When it comes to perseverance and persistence, few young entrepreneurs can surpass the obstacles faced by business partners Joe Brown and Lauron Pijeaux when they launched Laced Up Boutique, Birmingham’s upper-echelon sneaker consignment shop.
“It was a challenge,” Brown said. “Off the bat, we ran into a brick wall. Our whole [business] concept was a fairytale. It wasn’t realistic at all. We didn’t have a realistic understanding of how you actually go about creating a business.”
Brown, 29, and Pijeaux, 28, both from Center Point, have been friends for more than 15 years and attended John Carroll High School together. When looking to open a brick-and-mortar location, the budding entrepreneurs faced a unique set of barriers.
“Do you know how hard it was to get a building? We had to go through hell and high water just to get this building,” said Pijeaux of Laced Up Boutique’s current site at 1305 2nd Ave. N., Suite 105.
Part of their challenge was being two young black males with dreadlocks and the stereotypes that ensued.
“Real estate agents and owners would immediately tell us, ‘No. No barbershops’ as soon as we arrive to tour a space, not even knowing what our business plan was,” Pijeaux said. “They’d see young black guys with long dreads and, because we don’t look like typical businessmen, they’d automatically assume we’re up to no good.”
For support, Brown and Pijeaux turned to REV Birmingham, an economic development organization focused on stimulating business growth and improving the quality of life in the Magic City, and they got the attention of store owners.
“We had to figure a way around the red tape, and position ourselves with somebody they couldn’t tell us no,” Brown said.
Brown and Pijeaux partnered with REV Birmingham’s Business Growth program, an innovative team committed to helping small business owners define and achieve their goals and move their plan from concept to reality.
Laced Up Boutique brings a trendy, hip, and retro/vintage sneaker culture into the city.
“I have always wanted to own my own business, but I didn’t graduate from college,” Pijeaux said. “I hopped into the retail field, and that’s where my whole business mindset came from. I figured out what I had a passion for: sneakers. So instead of going into retail stores every weekend to buy sneakers, I decided to sell them.”
Brown graduated from college with a degree in journalism and spent a few years teaching high school, but he was never passionate about any of his former professions.
“I consider myself a dreamer,” Brown said. “I’ve always felt like working for other people puts a ceiling on you, so that’s why it wasn’t intimidating for me to go after my passion. But working retail did help me understand different aspects of running a business.”
With their personal shoe collections as their first inventory and an Instagram page in lieu of a website, Brown and Pijeaux created a specialty clientele. When they opened their store, they had the opportunity to not only expand their business but also uplift the community.
Laced Up Boutique is located across from the Firehouse Shelter, which is for the homeless, and the businessmen have donated some of their shoes to those in need.
“We want to be able to give back to the community,” Pijeaux said. “You don’t have true success until you’re able to have a positive impact on those in need.”
Brown and Pijeaux plan to build on what they have.
“We have a million ideas, but we needed a starting point with something that we knew so that we weren’t just experimenting,” Brown said. “I’m not looking for this to necessarily be a worldwide thing. I want us to become a local, city staple. I want to be on a first name basis with everybody in Birmingham.”
Message to millennials
There’s no greater reward than the satisfaction of achievement, Pijeaux said. “Being able to finally say we’ve done this, is the most rewarding part of my work. All the struggles that we’ve been through for the last three or four years have finally paid off. At the end of the day we have the satisfaction of knowing we own our own business. We can pay ourselves what we’re worth, and we can live how we want to live.”
The time for entrepreneurship is now, Brown said. “Step your game up, don’t get left behind,” he said.