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Case Study

When work isn't fun any more Add to ...


Rebecca McCormack wasn't having fun any more.

She had started her small specialty boutique, Cake Clothing, six years ago. She really enjoyed getting the operation up and running, but it had recently begun to feel more like the "same-old, same-old" a bit too often. Whether it was managing inventory, balancing the company's chequebook, or just keeping the store looking right, things were getting too predictable. She wondered what, if anything, she could do to bring a bit more fun back into her daily work life.


In 2004, the Winnipeg entrepreneur had an idea: provide local women with a fashion look that wasn't available anywhere else in town. Ms. McCormack brought extensive retail fashion experience to the table, having sold for the likes of upscale Canadian retailer Holt Renfrew, and having worked in retail clothing in Winnipeg and Los Angeles. Given this range of experience and a natural flair for clothing, she thought she could offer Winnipeg women something better.

She brought forth her vision in some interesting and innovative ways. For example, Ms. McCormack procured stock from buying trips to fashion marts in places such as Los Angeles and Shanghai, where she pick up extras and runway samples that embodied the kind of statement she thought Winnipeg women would want to make.

Armed with the inventory, she opened her boutique in a slightly unusual location - on McDermot Avenue, right in the middle of Winnipeg's Exchange District. Her 1,300-square-foot store was well received and her establishment quickly developed an appreciative and loyal following.

These successes enabled her to pursue her next dream: designing clothing. While she liked what she had seen in other fashion markets, the styles were not always what she'd envisioned. Ms. McCormack began her early forays into designing and then subcontracting out to a range of overseas suppliers.

Her instincts were again validated by the reaction from customers. Women liked what she made. This second round of success prompted a third hunch - maybe she was on to something with national potential: Women across Canada might have the same preferences as women in Winnipeg.

Building on this hypothesis, Ms. McCormack began to develop the Cake brand with an online presence and approached managers from independent women's clothing stores across the country. At last count, no less than 17 stores carry pieces of Cake, including bridesmaid dresses, chiffons, and special outfits for the holidays. Whether it was Bridesmaid's Bliss in Woodridge, Ont., Cest Moi in downtown St. John's, Castaspella in Grand Prairie, Alta., Maskarad in Montreal, or Thanh Dat in Yellowknife, Canadian women liked to buy Cake (and wear it too).

Ms. McCormack has recently begun to get exposure south of the border, with some of her dresses shown on NBC's The Today Show. Things were looking good, so good in fact, she relocated her flagship Winnipeg store to a slightly larger and higher-profile location.

There was one problem: She increasingly noticed that some of the routines of running an established operation were too routine. More importantly, the nuts-and-bolts of running a store meant she was left with less time to do what she really liked - designing clothing.


Ms. McCormack seriously considered closing her store. Then a buyer came forward. After an extended negotiation process, the two arrived at an arrangement that would see the buyer take over the retail store, which recently recorded annual sales of more than $450,000. This would allow Ms. McCormack to focus more of her energies on designing clothing. Suffice to say, she is excited about what lies ahead for her venture as she designs and "bakes" some great looking fashion Cakes.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Reg Litz is a professor in the Asper School of Business of the University of Manitoba.

This is one of a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Your Business website.


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