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Kris Bevill, Forum News Service, Published September 13 2013

Fargo business owner in franchise 'MODE': outlet store sets goal of 75 stores in 10 years

FARGO – Ciara Stockland had been running her first retail boutique, a Fargo-based maternity clothing store called Mama Mia, for about a year when her husband presented her with a challenge and opportunity: A freight company he worked for had amassed a quantity of random merchandise in damaged shipping containers and someone needed to sell it. Could she do it?

Stockland agreed to give it a try and turned the vacant retail space next to Mama Mia into a temporary store to sell the goods at liquidation prices. She received such positive responses from customers that she set her sights on growing the concept into something bigger, combining outlet store and retail boutique concepts to bring a sophisticated atmosphere to the low-price, liquidated merchandise model.

The result, MODE, opened in Fargo at 4302 13th Ave. S. in April 2008. The concept and customer list continually grew from the start, leading Stockland to launch a wholesale division in 2009 dedicated to brokering goods between large suppliers and buyers throughout the country and a plan to expand the store’s reach to include other communities.

Not willing to drive the long distances between store locations in other parts of the region, Stockland determined that franchising the MODE concept would be worth the expense.

“We felt like franchising was the best way to [expand] because we would be opening stores in communities where women know their customer,” she says.

MODE’s first franchise location opened in 2011 in Bismarck, followed by another in Grand Forks. Earlier this year, the franchise’s first South Dakota location opened in Sioux Falls. Stockland’s near-term plans are to continue expanding the franchise to other communities in the Dakotas, specifically Minot, N.D., and Rapid City, S.D., and in Minnesota.

The company’s ideal community ranges in population from 60,000 to 200,000 and has a significant number of female residents, preferably between the ages of 35 and 40.

“We have demographics that we want to hit, so we don’t want to go into communities that are too small to support it,” Stockland says. “Minnesota has a lot of potential for quite a few stores.”

Long term, Stockland’s goal is to open 75 stores within the next 10 years in locations stretching from Winnipeg to Laredo, Texas.

“We feel that from here to Texas, that Midwestern person loves value,” she says. “We want to hit the whole Midwestern corridor all the way down.”

So far, all of MODE’s franchisees have been customers of the store. Stockland plans to continue seeking owner-operators as future franchisees, at least for the short term, because she believes they will spend time in the store and get to know their customers best.

On average, a MODE franchisee can expect to invest about $120,000 for a 1,500-square-foot store and will be responsible for paying a 6 percent royalty fee on the store’s gross sales.

Stockland declined to provide revenue data from the Fargo location, but says the company has grown substantially since 2010. She backs it up by pointing out the increase in sales of the company’s main item – $40 designer jeans. In 2010, the Fargo location sold 1,000 pairs of $40 jeans. This year, Stockland expects MODE’s four stores will sell more than 10,000 pairs.

While she’s confident in the brand and franchise concept, Stockland admits that launching a national retail franchise concept from Fargo can make spreading awareness of the opportunity a challenge. She combats that by attending conferences, brainstorming with customers and vendors and networking everywhere she goes.

“We travel a lot for the product we buy and everywhere we go we talk about MODE,” she says. “We’re ready to sell them and make it happen.”