Carly Gatzlaff is a former teacher, turned personal shopper, who fell into her dream job. Her passion is making everyday people feel fabulous in their own skin. After moving back to Minnesota in 2011 with her husband, she decided to take the plunge and start her business, À La Mode Wardrobe Consulting. Read on to learn how she balances her business and family life, her advice for defining success as your own boss, and why she bases her professional relationships on kindness and compassion.
Tell us about your company.
We are image consultants for everyday people. We make clients feel fabulous in their own skin by taking the worry and frustration out of clothing and shopping.
Specializing in personal shopping (with and for our clients), closet analysis (working with what you already have), and corporate presentations on style.
Our goal is to take the elitism out of shopping and increase the self-esteem of our clients with outfits they love while they look great.
What was your first job growing up, and what did you learn from it?
I worked at Taco John’s in my hometown of Mandan, North Dakota from ages fourteen through eighteen. I learned that people value hard work and smarts.
Although I could barely work any hours, my boss encouraged me and kept me on for four years because when I was there, I worked my butt off. It also taught me that when you have the will, there is a way.
None of my friends worked growing up because of time constraints, but I was thrilled to make my $20 a week!
clients Carly styled for a Star Tribune feature
Tell us about your career before starting your own company.
I attended the University of Minnesota on a running scholarship, getting my undergrad in 2006 in Family Social Science with a Retail Merchandising minor. While running and attending school, I worked part-time nights in our equipment room (again when there was a will, there was a way!). I adored my time there and learned a lot from the equipment managers.
Graduating in 2007 with my master’s in Family Education, I moved to Boston to pursue my goal of teaching high school Family and Consumer Science. There I worked at Melrose High School for four years, teaching Fashion/Sewing, Nutrition, and Child Development.
During my third-year teaching, I took on a job as a personal shopper at The Banana Republic because I finished work by 3:00 pm every day – and, frankly, was a little bored after school!
A few weeks in, I knew I found something I didn’t only adore – I was good at this job!
I never “sold” clothes to anyone and was quickly their top earning personal shopper. After working there for two years on top of teaching, I decided to pursue styling and began a job at the styling company, Stylista Boston.
Later, my husband and I had an opportunity to move back to Minnesota in 2011; we jumped at it! I continued from a distance at Stylista Boston doing blog and social media writing.
Additionally, I took a position as a visual merchandiser with Banana Republic, since the same personal shopper role I had in Boston did not exist in the Midwest.
In 2012 I renewed my teaching license, and at the same time started À La Mode. I was unsure if it would take off, but was determined to try to make my new business work. It was a struggle the first years establishing a client base, but by early 2014 I considered myself a success and began adding stylists to help with my swelling client load!
Tell us the story of why and how you started your business:
At the time, it was something that interested me but didn’t exist as a job. I didn’t want to sell people clothes; I wanted to teach them to do it themselves. So, I decided to make it a business! Looking back, I also think a lot of my business was about being yourself and loving who you are.
I always felt uncomfortable shopping and depending on the store or price point I still do! I hated shopping; I knew I was good at it, but so many stores care more about who you are or your appearance.
I built my business on working with everyday people (though that wasn’t my initial ah-huh moment) because everyone deserves to feel fantastic about the way they dress.
What is a typical day like for you?
Depending on the season, it’s completely different. During our busy time, you will find me up early to work out, getting my kid’s ready for the day, and checking e-mail while trying to eat something quickly.
Next, I’m driving all over the Twin Cities listening to podcasts (Young House Love is my current go-to), going through people’s closets (or sitting on their floors, as I like to joke), and shopping both in person (typically at MOA) and online.
During our non-busy season, I do a lot more work on my business set-up, marketing, and speaking. You can typically find me in my PJs (styled cutely of course!) and on my computer most of the day.
From 5-7 pm, I’m getting dinner on the table for my family and putting my kiddos to bed. By 8 pm (when bedtime goes smoothly), I am taking a bath, hanging out with my husband, watching TV, and heading to bed.
I do not work Wednesdays, so those are my Mommy, John, and Anna days with my kids (and a good reminder of how exhausting it is to be a parent). We do a lot of traveling as a family, and my husband and I love to go out to eat or for a run whenever we get a chance.
Tell us about a hard time in your life. What did you learn from it or how did it make you stronger?
My youngest child Anna was born with a large congenital nevus (basically a giant mole) covering her entire back and bum. Since she was born, we have been in and out of doctor’s offices, and she has had three major surgeries.
This experience has made me a much more compassionate person. When relating to others, I always think, you never really know what’s happening in someone else’s life. Everyone’s day-to-day life and circumstances are different – you don’t know what someone’s going through until you walk in their shoes.
I try to be open and forgiving, remembering that people’s experiences and background play in their day-to-day attitude. Also, becoming a parent has been incredibly humbling. It has made me value my family much more and understand my clients even better as many of them are parents themselves.
What advice or tips would you give to a new business owner?
Know your market. Spend time and money reaching your people and stay that course.
Try not to get bogged down by what others think. Being successful looks different to everyone. When running your own business, it often feels impossible to succeed because no one models it for you.
Define success for yourself – circle back to that definition when you have self-doubt.
What’s next for your business?
Short-term, we just rolled out a new online closet offering, which I think will change the scope of my business. My team and I are working to perfect our process and serve our clients in both MN and elsewhere better.
Long-term, I’m hoping to find a way to bring my services to a wider audience. I enjoy corporate speaking and on-air appearances and hope to expand this reach.
What do you believe is your single strongest skill that’s helped you succeed?
Kindness. I’m very introverted and am constantly surveying my surroundings and learning from them. I think clients pretty instantly trust me and know I care, which I think is largely due to my kind manner.
Tell us about your life outside of your business? What do you like to do?
I spend a ton of time with my kids (John 3 and Anna 1) and my barky 6-year-old rescue dog, Ralphie. My husband and I have been married for nearly nine years and have a ton of fun together, but he is gone a lot for work, so I spend a lot of time moming and entertaining myself.
I adore getting outside running, biking, swimming, and going for a walk whenever I can. We travel a lot to see friends and family (and tag along with my husband’s work).
I also love reading US Weekly, watching The Real Housewives, and reading almost any fiction book set in London or Ireland.
I DO NOT like shopping in my free time.
How do you balance your career and family life?
Honestly, I balance it all with a lot of guilt. I never feel like I am doing enough on either the work or family front. However, I try to have all my systems in place so I can do the best job possible and focus on the joy both things bring me.
Quick Fun Facts
What’s your favorite charity?
I’m still searching for a favorite charity. I try to focus on things with a family and child-centered approach in the US and relief/sustainability help abroad.
What age do you want to retire at?
With my job flexibility, I’m not sure I ever will!
One travel location on your bucket list?
Are you an introvert or extrovert?
Introvert all the way!
What is your favorite blog, podcast, or book?
Blog: Cupcakes and Cashmere and Cup of Jo; Podcast: Young House Love; Book: A Man Called Ove, but I read a lot, so it’s constantly changing.
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