By Hannah Becker
Navy spouse Nicole Wing was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug at a very young age. After getting married 18 years ago, Nicole embarked on a military journey that included 11 moves and seven deployments. Inspired by the culture and designs she found in Europe, Nicole founded Sea La Vie, a collection of gifts and home decor.
Nicole describes Sea La Vie as a “seaside cottage living style” that evolved from the influences and inspiration of all the beautiful places her family has lived. She spoke about her entrepreneurial path:
Q. What inspired you to take the plunge and start your own business?
A. I always knew I wanted to start my own small business. As a mother of two boys with a husband often away with many long combat deployments, I wanted to make sure I had a skill set that I could rely on to support my children in case anything happened to my husband. I worked as a flight attendant with American Airlines for almost seven years and then attended dental hygiene school when my kids were young. I am still practicing dental hygiene part time and very passionate about caring for my patients. It also funds the Sea La Vie startup costs!
After our tour in Belgium, I would dream up beautiful designs of gift and home decor goods. Maybe call it a midlife crisis? We returned to Europe for a second overseas tour, and I knew that if I ever had the opportunity to live overseas again, I would try to explore the idea of working with the local craftsmen and artisans to collaborate on the designs in my head with their specialty goods. I am always full of ideas, and not all of my ideas are great or home runs! I shared my business idea with my husband and my aunt, both of whom thought it was brilliant and have been excellent sounding boards.
Q. Tell us about your business.
A. Sea La Vie is a collection of gift and home decor goods inspired by all the places we have lived and traveled. I wanted to create a business that could move with the military. The online shop was launched this past year and currently ships throughout the United States and APO. Sea La Vie is a labor of love that didn’t evolve overnight but through years of making a home wherever the Navy sent my husband. Sea La Vie has been a featured vendor in a few local artisan fairs, and I would love the opportunity to have a brick and mortar store someday in my hometown of Coronado, Calif.
Some of Sea La Vie's offerings (Courtesy photo)
Q. What has been the hardest part of starting your own business?
A. The investment portion has been the most challenging with upfront costs of designing and importing goods, learning the rules and regulations of importing goods, figuring out state sales tax with registering businesses in different states, and learning the ins and outs of operating an online business. During the initial startup stage, it seemed like the word “no” or just no response to many of my inquiries was just part of the journey. One of my good friends in business encouraged me not to give up and helped me tune out the naysayers that come along with moving forward with a business concept.
My parents, entrepreneurs themselves, have been a huge help and are a wealth of knowledge with their experience running a business. My mom has been my copilot with sewing, crafting, and helping with all the prep that goes into setting up a pop-up shop at artisan fairs. I joke around with her that she is chief of operations, and I am thankful for the time we get to spend together. Recently, my parents passed down a plaque I remember seeing in their business office growing up that says, “Why is there never time to do it right the first time, but always time to do it over?” I find it humorous and encouraging to keep up with the daily efforts of operating a business.
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Q. What resources have you found helpful in blazing your own trail?
A. My military spouse friends were a wealth of knowledge and encouraged me along the way that I could do it, and they were the first to share their resources or recommendations. I belong to a few military spouse Facebook groups and was able to connect with entrepreneur support coaches and connect with strong women like the Better Business Babe, Kayla Roof with The Work From Anywhere Academy, and The Rosie Network. I would also recommend the Small Business Administration (SBA) military resources and webinars.
Q. How has starting your business inspired growth in your professional life?
A. You start to see things through a different lens and appreciate small business owners in a different way and with an increased level of respect. There are so many details that go into running a small business. I know that my weekly list of ten things to do usually expands to many more subcategories within one item to knock out. It makes you want to support other small businesses as it is tough to compete with the big guys. Support small business and shop small! Know that small business owners really do the happy dance when you support them and they appreciate your business.
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Q. What’s currently on your radar?
A. I am currently preparing for a pop-up shop tent at our local city flower show. I have been busy curating and creating a spring collection for the show and importing a shipment from Europe. I would love the opportunity to set up a pop-up shop in one of the local retail spaces that may be empty that could set up temporarily to fill the gap until a permanent tenant is able to occupy the space. The vision and goals expand even more than what you see at the moment with the collection.
I know that I must start small and build from the foundation slowly adding to the collection. They say you have to invest money to make money, and I am taking it one step at a time.
Q. What advice would you give to other military spouses who want to start a business?
A. Dig deep into what you really envision by answering some key questions that you will find in many business plan templates you can locate online or in small business books. Make sure your business concept is something that you are truly passionate about before investing in the venture. You will find many unexpected costs you will incur with a retail business.
Don’t expect profit the first couple of years and know that you may have to reinvest revenue into product during the startup phase years. It’s OK not to have it all mapped out but at least have a rough draft as you will find you are always making and adjusting revisions to the plan as you learn and grow.