(Joanne Sunnarborg | Photos by Kelsey Swenson and Cascade Business News)
It’s no secret that business, and especially entrepreneurship, is all about taking risks.
Desperado boutique owner Joanne Sunnarborg faced a decisive turning point in her life at age 37. She could continue working in the insurance business and face a possible dead end in her career, or take a risk and open her own boutique in Portland’s Pearl District. Like many entrepreneurs, she chose to take the risk.
In the nearly 23 years since then, Sunnarborg has owned and operated Desperado, which she moved from Portland to Bend’s Old Mill District 12 years ago. The store has a “boho,” western-style fashion theme with walls of shoes (formerly named Shoes &…) and home decor.
Sunnarborg’s advice for women who want to start a business is to “start out by doing your homework,” and “have a good business plan.” In addition to these fundamentals, she says to be “optimistic,” to “not be afraid. You’ve got to be confident.” For Sunnarborg, taking the risks that come with owning a business breed success.
With risk, however, also comes the possibility of failure. “It all comes down to what you’re passionate about, that gets you through the challenging times.” Sunnarborg says fashion has always been important to her since the first grade, when she started getting nominations for “most fashionable” or “most stylish.” She never knew her passion would turn into something she could share with others through her own business. Now, her mission is to “provide fashionable, comfortable clothing to my customers, as well as a quality customer experience.”
Gearing products toward your customers and responding to them is what makes a business successful, she says. “You’ve got to be light on your feet in a changing world, and to do that you have to put your ego aside.” Especially in the retail industry, she says, it’s important to offer unique products not available online along with good customer service and relationships.
In terms of the bigger picture, she says, “When I take care of customers, it really means taking care of the community.” She believes small, locally-owned businesses are the ones that give back the most to the community. Desperado has contributed across the board, to local schools, the High Desert Museum, cancer research and BendFilm.
Sunnarborg must make continual changes to respond to changes in the retail industry and customer preferences. These are challenging and involve the ongoing risk of making mistakes, but she has found success by adopting this mindset. Beyond her personal accomplishments, the community has benefitted from her belief in what she does. Fashion is only part of the Desperado story.