Christine Epps was 21 years old when she left her position as the director of marketing at a regional jewelry company in Baltimore, Maryland. For some, this may have been quite frightening, but Epps’ parent’s instilled the idea of entrepreneurship early on in her life. In 2007, her passion for small business retailers and fascination with consumer behavior led her to launch Epps Consulting, a firm that specializes in marketing, graphic design and public relations for retail businesses both stateside and abroad. In the seven years she’s been in business, her firm has grown from one client consultant to a team of six, and she says Epps Consulting has experienced a fivefold increase in revenue.
Of course, growing a business has its challenges. Through the years, Epps’s young age often resulted in her encountering ageism throughout her entrepreneurial journey. Funny enough, her young age ultimately opened an unforeseen door of opportunity: to become a thought-leader on marketing to millenials.
EBONY.com chatted with the now 28-year-old entrepreneur about her passion for young people and her journey thus far.
EBONY: I know you’re a woman who wears multiple hats, many of which focus on your very own generation. Why the focus on the 20-somethings?
CHRISTINE EPPS: Millennials represent about 25% of the population and spend about $200 billion. They are 80 million members [strong] and are the most affluent generation, and [they] influence other generations. A lot of companies are looking to have millennial marketing consultants…and urban marketing consultants as well.
EBONY: Now, millennials weren’t the original source of your passion, small business retailers were. Why the passion for that demographic?
CE: I enjoy working with the small business retailers because they have a lot more passion in their brands…and there’s a unique shopping experience that you really can’t get if you were to go to a big box retailer.
EBONY: So how then, did your love for communications develop?
CE: It actually started as a love for all things retail. When I was younger, my mother and I use to do a lot of Saturday shopping in downtown Baltimore and we only shopped in mom and pop stores. You really get to know the owner and understand [their passion]. I think there’s a beauty in being a small business entrepreneur and feeling like you’re contributing to your city and community.
EBONY: What were some of the obstacles that you faced as you worked to grow your business?
CE: The number one obstacle is that I was 21 when I started. Back then, seven years ago, being 21 and having a passion for marketing, small business retail, the consumer and consumer behavior was just unheard of. A lot of [companies] thought I just wanted to do it to get free clothes from them or get free products and that wasn’t the case at all.
EBONY: So you were young but very much focused on building a brand and business and now it’s paying off.
CE: Fast-forward and [now] everybody’s looking for a millennial marketing consultant or someone who’s very social media savvy and can help with digital marketing. They understand how much money—to the tune of billions of dollars—is coming out of my generation. So they [also] understand the power and value of working with somebody who is younger. But, it was constantly an obstacle when I was in my earlier 20s. Just blatant ageism—it’s incredible.
EBONY: It’s awesome to see that our generation is becoming a “force to be reckoned with” in a sense.
CE: I think what really helps is that millennials graduated from college and started families…and we have money and we adapt. The advances in technology are incredible and how quickly we can adapt to them makes us so much more of a commodity than any other generation.
EBONY: So when did you start to realize that your business was succeeding?
CE: When I stopped having as many one-off jobs and people actually hired me for campaigns. [Also] when companies began asking me to be a millennial marketing consultant because of the press that I was getting. When people are able to put value to my thoughts, I’m always so grateful for that. They could ask anybody to write an article, but to say that, “I think that you’re a thought leader in your industry and I would like you to contribute,” that’s overwhelmingly lovely.
EBONY: A compliment indeed. What’s some of the best advice that you have received on this journey, and who gave it to you?
CE: My mother has always taught me to have an entrepreneurial [spirit]. When I first started the company I was making my prices dirt cheap and she told me: know your worth, even though you’re a young consultant you should still be charging as much [or only] a bit less than some of your competitors. I smartened up and learned the value of myself.
EBONY: I think that issue can be one of the most challenging aspects of entrepreneurship in general. What has been your greatest sacrifice?
CE: I had to pinch my pennies and realize that yes I have capital but it’s coming from me. I had to think strategically about how I was going to spend the money. It’s blood, sweat and tears in the beginning and you have to be invested in and sure of yourself. If you’re running your business effectively, you shouldn’t have money in the beginning.
EBONY: What’s some advice that you’d give to other entrepreneurial young men and women?
CE: It’s so important to create a plan and understand the demographic that [you’re] going after…and do not steer from it because then you’re diminishing your worth.
EBONY.com: So what’s up next for Christine Epps and Epps Consulting?
CE: I’m always looking to work with new mom and pop stores and I’m not afraid to travel as long as it’s in the United States. I’m really enjoying being a thought-leader in my industry so I’d [like to] continue writing articles about millennials and urban marketing, and possibly working a little more with the larger companies as a consultant as well.