Perfect Pivot

January 2021 View more

Liam, Dean, Arden, and Kiely Kemph in PJs from Kie&Kate

When COVID-19 put so many small businesses in danger, many entrepreneurs had to quickly rethink business strategies. For Kati Kemph, owner of Kie&Kate Couture and mother of four in Elmhurst, 2020 wasn’t the first time her family faced a hardship like the coronavirus.

In 2008, the recession had taken a toll on her husband’s job, and Kemph needed to make a shift professionally. She started Kie&Kate—women’s apparel and accessories, jewelry, beauty, spa, home, and children’s items—out of her house by attending fashion events and trunk shows before opening her brick-and-mortar shop (559 S. Spring Rd., 630.501.0569, in 2011.

When stores in Illinois were forced to close in 2020, Kemph made a number of quick business decisions to adapt. She wanted to do something to bring the community some comfort, so she partnered with one of her Elmhurst-based vendors to create a Friday Feel Good gift. The first one had a pair of tie-dye lounge pants, an encouraging note, a chocolate, and a self-tanning towel. She launched the program on Instagram Live when she didn’t yet have a website, so she received 400 orders by text to her personal cellphone the first weekend—a huge success but a logistical nightmare. Luckily her website was up and running within three weeks of closing the store and as soon as the city allowed curbside pickup the Friday Feel Goods became even more popular. “It looked like a Portillo’s drive-through line,” Kemph laughs.

Shortly before Governor J.B. Pritzker announced masks had to be worn in Illinois, one of Kemph’s jewelry vendors in Korea started pushing her to sell masks. “She kept telling me, ‘This isn’t going to go away,’ ” Kemph says. She finally agreed and put in a mask order—and sold 1,000 in the first hour. The masks, retailing for $20 and $24, have a filter built in with adjustable straps, nose wires, and cute patterns like leopard print and camo.

Kiely (Kie), Kati (Kate), and Arden Kemph

Kemph also used Instagram Live to show new arrivals every Wednesday night with her oldest daughter, Kiely, and an Instagram TV talk each morning. “It’s what would get my family out of bed and focused each morning,” Kemph says. “My kids were doing e-learning and I would hop online and check in with everybody and give updates on the store.”

Being willing to pivot is what made her so successful as a small business owner during the pandemic, says Kemph. “The recession in 2008 really rocked our boat, but it’s how we got Kie&Kate,” she says. “So when the pandemic hit, I had already seen a time like this with my family, and
pivoting and adapting is what we know how to do.”

Photos courtesy Kie&Kate