By: Michaela Simcoe, The Brookings Register
For most, the holidays are a time to relax and connect with family and friends.
But for South Dakota State University grad Courtney Coughlin, it’s also a time to prepare for a holiday pop-up shop, post about new arrivals on Instagram and prepare for the biggest season of the year for her online women’s boutique, CCXO.
CCXO, formerly known as Cowgirl Crush XO, was originally established in 2008 when Coughlin started selling necklaces that she made while sitting on a show box at cattle shows. She said her customer base quickly outpaced the rate that she could string necklaces. Creating the jewelry sparked her passion for retail fashion and made her want to expand the business during her time at college.
“CCXO started out as a hobby and it wasn’t what I planned for my future,” Coughlin said. “Life is funny that way.”
Coughlin grew up on a cattle ranch north of Mitchell and graduated from Mitchell High School in 2010. She then obtained a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurial studies from South Dakota State University. Upon graduation in 2013, Courtney began to focus on her business full-time.
She said that until someone offered to buy the necklace she was wearing, she hadn’t ever considered selling her creations. But, once she went to college she did a lot of trial and error to grow her business.
Her entrepreneurial studies classes focused on management and owning a business. Coughlin developed her business plan while still in school and was able to bounce ideas off of her professors to build CCXO.
“Once I decided that I was going to make CCXO into something I could do after college, it was a matter of expanding the business. Banks looked at me as a college student and not as a business person, so I put 90 percent of the profits right back into the business instead of taking out a loan, which is something I am super proud of.”
In the past decade, CCXO has evolved into a full retail line with clothes, shoes, bags, scarves, jewelry, denim, candles and more. Coughlin is very active on social media and posts about new arrivals, gift card giveaways and upcoming sales on the CCXO Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest pages. Coughlin frequently engages with the brand she built on social media, which currently has 16,000 Facebook likes and over 7,000 Instagram followers.
“I love being able to help women look and feel their best with something as simple as a new outfit to boost their confidence,” Coughlin said. “The connections and relationships I have developed in the past 10 years truly make me realize how small the world is and how many amazing women there are not only in South Dakota but throughout the United States.”
CCXO Model Carlie Jackson attributes the growing popularity and success of the online women’s boutique to Coughlin’s awareness of trends and her ability to stay up to date with her clothing line.
Jackson says that Coughlin has also done some rebranding and created a new website to appeal to more customers. Although the boutique is online, she always goes the extra mile in making her customers and employees feel valued.
“I like working with Courtney because she is a personable business owner that goes out of her way to write hand-written notes not only to myself, but to her customers as well,” Jackson said. “That is not something you see much of anymore because everything is now digital.”
Coughlin says that customer service is a huge part of her business and is extremely important to her because CCXO is strictly online.
“I have very few opportunities to connect with customers or add a personal touch to orders so whenever I am communicating with anyone online, I always try to be authentic and overcompensate if there are any issues.”
Coughlin says 2017 was an exciting year for her, as she married her husband, Elliot, in January and they had their daughter, Holly, in November.
“Those two are a big part of my business,” Coughlin said. “Elliot does all of the paperwork and taxes for CCXO, and Holly loves to crumple any tissue paper she can get her hands on.”
Coughlin says that managing a business from home has its challenges, and that her to-do list doesn’t always get completed. But, she enjoys the flexibility of being able to spend time with her family and be with her daughter at home every single day. Her “mini boss” Holly is often featured on social media helping package orders to ship out to customers.
In the coming years, Coughlin plans to continue growing CCXO and potentially hire some of her part-time staff to full-time positions. She often gets asked if the business will ever have a store front.
“My current answer is no, but you never know,” said Coughlin. “The season of life I am in right now, I love the freedom and flexibility I have with an online boutique. I truly love every part of owning a business, so it is hard to let someone else take over in certain areas. But at the same time, it is fun to see CCXO expand every year.”
The online women’s boutique can be found at www.shopccxo.com