With a career in luxury retail and a unique passion for children’s clothing even before she became a mom, Katherine Oyer, our NJ Mompreneur of the Week, seemed destined to open a children’s boutique. But as most entrepreneurs know, the path to opening your own business is rarely linear or goes as planned. While the dream of owning a store had been in her heart for a long time, it wasn’t until being confined at home during the pandemic did Katherine make the leap to opening Francis Henri. First, it was an online shop, and a few years later, Oyer cut the ribbon on a beautiful brick-and-mortar store in the heart of downtown Westfield. The shop’s focus is sourcing international children’s brands, typically hard to find here in the U.S., and of course, adorable. We caught up with mama of three about how her background prepped her for the leap into becoming an NJ Mompreneur, her must-visit mom-owned bakery, and got a sneak peek into how she selects the sweetest items to stock her shop (you’ll want to bookmark this for baby gifts).
Katherine Oyer, our NJ Mompreneur of the week, chatting with customers inside Francis Henri.
Where did your inspiration for Francis Henri come from? How did you decide to open a children’s boutique?
I’ve always loved children’s clothing – even before my husband and I had kids. We used to travel abroad quite a bit when we were younger, and it was always first on my radar to find cute kid shops to explore in the area. When we started having kids, I would try to find the amazing brands we found on our travels and was shocked to discover no one in the United States sold them. I would ship the pieces from places like Australia and Barcelona, which you can imagine was expensive and took forever. It was a long-time dream of mine to own a store, but oddly, it took a while to realize a children’s store was “the one.” When I started to put together all of my ideas for a shop, my list of kid’s brands and inspiration was so long it was hard to ignore that it was my true passion. I have such a big place in my heart for moms with babies and little kids, having had three kids in four years myself – which was as big of a joy as it was an incredible challenge. Anything I can do to support women in those early years of childhood (which I’m still in myself), I am here for.
Tell us about your background before starting this part of your career. Did you always have an interest in fashion?
Yes—I’ve always loved fashion and have been such a fan of retail. I started my career in Public Relations at an advertising agency but quickly switched to work in-house on the corporate PR team at Neiman Marcus. I was there for the bulk of my career before Francis Henri. I learned an incredible amount about operating a dynamic retail business during my time with the company, and I feel so fortunate to have worked with the team there. I find retail fascinating, and often when I have downtime, I research retail companies, listen to podcasts, watch shows, and read books about retail, business, and incredible women founders.
Francis Henri sources children’s brands that are typically harder to find in the US. Tell us about the buying process and how you choose the items you carry.
After years of collecting brand names from our travels, I used that as a jumping-off point when I first launched online. I also visit trade shows twice a year in New York City and, most recently, Paris, where 300+ brands come together in one place for you to meet and explore working with. When I’m selecting something new for the store, quality, design, and the range of options within a collection from season to season are the biggest deciding factors when I’m buying from a brand. I’m lucky that the business is growing to the point where we often have international brands reach out directly to me, so I’m constantly seeing a new line we can offer our customers. We’re up to nearly 40 brands, and I am aiming for Francis Henri to be the “go-to” to find children’s international brands for shoppers in the U.S. and on the flip side, we’d love to be the go-to for international brands to have an entry point here in the United States.
What have you learned about yourself through opening the shop and becoming an NJ Mompreneur? Opening a brick-and-mortar store has been so fulfilling. I’ve always been a very driven and hardworking individual, but growing a business that is personal to you is an entirely different experience. I could work all day if I let myself. Having a family is a wonderful counterbalance to my workaholic tendencies because I have a hard stop each evening to head home for after-school homework, dinner, and bedtime.
What do your kids think about the shop? What do you hope they learn through watching you run your business?
They love it. When the shop was being built out, they loved coming here to run around and watch the construction team do their work. My older kids ring up customers and hand out stickers to the kids who are shopping with their parents. My greatest hope is that my kids see that you can find a career you genuinely enjoy and that it is possible to have both work and a family. I want them to know they can have obscure passions that feel very exciting, and it’s okay to follow that excitement.
Can you share some of your favorite local NJ businesses you regularly enjoy and support?
Kirshenbaum Baking Co. is incredible, and it was founded by a woman who is a mom of little kids. I’m just all-around impressed with their family and business. Nola’s Pizzeria in Garwood has such great pizza, and we like to think it is our family secret, though it does not seem to be such a secret anymore. And I spent many mornings brainstorming the business and working on my business plan at Boxwood Coffee’s Westfield location. It was such a pinch-me moment that I opened our first store on the same street, a few blocks down.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for other aspiring NJ Mompreneuers?
Start small, but start now. I started building the business plan and “dreaming” about what this company could be in 2018—after years of wanting to open some kind of shop. I registered the business name, built out an Excel spreadsheet of what I thought startup costs might look like, and added to it for years. It took until the pandemic, when I was working from home and isolating with two toddlers and a husband squished into a two-bedroom, that I desperately needed a creative outlet. I decided to launch the online shop in the fall of 2020, a month before our third baby was due. Then, it was a full two years of running an e-commerce shop from a spare room in our house before the business moved into our first store. Slow growth is still growth, and I’m grateful for the extra time to work out kinks in the business before taking on the overhead and additional challenges of a storefront. You’ll amaze yourself with what you can start with, even if it’s just beginning a list of big crazy ideas for future businesses. No one says you have to act on all of them—just start dreaming and take one step forward.