Johanna Galipeau remembers the first dress she ever sold: Plain grey with a bubble-style skirt.
"So, so 2007," says Galipeau, the owner of Sweet Pea Boutique.
Then 19, she'd been attending university for a year-and-a half before she realized it wasn't for her. When she told her parents of her plans to drop out—and her idea for a business venture—they were completely supportive.
Galipeau had been working in retail at the time, and she noticed it was difficult to find affordable dresses, let alone those for everyday wear. With the help of her mother, the business plan for Sweet Pea was born. Ten years later, the little white shop on Queen Street is still going strong.
"I remember having pizza on the floor at like two o'clock in the morning with paint all over me," she says of the weeks leading up to the opening.
Initially, Galipeau was the sole staff member at Sweet Pea, so she had her work cut out for her.
"I literally worked for an entire year without any days off."
She later expanded through Twisted Muse and Sparrow Shoe Boutique. In the midst of owning three shops, Galipeau had almost no free time. She wondered if she'd be "single forever," and her passion for her work was waning.
"It was crazy. So many staff," recalls Galipeau. "I just really learned how to manage things, but I also learned that [Sweet Pea] is what I want to do."
Galipeau is glad for the experience, but she's much happier since she "trimmed the fat," making Sweet Pea her only store. She still doesn't have many days off, but there's a healthier balance between work and leisure.
"I work so hard here, but I actually have a life."
As dozens of businesses are opening and closing across HRM—especially downtown—Sweet Pea continues to draw shoppers in. Galipeau attributes her success over the last decade to a multitude of things, including the growing popularity around supporting local businesses. Becoming proficient with social media hasn't hurt, either.
On top of that, she says, "If you don't want to be a big-box store, you can't treat yourself like a big-box store."
Sweet Pea has no hold policies, and Galipeau hires her staff based on whether they are "really nice and genuine" rather than experience or fashion sense.
And to say she has repeat customers is an understatement.
"I have," she estimates, "50 regulars that text my cell phone personally."
Looking back, Galipeau only wishes she'd been informed of all her options coming out of high school.
"I wish someone had've told me, or maybe said, 'Hey, going to community college and taking a year-long marketing program or other things is still just as good,'" as going to university.
"I'm still learning. Mine's been a 10-year-long business degree, it feels like."