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Peggy Heglie Kilbane at the Lakegirl showroom. Photo by - Brian Basham/DL Newspapers

Lakegirl clothing sees impressive growth

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Under the nurturing hand of owner Peggy Heglie Kilbane, Lakegirl clothing has gone from T-shirts sold at her gift shop at Shady Hollow Flea Market to a $1 million a year business.

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Along the way she's broken a few rules -- she never wrote a business plan, she only hires her friends, and she loves to bring her dogs to work.

But she's all business when it comes to designing, selling and protecting the Lakegirl clothing brand.

Lakegirl designs and sells T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, shoes, jackets and "our next move probably will be into giftware," like coffee mugs, Heglie Kilbane said.

Lakegirl is not affiliated with Lakeshirts, though they do a lot of business together and Lakeshirts has "really been supportive in all the ways they could be," Heglie Kilbane said.

Lakegirl actually started about 10 years ago as clothing that Heglie Kilbane designed and sold at Peggary, her shop at Shady Hollow.

The clothing line is now trademarked and sold at some 500 gift shops across the United States and Canada.

It has healthy catalog and Internet sales and is also sold at the Lakegirl shop run by Heglie Kilbane's daughter, Lisa, in Shoreham.

The clothing is also available locally at such gift shops as Red Willow in Detroit Lakes, Karen's Korner in Pelican Rapids and The Back Porch in Perham.

Heglie Kilbane's genius was first in getting the "Lakegirl" name trademarked -- no simple feat in itself -- and second in doing the persistent legal work necessary to defend that trademark.

"It was a real tough battle to protect it," she said. "All the big T-shirt companies were putting it out there -- they hadn't heard of us."

The company has also found success marketing to gift shops instead of clothing stores.

"Almost all gift shops also have clothing, too," she says.

She markets Lakegirl products to gift store buyers at big trade shows in Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas and the Twin Cities.

"The first show we went to was Atlanta," she said, "and we found that people all over the country loved their lakes and Lakegirl was kind of a universal thing -- more of an attitude, really.

"Anyone who spends any time at the lake loves it."

The brand is sold across the country, but is the most popular in states with a lot of lakes, especially the eastern part of the United States and Alaska.

She found there were no age barriers for Lakegirl products, either. "From kids to grandmas," like the brand, she said.

Most customers are women -- even for the men's line, called Lakedog, and the toddler line, called Lakebabies and Lakegirl Babies.

Women buy for friends and family.

Early on, she took the advice of her son and purchased the Internet domain name "Lakegirl.com."

"The timing was perfect," she said. "I don't thing you'd be so lucky to get that domain name now, but I'm so glad we have it. When someone googles 'Lakegirl' we come up as No. 1."

Along the way, Lakegirl's office and shipping facility has moved three times: From a building near the Soo Line tracks, to a building near the Boys and Girls Club Thrift store and now to a former beer distribution warehouse on the 700 block of Roosevelt Avenue.

The business has gotten a lot of attention locally since it moved to the Roosevelt Avenue site, which serves as a warehouse, display area and offices.

More warehouse space is located next door.

"It's a busy spot," Heglie Kilbane said. "We feel lucky to have found the building, it's really worked out well for us."

The half-dozen friends and family running the show at Lakegirl make it all work.

"I don't do well not hiring friends," Heglie Kilbane said.

"Anyone who works here has to have the initiative to think outside of the box and do whatever needs to be done."

Everybody is pretty much a Jack-of-all-trades at Lakegirl, but on Monday, Deb Holstad was working in shipping and receiving, Jane Gillam was busy in bookkeeping, and Peggy's husband, Gary, had parked the forklift and was outside putting salt on the inclined driveway to the loading ramp, since a truck was expected soon.

Heglie Kilbane was in her office working on designs for next fall, since products have to be designed a full year in advance.

Her two mellow dogs, Tutt and Annie, both Cavalier King Charles spaniels, were laying on beds near her desk.

Barb Ellis, who has a summer cabin on Big Detroit but lives out West, does much of the heavy lifting in sales.

"She knows all the retailers -- she talks to them on a regular basis," Heglie Kilbane said.

There was cheering going on at Lakegirl on Monday, as the company passed the $1 million mark in annual revenues from its wholesale business this year.

"It's been a long process," Heglie Kilbane said.

"Helping to build a brand for a clothing line -- so more and more people have found us."

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