Exclusive Interview

Woman on the Rise- Shara Konechneys’ Retail Journey

Photo provided by Piper staff

Lubbock is a thriving environment for local businesses to get started off the ground. We sat down with one of Lubbock’s most impressive and persistent business women, Shara Konechney, owner of local retail boutique, Piper.

Tell us about yourself?

How it started

My mom and I started in retail together 35 years ago, repping lines out of the apparel mart in Dallas. And then we looked at each other one day and said “You know, why let someone else tell us what to do and tell us how much we’re gonna make. Let’s do our own thing and answer those questions for ourselves.” So that’s what we did. We were fortunate to have a friend who designed Western apparel. A soft Western, not the real Westerny that you see but a real sweet, feminine Western. So we started manufacturing our own clothing and doing pop up shops all over the United States. We did every rodeo. We were on the road for 10 years pretty much every month.

First retail store experience

In between that time we opened two retail stores, one in Lubbock called Cat Ballou. One in Ruidoso, New Mexico called Cowboys, Indians and Outlaws. So we would design our things, get the raw materials, have seamstresses that took the items home, made them and brought them to us.  We sold them wholesale and then retail out of our physical stores and on the road. That was about 15 years. Then we had a gal that reached out to us to buy our business and we decided to do that and maybe we would get out of retail. I can’t believe we’ve ever said that but at that point in time, we did. We were tired, it had been a long road. So we did sell our two stores, and then our apparel business.

Then we just started buying jewelry instead, and getting back on the road, yet a new name and doing the same shows the same way for another five years. After that I met and married my husband and he joined us so we did even more shows. Then we started doing all the fairs. We did every fair in every state. Orange County Fair, The Colorado State Fair, The Texas State Fair, the New Mexico State Fair, Louisiana State Fair, Missouri State, Minnesota, New York. We did them all. We went to Canada and did the Calgary Stampede. Literally lived on the road. We had a home but we were never there and loved it. Just never thought anything different about it.

Back into retail

Then in 2005 at Texas Tech, the center at Overton Park was being developed. In ‘05 it was just dirt on the ground. Spanky’s was the only restaurant and McDougal was tearing that down, buying the homes around there and redoing that area. So there was going to be a center under apartments which was the center at Overton Park. So we found out that they were going to lease space and we reached out to them to open what we decided to call The 1020 boutique. Most under $10, Nothing over $20 and it was all accessories. Jewelry, handbags, shoes. And for the Tech student, that’s the perfect dollar figure.

Problems arose

But then we opened the 1020 Boutique in ‘05. And they said “we think there’s going to be a Starbucks, and there’s going to be a Citibank, and there’s going to be this, there’s going to be that, there’s going to be a Chili’s and all of this wasn’t there yet. So we were excited because it was going to be wonderful, cool, neat. Lots of cool reasons for people to come to that area and shop with us. Well, after it got started two years into it, there was no parking, because there were so many new venues.

When you’re in retail, if your customer can’t park, you’re in trouble. Well, we signed a five year lease and we were going to make it work. It was busy and we had a lot of walk by, so it may work. but we thought well, let’s open a spot by the mall. Because Lubbock is two different, you know. There’s the Texas Tech area and then there’s the mall.

A solution

So we opened the second 1020 boutique and had it for three years while we were still at the Tech store. So we had those two. Then they were doing so well that I thought, oh, let’s do a clothing store. This spot next to us was empty. So we opened 40 below which was clothing frozen at $40 and down. So at one time we had the three stores going at the same time.

Well, we decided to not renew the lease at Tech because the parking. Had it been great and there’d been parking, it would have been the thing to do. But we felt like that was the smart thing. So we didn’t renew that lease. We stayed by the mall and three years into it, forever 21 opened and that really just killed us with clothing. So we sold that side to another girl and just kept the 1020 going.

The seed for Piper

Then, Seven years into this, we decided that clothing was where girls wanted to be, and we needed to change our focus. So I went to Texas Tech and had a contest with the retail department and I said, this is where I feel like we need to go. We’re going to need to change our name because clothing under 20 is not very cute. So we changed our name. One of the girls in the retail department liked the name Piper, and said, you know, we like your vision of where you’re headed. So we changed our name and changed our focus. The girl next door moved so we knocked the wall out and expanded. It’s been 15 years here.

What inspired the name Piper for the young lady who came up with it?

You know, I don’t know. We asked them to be creative, to think about the future with more clothing and I think quite honestly, the girl just liked the name Piper. And we had a really thick bunch of entries in the contest. And the winner was going to win a $100 gift card to the store. It was just cool doing it with the retail department at Tech. It was kind of our give back to Tech and their help with us. So I think she just liked the name. It was great, pretty simple reason to call it Piper. People ask us all the time about it. 

