Carla Fuentes-Socarras '99
Carla Fuentes-Socarras '99 is a local entrepreneur and business owner in the Pembroke Pines area as the owner and operator of "The Shoe Trunk", a trendy local shoe and accessory boutique store with a wide variety of stylish shoes and jewelry for any occasion. Carla was born in North Miami Beach, but moved to Broward County at a young age and is proud to call this area home to her family and her business. After graduating from Chaminade-Madonna in 1999, Carla was bitten by the business bug early in her college career, eventually graduating from Nova Southeastern University with an M.B.A. in Entrepreneurship in 2008 and ultimately realizing her dream of starting her own business in 2014. Carla was kind enough to take the time to share her journey from quiet participant and team player as a student here at Chaminade-Madonna, to being affectionately known as "The Shoe Lady" at Pembroke Pines/Miramar City Chamber of Commerce events.
Successful business owners/entrepreneurs typically have that spirit instilled in them from a young age. Did any experiences you have here at Chaminade-Madonna instill that entrepreneurial spirit in you or where do you feel it came from?
"I've been in and around business my entire life. My father had his own jewelry store and when he was getting ready to retire, I was already well into my business plan and already starting to look for locations for my own business. I told my dad that I would align the opening of my business with when his lease for the jewelry story was up, and now my father actually works for me in my store. I grew up in that jewelry store, I grew up behind the counter always talking to people I didn't know who would come in and out of the store.
At Chaminade, I was a little quiet. But at Chaminade, they always encouraged being a part of extracurricular activities. I was always a part of the smaller groups - I participated in a group called "Undoing Racism" which was a group headed by Steve Maloney. I was on dance team all four years and also participated on yearbook. I didn't really take any leadership roles or spearhead anything because I was more on the quiet side, but I always participated as more of an observer. I never went for class president or anything like that, but I would be on the team that would help put together the homecoming parade float. It wasn't until I entered college and was deciding what I really wanted to do with my life that my leadership skills and confidence really developed"
Carla always knew she wanted to pursue something in business, so after graduating from CMCP in 1999, she studied business administration online while working a full time job and would subsequently enroll in a graduate marketing program at Nova Southeastern University.
"While in school at Nova, I did my business plan on a spa, because at the time I thought I would love to do something in the spa/massage therapy industry and WHOA what a rude awakening when my business just fell apart! I did another business plan on a shoe store and that went well, so then I knew I didn't want to do a combination of service and product, I just wanted to focus on products. There was a lot of trial and error at that point. Entrepreneurs are known for being risk takers and we see something that people don't necessarily want to put the work into because it's risky. But I was very strategic and Nova was a great platform for me to realize and work on my business plan to ensure success"
Unfortunately upon receiving her MBA in 2008, Carla's immediate goals of starting a business had to be put on hold for a little while as the economy had fallen into a full recession following the Financial Crisis of 2008. But looking back on her journey after graduate school to where she is today, Carla highlighted the importance of gratitude and appreciation for each step and obstacle along the way.
"Looking back, every job has shaped how I am and what I do now, even down to my first position as a store greeter. That part of customer service has never left me because I am very warm to every customer that walks through the door and I understand the importance and value of that skill. Every job I look back on, even the seemingly unimportant or insignificant jobs I had like being someone's assistant, I learned so many things that have helped me get where I am now. Learning things in a classroom setting and being able to skillfully apply them on the job are two very different animals"
On working unpleasant jobs...
"When you're in the thick of things, you aren't necessarily thinking about how this is going to help me in 10 years down the line. But at the same time, any action you take is bringing you closer to your goal at the end and you will see looking back how this actually ending up serving you well. There were so many times where I thought to myself "Why am I doing this job" but now I know why I had that experience because otherwise I would never have gained the knowledge and skills that have gotten me to where I am today. Maybe I would have ended up somewhere else. I am appreciative of every single thing that has happened to me thus far"
On the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur/business owner...
"How many hours do you have?! Let me tell you – you really do find out if you love what you're doing when you're faced with overwhelming obstacles. I came in so bright eyed and bushy tailed. Once I got my Master's Degree I thought "This is great! I am going to be making X amount per year right out the door". Reality was, I made $40K coming out of my MBA program and had to work up to $60K over time. Personally for myself, I had high expectations but I understood the importance of hard work and earning what you make. There is a spiritual aspect to it as well and I think that comes from my family and my Catholic education. That spiritual piece also plays a big role because once I became a business owner, and I wasn't making a million dollars right off the bat, the obstacles you face can take a toll on you and you have to be positive and have faith that everything in your life is working as it is supposed to. If this is what you want to do, if this is what you love, then you have to fight for it. There were some banks that were telling me "Maybe this isn't really for you" and I had to preserve and find other ways to get the startup funds I needed. The issue is if the banks aren't willing to give you the startup you need, and your family has already helped out as much as they can, what is your next move? Lucky for me, we live in an era where online shopping is so prevalent and that has been a huge success for me. Online shopping is what saved me and allowed my business to survive my first location which was not the most ideal location for foot traffic. I will be the first to admit that I am not a Millennial, I am not "Snap Chat savvy" and these are things I have had to learn along the way."
"Another quality that is important for success is owning up to your mistakes and your faults – seeing what hasn't worked, where you need to make changes, and how you are going to follow through with action"
The importance of faith and spirituality...
"Steve Harvey said it best – "If you're going to pray about it, don't worry about it. But if you're going to worry about it, then don't pray about it because it's useless". Of course I was doing my due diligence, I was going to my networking events to brand my company, I was going out there and doing the leg work. But at the same time, all the while I just had faith that it was going to all work out and that is why I am where I am today. At the end of the day faith is a big portion of being positive, praying, and just knowing that things will work out. If this is for you, then it's going to work"
Tips on how to approach those dreaded networking events...
"You have to always go! I hated networking events. It's usually 2-3 hours where you're forced to talk to people you don't know. But as I got more experience, my approach changed. If you are not doing what you love, you are going to hate networking because that's all you're doing at networking events is talking to people about what you do, what you can offer, or about what you need. After you start to go to more and more networking events, you get more practiced and comfortable. A lot of the same folks will go to multiple networking events, so if you get to know a few people that regularly go, those people can become your go-to's for the first 20 minutes or so as you warm up and get comfortable. Another approach is to go and find someone newer than you at the event and introduce yourself! You can always tell who the newest person at a networking event is by their body language. So go up to that person and become the familiar face or comfort zone for that person. After a while people start to recognize you and give you a nickname – I quickly became "the Shoe Lady". You also never know who you are going to meet and who might be able to help you with something that you need. Everyone is there for the same purpose and I guarantee you, most if not everyone there is feeling at least a little bit uncomfortable and awkward"
Final advice for those interested in starting a business...
"Entrepreneurs are known for risk taking – you want to do it fast because you want to do it first. But at the same time, in whatever industry or whatever idea you want to pursue it is so important and valuable to do your research so that you can give yourself the best chance to come out on top. Your ideas coupled with that research gives you the best chance for a successful venture. Also, a little bit of luck doesn't hurt! After graduating high school, my husband went to work right away in the shoe distributing industry to follow in his family's footsteps. All of these contacts in the industry that I was able to call upon as I was starting up my business were thanks to my husband. One of those things where I got really lucky!"