Let’s face it, holiday shopping won’t be the same under COVID-19, but that’s okay with Sun Prairie entrepreneur Ernestine Phelps-Cooney.
Its business, Cey Boutique, thrived during the pandemic with virtual shoppers picking up rings, bracelets, bags, face masks, cosmetics and more.
Mrs. E, as Phelps-Cooney is called, counts down the days until Black Friday when he will be offering online deals starting at 6 am.
“I tell everyone that early birds get worms,” said Mrs. E. “If you’ve seen wallets on websites waiting to be sold, Black Friday is the day to get them.”
But the real show will start at 4pm when Mrs. E held his Facebook sale event.
Hundreds of shoppers, many of whom have become friends, watch to see the clever combination of the experienced saleswoman, motivational speaker, and Miss E’s business advisor.
Phelps-Cooney started Cey Boutique seven years ago after he was diagnosed with sickle cell disease. Raising a little daughter and overcoming her disability on her own, she didn’t have enough money to continue.
“I was at a crossroads and I asked God what to do,” recalls Phelps-Cooney.
She started selling Paparazzi fashion jewelery to family and friends to supplement her income. Soon Mrs. E showed the cut at a Facebook live event and discovered his talent for connecting with people from his dining room table.
“Once I started selling on Facebook, it spread quickly,” said Phelps-Cooney.
Sun Prairie residents moved to pop-up shows at Prairie Lanes and later opened Cey Boutique at 9 N. Bird St. in Sun Prairie. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, he’s moved businesses online with goods delivered or ready to be picked up by the curb.
There is a wide variety of fashion jewelery, designer-inspired bags, face masks, dresses, leggings, tunics and the Lil Divas collection for kids. Cey Chic’s signature line of cosmetics offers a palette of makeup, mascara, lip gloss, and eyeliners.
In January, he started Cey Wholesale to help others start businesses, focusing on those who needed a little extra cash during the pandemic.
“I want to give people financial freedom so they don’t have to live off their wages for a paycheck and have some income bearing,” said Phelps-Cooney.
He offers a “Shop Out of the Box” grocery kit and advises motivated entrepreneurs on how to start selling. His VIP wholesale customers also get a one-on-one consultation and hear what works for him.
“You have to have customer service, you have to listen to your customers and you have to be able to take constructive criticism,” he said.
The key to success, he adds, is to differentiate yourself from other businesses selling the same stuff by offering better service and a personal touch. Phelps-Cooney says if someone can buy a pair of earrings for $ 7 from a major retailer, they can buy them from him.
“My business is no less than Walmart. They are a multibillion dollar company, but I’ll get there someday, ”he said confidently.
Cey Boutique has customers all over the United States, so Phelps-Cooney carries a wide variety of accessories and clothing. For Floridians, she has beach bags and sundresses, and for the Wisconsinites, there are winter gear.
Phelps-Cooney has garnered fans just by being himself, laughing, crying and praying with his fellow customers during the Cey Boutique online shopping event. After dealing with bullying and those who judge him, Phelps-Cooney is now focused on his belief in staying strong.
“Don’t look at me and judge me automatically,” he said. “We’re not all size 2 and we’re not all size 23, but we’re exactly what God wants us to be.”
Phelps-Cooney started a children’s charity foundation to help bullied children and there is also his collection of “Beautifully Made” T-shirts which are meant to boost women’s confidence.
Whenever one of her customers wears Cey Boutique jewelry, she wants them to feel good about themselves. During her Facebook Live, people will get a mood-boosting greeting from Ms. 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 outsider to tell you that you have this, that you are beautiful,” she said.
It’s something mother Christine, daughter Tyra and husband Shannen keep on saying. The trio, along with other family members and friends help run Cey Boutique.
This year with COVID-19, Phelps-Cooney plans to share its success with others. He gave a wholesale starter package to five people who wanted to start their own business.
“When God blesses you and you are able to reach out to help others, you should,” he said. “We live in crazy times so people just need a little hope and light.”