Melissa Weispfennig, Owner of Dahlia's Downtown Boutique, On Cultivating a Culture of Confidence
"I felt like, 'Okay, God, I hear you, and I think I'm ready.'"
Melissa Weispfennig never imagined owning a boutique clothing store. Oh, don't get her wrong, she had watched the industry rise via social media and imagined the excitement of shopping clothes at trade shows, curating collections, and building lasting relationships with customers. But for her, shopping was a hobby, something to offset the time her husband spent hunting and enjoying the outdoors. She was going to be a mother, raise a family, build a nest.
Life had other plans.
Early last year, something pulled at her heart. She says she's always lacked confidence but began to imagine starting a business, helping other women feel beautiful and find their own confidence. Her husband was in full support and the couple resolved to take a leap of faith. Then, her father was injured in a serious car accident shortly before Weispfennig herself underwent one final surgical procedure in hopes of starting a family. The business would have to wait.
Her father would regain some of his independence in time, but Weispfennig's surgery would prove unsuccessful. Life resolved into a new normal. Again, she felt a tug at her heart, that there was a way she could still bring hope and happiness into the world.
"As hard as those things were, there are a lot of things I wouldn't have been able to experience otherwise," Weispfennig recalls. "I talked to my boss and told her what was going on, where my heart was" and Weispfennig and her husband began once more to chase her dream. "It all happened really fast," she says.
Shopping for a Shop
That big push came late last year. The inner urging was impossible to ignore, so Weispfennig and her husband—a dentist in his own career—began shopping for a space with character. They wanted to be in the heart of downtown, and they found just the spot in the former Arneson Agency – itself a historic building in downtown Fergus Falls. While busy peeling wallpaper and laying down drywall and layers of fresh paint, Weispfennig's sister suggested reaching out to Greater Fergus Falls for guidance shaping the new boutique's business plan.
"I never felt like I was being judged for having an idea. It was really great, and that brought me back to continue to work with them once I was ready," Weispfennig says. "For so many reasons, I'm so thankful for them."
It took months, and the remodeling process was shared to social media, drawing words of support and encouragement. Weispfennig says the name, Dahlia's Downtown Boutique, came from a desire to capture something beautiful and feminine. She challenged herself to open by summer and hosted a pop-up retail launch at the Greater Fergus Falls Foundry last April.
The store itself opened ahead of schedule, Mother's Day weekend, appropriately, and Weispfennig calls the response from the community fantastic, saying she was blown away by the support. In the months since, business has settled into a steady hum.
Big Heart, Big Dreams
This is only the beginning. Weispfennig says that friends and family ask her how she handles the stress and long hours of owning a young business, but the boutique is more than another job; it's a purpose.
"I feel like passion is what keeps me going," Weispfennig says. "I find when I'm not here, I want to be here. I love it that much. There's nowhere else I'd rather be at times."
Most important are the connections she's made with her clientele and the opportunity to have a positive impact in the lives of others. Weispfennig wants to grow the business over time, creating a website, opening a warehouse, and expanding her selection for women's and girls' clothing – but more important to her is helping other women feel compassion for themselves.
"I feel that, in today's society, it's so easy for us to look at people—social media especially—and we see these people and compare ourselves – and we shouldn't. I find that we are all beautiful as humans, especially women," she says. Weispfennig says the negative self talk has surprised her the most.
"I hear it more than I ever expected. I think that's probably the hardest part of my job is hearing women talk negatively about themselves. When women come in here, I just want them to feel good about themselves."
It's a core tenet of her business and something she shares regularly to her staff, teaching them to look for every opportunity to make a difference – even through the little things.
"You really never know what somebody's going through. Just being kind, or a smile, or being pleasant can change a person's day," she says. She hopes to "spread the word of confidence" and help women feel better in their own skin.
"Because they should," Weispfennig says.
- R.C. Drews for Greater Fergus Falls
Do you have the idea for Minnesota's next big business adventure? Click here to learn more about Greater Fergus Falls and our commitment to furthering economic development and growth in the Fergus Falls area.