Let’s face it, holiday shopping isn’t going to be the same under COVID-19, but that’s OK with Sun Prairie entrepreneur Ernestine Phelps-Cooney.
Her business, Cey Boutique, is thriving during the pandemic with virtual shoppers grabbing up rings, bracelets, handbags, face masks, cosmetics and more.
Mrs. E, as Phelps-Cooney is known, is counting down the days until Black Friday when she will offer online bargains starting a 6 a.m.
“I’m telling everyone that the early bird gets the worm,” Mrs. E said. “If you have been eyeing a purse on the website waiting for it to go on sale, Black Friday is the day to get it.”
But the real show will start at 4 p.m. when Mrs. E goes live with her Facebook selling event.
Hundreds of shoppers, many of who have become her friends, tune in to see Miss E’s savvy combination of experienced saleswoman, motivational speaker and business advisor.
Phelps-Cooney started Cey Boutique seven years ago after she was diagnosed with sickle cell disease. Raising a young daughter and coping with her own disability she didn’t have enough money to keep going.
“I was at a crossroads and I asked God what to do,” Phelps-Cooney remembered.
She started selling Paparazzi fashion jewelry to family and friends to supplement her income. Soon Mrs. E was showing pieces on Facebook live events and discovered her talent to connect with people from her dining room table.
“Once I started selling on Facebook, it spread like wildfire,” Phelps-Cooney said.
The Sun Prairie resident moved on to pop-up events at Prairie Lanes and then opened up Cey Boutique at 9 N. Bird St. in Sun Prairie. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, she’s moved the business online with items shipped or ready for curbside pick-up.
There’s a wide range of fashion jewelry, designer-inspired handbags, face masks, dresses, leggings, tunics and a Lil Divas collection for kids. The signature Cey Chic cosmetic line offers makeup palettes, mascara, lip glosses and eyeliners.
In January, she started Cey Wholesale to help others start a business, focusing on those who need to earn a little extra money during the pandemic.
“I want to provide financial freedom to others so they don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck and have some income cushion,” Phelps-Cooney said.
She offers “Shop Out of the Box” wholesale kits and advises motivated entrepreneurs on how to start selling. Her VIP wholesale customers also get one-on-one consultations and hear what has worked for her.
“You have to have customer service, you have to listen to your customers and you have to be able to take constructive criticism,” she said.
The key to success, she added, is to set yourself apart from other businesses who are selling the same items by offering better service and a personal touch. Phelps-Cooney says if someone can buy a pair of $7 earrings from big-box retailers, they can buy it from her.
“My business is no less than Walmart. They are a billion-dollar company, but I will get there one day,” she said with confidence.
Cey Boutique has customers across the United States, so Phelps-Cooney carries a wide variety of accessories and clothing. For the Floridians, she has beach bags and sundresses, and for Wisconsinites, there is winter gear.
Phelps-Cooney has gathered fans by just being herself, laughing, crying and praying along with her customer-friends during online Cey Boutique shopping events. After dealing with bullying and people who judge her, Phelps-Cooney now focuses on her faith to stay strong.
“Don’t look at me and automatically judge me,” she said. “We are not all a size 2 and we are not all a size 23, but we are exactly as God intended us to be.”
Phelps-Cooney started a children’s charities to help kids who are bullied and there’s also her “Beautifully Made” T-shirt collection meant to boost women’s confidence.
Every time one of her customers puts on Cey Boutique jewelry she wants them to feel good about themselves. During her Facebook live events, people will get a mood-boosting greeting from Mrs. E, whether they buy something or not.
“You can hear it from your family, and you can hear it from your friends, but sometimes you need an outside person to tell you that you’ve got this, that you are beautiful,” she said.
That’s something her mom Christine, daughter Tyra and husband Shannen keep telling her. All three, along with other family members and friends help run Cey Boutique.
This year with COVID-19, Phelps-Cooney plans on sharing her success with others. She’s gifting wholesale starter kits to five people who want to start their own business.
“When God blesses you and you are able to extend a hand to help someone else, you are supposed to do it,” she said. “We are living in such a crazy time that people just need some hope and some light.”