Tiffany Rottinghaus - December 2023 Entrepreneur of the Month
The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and North Iowa Area SBDC are proud to announce Tiffany Rottinghaus of Mara Bridal Boutique and Cardigan in Charles City, IA as the December 2023 Entrepreneur of the Month.
Tiffany Rottinghaus opened Mara Bridal Boutique in 2017, and opened Cardigan, a casual clothing boutique, in 2021. The boutiques have become destination businesses for customers across North Iowa and Southern Minnesota. Tiffany didn’t always know she would be an entrepreneur, but “I always loved working,” she said. “I thought it was interesting to not only know how to work with people, but the business behind managing a team of people and how do we market ourselves.” While Tiffany may not have thought her journey would lead to entrepreneurship, she said that being her own boss comes “What excites me about owning my own business – it’s creation, and I’ve always loved creating things.”
Tiffany was inspired to open Mara Bridal when she and her husband moved to Charles City. “He’s from here originally,” she said, “When I knew we would live here, and live here forever, I wanted to do something where I could put my stamp and place some roots of my own.” Tiffany knew that bridal is a destination business and is capable of drawing customers from quite a large radius. The target market in North Iowa and Southern Minnesota was large and underserved. Tiffany was also inspired by the synergetic relationship of small town businesses. “I knew that the more people who came to town and would shop at my store, they would stop and shop at other stores as well. In bridal, you come with a whole group of girls and so you go out to lunch, and you go shopping, and you make it a day,” she said. Tiffany helps nurture this synergy between Charles City businesses. “We make restaurant reservations and really play up that service aspect,” she noted. “We connect and partner [with other Main Street businesses], and try to give the customer an experience that makes them feel like they’re from here too.”
After a few years of building up Mara Bridal, Cardigan came about when Tiffany was looking at the business’s cash flow. The bridal business in the Midwest is very seasonal. The majority of weddings take place between June and October. The off-season is very quiet and that’s where regular retail comes into play. Tiffany said, “I remember that first November after opening Mara. I was twiddling my thumbs thinking ‘How am I going to make money in the next two months?’” She began with a single rack of clothing as a holiday pop-up shop, testing the market to see what kind of demand there was in the community. From a handful of seasonal clothing items, the idea of a standalone clothing boutique grew. In 2020, Tiffany placed her inventory online which kept the business going during the COVID-19 lockdowns. “Thank God we put everything online when we did,” Tiffany said. “Every formal event was canceled. There were no weddings, no proms. So we put our casual wear up, and we sold a lot of sweatpants in March and April 2020.” The online casual retails sales grew so much that Tiffany realized she needed to keep it going. Tiffany purchased a building on Main St in Charles City, and the Cardigan casual clothing boutique opened as a standalone business in 2021.
Tiffany’s entrepreneurship journey has taken her from idea to two thriving Main Street businesses. When she first started out, Tiffany enrolled in the Launch & Grow program, an 8-week entrepreneurial training program offered by the NIACC Pappajohn Center. “The NIACC Pappajohn Center was really helpful for me as I polished my idea,” she said. “I had a really overthought business concept in my mind. I needed someone else to reaffirm my ideas and help me think about things a bit differently. It wasn’t until I took the Launch & Grow program that I realized I don’t have to do all of it alone. You can rely on another person’s expertise, you can plug in your passion, and all of a sudden this awesome thing comes to life and it does work, even if you don’t know every single thing on your own.”
Tiffany attributes much of her success to putting together a good team. “It’s impossible without great people around you,” she said. She counts her husband as her biggest supporter. “If it wasn’t for him, I couldn’t have done this.” Tiffany’s business team also reflects her belief that a good team is key to a successful business. “I have found wonderful people, a lot of them have been with me since the paint was wet, and I put a lot of faith in them to their job well so I can figure out how to grow the business,” she said. “This is our business, it’s not just mine. It’s always been something that we are building together, because without them we wouldn’t be growing at the rate that we’re growing.”
Tiffany has shown herself to be an entrepreneur to watch in North Iowa. Her desire to make an impact on her community has created local jobs, and her passion for the industry has created moments of glamor and elegance for her customers. Her drive and her ability to identify and overcome obstacles has helped Charles City grow its Main Street, even in the face of doubt. She said, “There were a lot of people who us we couldn’t do what we wanted to do. How can you have a designer bridal boutique in a small town? How is that ever going to work? But I think something magical happens when you combine passion with skill, and you say I’m going to give it a whirl and see what happens. To get traction and to change the trajectory of a town, you have to find those people and believe in them. I know that if you go forward with grit and grace, you will accomplish what you want.”