be fun and rewarding, but behind the scenes it’s a lot of hard work. Be ready to pay your dues… don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and work your way up!
EK: What does the future look like for The Lily Pad Boutique?
Brenda: My plan is always to be humble and hungry for perfection in the Lily Pad’s future… to continue to strive for excellence in all that we do… to go that extra mile for our customers and to constantly embrace change.
The Lily Pad Boutique
209 N. Main Street in Sweetwater