Photo by Katherine Harris
The stores are not in the most high-profile locations, and the clothes are not the edgiest. Even with 39 stores in 15 states, Mainstream Boutique is still a bit under the radar. Each one feels like a neighborhood discovery, and that’s the secret to the success of the company Marie DeNicola started 22 years ago out of her Rosemount home.
If you haven’t heard the fast-talking DeNicola tell the tale of her unlikely rise to one of the top 500 franchise businesses in the country (as assessed by Franchise Times magazine), it goes a little something like this: Unable to find the clothes she wanted to wear—on trend but affordable, comfortable, and not trying too hard—DeNicola started Mainstream as a direct sales company. She hit a nerve in the outer suburbs, where boutiques, even today, are few and far between. Soon DeNicola was doing more than 100 shows a month at homes and businesses. That’s when Oprah came calling, prompting a flood of inquiries from women wanting to copy DeNicola’s model, which led to Mainstream franchises. From New Mexico to North Dakota, and White Bear Lake to Woodbury, the Mainstream Boutique franchises are run locally, by women who know their own community. Owners can tailor their merchandise from Mainstream’s large inventory of options, so each store feels unique. Mainstream has consistently avoided malls and high-profile lifestyle centers in favor of small (lower rent) spots where busy women tend to run errands. Mainstream’s closest location to downtown Minneapolis is next door to the Davanni’s at Highway 55 and Winnetka Avenue in Golden Valley.
“We want to be convenient,” DeNicola says. “And we want to make women feel special every single week.” Lately, DeNicola has more time to focus on what she loves: finding the right pleather leggings and patterned jackets for her customers. Her son Corey, 25, who grew up tagging clothes after school and delivering Mainstream fliers around the neighborhood, is now director of franchising.
“My mom’s focus is on strengthening the brand. Mine is on strengthening the infrastructure,” he says. With better systems in place to handle growth, Mainstream expects to open 20 new stores in 2014. Houston, Denver, and Chicago are among the newer markets. Mainstream’s corporate office, with just four employees, is moving to a larger space in Bloomington.
DeNicola, proud mama that she is, will happily give her son the corner suite. “He’s taking us to a whole new level,” DeNicola says. “Success breeds success.”