Back in 2009, Caterina Whitwell went through a devastating time in her life. Within 6 months, she had gone through a divorce that left her with an unimaginable debt, she was laid off from my miserable job, her home went into foreclosure and she was forced to file bankruptcy. With no money, no job and a car headed for repo, she ended up moving into my mom’s unfinished garage with only a mattress, the clothes on her back and her little dog. Her mom herself had a one bedroom home, fortunately with a garage, and she lived off of her minimal retirement savings. Cat previously had a distant relationship with her mom, so asking her if she could live in her garage was one of the most humiliating and embarrassing moments of her life. She felt like a complete failure, but she knew she loved me.
Cat always had a love for working with leather, having owned horses her whole life. She began to make leather belts in the hopes of making a few bucks. She made some belts from scratch and went door to door trying to sell her goods to local boutiques, craft and horse shows. While in most boutiques, she would notice the amazing clothes but there was one problem… they were outrageously expensive, and she was poor. Cat began to think how awesome it would be to help women look beautiful and trendy without breaking the bank. She saw a run down space for lease and convinced her mom to let her use her credit cards to open a store. She had no business plan, no inventory and no idea how to run a boutique. It just so happened to be that “Magic,” the countries largest apparel show was that same week. They booked a trip (on credit cards), and totally winged it. She met Mark, her husband, within a couple months prior, and at the time she said he thought she was totally crazy. But he supported her all the way. Mark helped her with the renovations of Cat’s first store and was the mastermind behind all the marketing. They did it all on their own. No employees or help hired.
When JC’s Boutique first opened, it was a real struggle. Opening a business has not been easy by any means for Cat. Her friends were my first (and only) customers. She had only three racks, and less than 20 styles but a will to survive. She treated everyone that walked into my store not like a customer, but like a true friend. Cat just wanted to have relationships with her customers and help them have that killer confidence by looking their best. After a lot of tears and fighting the feeling of wanting to give up many times, her vision to help women look beautiful on a budget has turned into a thriving business. Today, she believes if you do what you love, the success will follow. Of course, none of her success is possible without you, the customer. But you’re much more than a customer, you’re part of the JCB family. Nothing is more important to Cat than helping you look and feel beautiful.
What does JC stand for you ask? J is for her mom, Josie, and C is Cat. To date, Cat has been told she has the friendliest boutique around. No pressure, honest and just easy. Kick your shoes off, drink some wine and talk fashion, or whatever else is on your mind. Cat is all about keeping it real…nothing fake about this girl! This boutique wasn’t started as a hobby, it wasn’t started on a financial windfall nor did money come easy. This boutique was started with a will to survive and a love for helping others. To this day, this boutique is Cat’s life, her passion and livelihood. She has never lost sight of who she is and where she is going. Her dream is for her leather belts to be a staple in all boutiques.
JC’s Boutique has been featured in Tampa Bay Metro Magazine, The Tampa Tribune, Tampa Bay Times, WTSP Channel 10, Creative Loafing, South Tampa Community News, Tampa Bay CW 44 and recently aired on MTV’s reality TV show “Friendzone”. It has also been voted Metro’s Best boutique 2011, 2012 & 2013 by Tampa Bay Metro Magazine and Best in the Biz 2012 by Tampa Bay Business Journal.