We’ve kept the 1020 phone number. We’re still open at 1020, closed at 620, our phone number ends in 1020 and all of our prices end with the number 20. It’s just a marketing thing that we’ve hung on to.

If you had to describe entrepreneurship in three words, what would it be?

Insanely, totally crazy. But I wouldn’t consider doing anything else.

You’ve got this amazing retail brand in the community and its local, what is the vision for the future for the brand?

I think it’s just to continue with exactly what we’re doing now. Just get better within this store. Offer more and more personalized customer service, taking care of our customers. Being what Amazon can’t be. Being one on one. Working with the community, working with the high schools, Texas Tech, LCU, doing things that Amazon and people online can’t do and that’s one on one. Just more and more and more of that.

Let’s talk about being a woman led business and being an entrepreneur. How does that make you feel?

It’s a great feeling. You know, we have a new t-shirt that we got in today for sale that said, the future is female. And, you know, guys, I’m not against ya. But I’m telling you, women have come a long way. From when I started to now, women when I was in my 20s, were expected to stay home, have kids, and cook. And even when I was in high school, I thought that didn’t sound good. And I think women back then felt like they weren’t supposed to own their own business. It just wasn’t the thing for them to do.

So to see the path that those women like my grandmother laid for me, is incredible, because I know she’s smiling down going “wow I wanted to do that and I knew you would want to.” So I did things that I thought would help you have no fear. Fear keeps women from doing anything, a lot of times because they think they’re not supposed to.

The Doubts

Or what if? What if I try and it doesn’t work? If I don’t have enough money? What if I don’t do the right thing? What if I pick the wrong business? You know, Mom and I never thought about fear. We had to pay bills. We needed the money. And we felt like we could set our own destiny financially, rather than someone tell us what we were going to make annually. We knew we could. So do we save? You know, do we take the road most traveled and be safe and someone tell us what to do. When to do it and how much we’re going to make. Or do we bite the bullet and get on the road and be somewhat carnival folks and go from show to show.

So you know, it’s not for everyone. It’s the road less traveled. It’s real hard. I think you have to be addicted to work. I’m not saying you can’t have a family and be an entrepreneur also. But I think it’s really hard. Because one of them gets not as much effort put into. It’s a crazy high. It’s a high you can’t get from anything, it’s an addiction.

What would your message be to young women in our society today who are thinking about being business owners and entrepreneurs?

I would tell them if you feel even a tiny bit of passion about something, because passion is the most important word. People ask me about it for sure. Are you passionate? If you are, and you’re willing to work hard, I think a lot of times when people open a business, they think, Oh, you know, this is going to be easy. And I’m just not gonna have to answer to anyone. I’m just gonna have a good time. No, It’s so hard. So if you’re passionate, I would tell these girls, are you afraid of hard work? And you have a passion? Do it. Don’t look back, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes, you’re going to do the wrong thing.

Personally, outside of my passion for retail

My life is a long list of mistakes, but had it not been for them, and the journey that they caused me to go on, the ups and downs, and there were a lot of downs, I wouldn’t be here. And faith, you know, I have a strong faith in God. And I’m just like, God, I’m gonna give it to you because today I’m not sure, and so he says I’m here. I’m here. Go ahead. You’re good. I gotcha. So I think it takes passion, faith in being, not being afraid to work hard.

You’ve been around the entire country and beyond in your shows and seeing other markets. Why Lubbock and West Texas?

Oh, gosh, Lubbock is just the best. The people. Everyone says that but it’s so true. You know, you could go far. I lived in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Angelo, going to college. But the people just aren’t, aren’t like Lubbock people. They give you the shirt off their back. They let you pull out in front of them, most of the time driving, and it’s just a great bunch of pile of love. I love working with the people. I have a great team of local girls. We love supporting everything about Lubbock, the sporting events, the Chamber of Commerce, the women groups that are strong in Lubbock. It’s very easy. They’re accepting. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

What do you like to do for fun in Lubbock, when you get time?

My husband and I love to go out and eat. At the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is cook. My husband still asks me why I don’t cook and I’m like, I told you 18 years ago before we got married, I dont cook. So we love when there’s a new restaurant in town. We love the camaraderie of meeting friends out to eat. That’s really our main thing. And we’ll catch a movie here and there but there’s so many things. There’s the Lubbock apps and things that you can keep up with the local things going on. If there’s something like the First Friday art trail, I’ll love to check all that out. So if it’s an event going on in Lubbock, we try to at least go once a month to things like that.

Interview by Marcus Pauda, CEO of Campus Live

For other inspiring stories from female entrepreneurs, check out Kimberly Gramms’ Women on the Rise exclusive interview!

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