The Feature is Female: Jamie O’Neal & Emma Cookson

“I love being able to do this with my daughter.” – Jamie O’Neal

Ah. Mothers and daughters. A truly dynamic pair of women with a connection as pure as it gets. That connection was on full display as I sat down with The WearHouse’s Jamie O’Neal and Emma Cookson to discuss business, advice, and of course, their connection as mother and daughter.

In February 2023, Cookson was making her way back home to the midwest after a few years spent in New York. While on the east coast, Emma Cookson was busy running a successful online boutique. Meanwhile back home, Jamie had a successful venture of her own. “We both owned separate businesses. I had a women’s online boutique when I lived in New York. And then [Jamie] had a screen printing business here in town where she was doing basically the same thing. She was doing everything online and running it out of her house,” remembered Emma.

The decision to merge the two businesses was decided in the most unique of places: on the open road. “When we decided to move back, I knew what I wanted to do, but I also knew I wanted something that wasn’t in our house. I have a baby, and the online boutique took up a lot of space in my house, so I was looking to create something a little more permanent,” stated Emma. “It was literally during the moving process that it all happened. I was in the U-Haul, and she was behind us in the Jeep when I got a message from her that said ‘What if we merge?’, to which I said ‘And be a brick and mortar?’ And she said yes, and so we just decided to lump the two together,” Jamie said. It was in the middle of Ohio that Emma was struck with the inspiration for the store name, and thus The WearHouse was born right there in the middle of the Buckeye State.

Eagerness was a driving force behind getting the doors of The WearHouse open. As soon as the decision to merge the two online companies was decided and the name was approved, Emma went to work on creating the logo and other branded materials and Jamie went to work finding the perfect home for their new adventure. “We got back to town and a friend of ours had a space open in The District, so we talked to her, finalized the deal, and now we’re going on two years,” Jamie stated.

Personal relationships of any kind can be delicate. When it’s a parent and their child there are certain dynamics at play at all times. When it came to opening a store with her daughter, Jamie had to learn that after 26 years, it was okay to take the mom hat off, if even for a moment. “For 26 years, I’ve been mom and she’s been daughter, so when I’d tell her to pick up her room, she’d do it, and things like that. Now, it’s trying to find the balance, because not only is she an adult, but she’s my business partner, so we are equals,” stated Jamie. “It was a little bit of a learning curve for me to not be telling her exactly what to do all the time, because I’m older, I’m wiser, and I’m her mom. It’s been really nice for me to back off a bit and let her spread her wings and grow.”

Communication is key to building a successful business. For Emma, she’s been able to learn that her mom’s communication style differs from hers in a way that benefits the business in the long run. “The way we communicate, and have learned to communicate, has really surprised me. You grow up knowing so much about your mom and how she works, but when you’re in a different setting, you really do learn that people do things differently from you and differently from how you thought they would,” said Emma. “I’m a little more straight forward. If there’s an issue, I’m going to tell you. She tends to beat around the bush, but always gets to the point in the end.”

When it comes to the day to day operations of The WearHouse, Jamie and Emma each have roles in the business that help keep the place going and ultimately compliment each other. “Because I don’t live in Quincy, she is there most of the time physically. I will be there most every Saturday, but every other day that we’re open, she’s the one that’s there, which is really nice,” said Emma. “But she’s the brains behind all the marketing,” stated Jamie with a smile. “She also runs the trucker hat bar and boutique clothing, and then my focus is the curvy boutique clothing, as well as the graphic tees and designs. Emma does design a lot of our stuff as well!”

Businesses have a way of creating stress and contention, but with this duo, it’s only made them stronger. “I feel like we’re closer in a different kind of way. We see each other a lot, especially on the weekends when we’re working, but our actual relationship has shifted into a more serious relationship where we’re having conversations about serious stuff a lot more now than ever before. I do feel like that’s caused our relationship to become a lot stronger,” stated Emma. “It’s always funny for me, because when Emma comes to town, her siblings will always say ‘Well it’s not fair that you get to go to breakfast or lunch with Emma’ or ‘You’re hanging out with Emma again?’ but they don’t get that it was a business breakfast or lunch or whatever it was. It’s always work. So it’s not that she’s my favorite like they joke, it’s that she’s my business partner,” stated Jamie with a laugh.

There isn’t an entrepreneur around that can hide from the ups and downs every business will face, but for Jamie O’Neal and Emma Cookson, they’re taking the highs and lows in stride. “I’ll be very honest, the journey’s been very up and down so far. When you open, you have a rush of people, then Christmas comes and you’re thinking man, this is great, and then it’s January, and you’re thinking man, this really sucks,” Emma said. “I think there’s a lot of momentum for us to stay where we are. Boutiques have closed down, which is hard to watch. We truly root for every one. There’s the perception that we’re competitors with other boutiques, but we really do root for everyone, so watching a few close up has been disheartening, because we’re looking at each other going ‘Are we next?’ But then there’s the momentum from the people who walk in the door for the first time and love it, or when we have events and people are lined up waiting to get in,” stated Jamie.

One thing about being in The District in Quincy, Illinois, history is all around you. The WearHouse’s home at 630 Maine Street, is historic in its own right, and this duo is uncovering that history one layer of carpet at a time. “Our space used to be Ritter’s Office Supply, and they had carpet down on the floor, so we had lifted a corner of the carpet up and we discovered the most beautiful penny tile. We decided to shut down for two weeks, ripped all the carpet up, and restored the floor to its original penny tile,” proudly stated Jamie. “About two months ago, in our front foyer, we restored the tile that said Ken Hull, because our place was Ken Hull Diamonds in 1942. We’re really trying to restore the space, and a lot of our customers come in and are wowed by how beautiful it is.”

The success O’Neal and Cookson have seen in a short period of time is rewarding in itself, but what truly makes them feel blessed in what they do is a combination of community and connection. “I think it’s a combination of doing it together and the support from the community. All of our events have shown me that, but for our most recent event, we had a line of people out the door when we opened up. That definitely made me feel like we’re doing something right,” Emma stated.

If you’re a mother-daughter duo looking to get into business, Emma and Jamie have a few sage pieces of advice just for you. “Just be open with each other. Communication is the most important aspect to what we do. You have to be open, honest, and up front. You also have to learn to not be so business minded all the time. I can get too focused on the business or the events that I forget to have fun sometimes, so I would definitely advise someone to find a way to balance that,” stated Emma. “The first thing that comes to my mind is jump. Just do it! If it doesn’t work, that’s fine, but if it does, then it’s like wow, look! We hesitated for a bit about whether or not to actually go for it, but we decided to do it, and we’re just going to keep riding the wave as long as we can,” Jamie said.

Admiration for one another runs deep between Jamie and Emma. When asked what they admire most about the other, Jamie’s answer boiled down to one simple word: independence. “What I admire the most about her is her independence. I was a young mom, so there’s only 18 years between us. I’ve always kept her kind of tucked, in a way, in order to keep her safe, so I’ve enjoyed being able to see how independent she has become. I admire that independence more than she knows. ” stated Jamie with a proud smile. For Emma, the admiration she has for her mom begins and ends with her ability to always try something new. “Her relentlessness within the business is incredible. There are times when it would feel nice just to be done or to take a little break, but she’s always willing to try something new. She knows that if we can just get people in the door, then they’ll be able to see the value in what we’re doing,” stated Emma.

The relationship between a mother and daughter is a tale as old as time, but for mother-daughter duo and The WearHouse owners, Jamie O’Neal and Emma Cookson, their tale is just beginning.

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