Episode 1 – CEO & President Laurel Mungo

For our very first episode, Imani chats with CEO and President of Mon Amie Laurel Mungo. Laurel shares how she came to take over Mon Amie, her routine for great leadership and some great tips all brides need to hear!

Imani 00:22
Hey, everybody, welcome to our very first episode of the Tea With Mon Amie. For this first one, we will be interviewing our CEO and President Laurel Mungo. I hope you guys enjoy. Welcome, Laurel, thank you for joining us today.

Laurel 00:35
Thank you.

Imani 00:36
So, tell me a little bit about your day as CEO of Mon Amie.

Laurel 00:40
My day starts off the same every single day, I wake up at five, So, that I have an hour to look at the news, have my one cup of coffee for the day with collagen and then at 6am. I work out from one hour, every day because that’s I’m a creature of habit and that really helps me, every day is different at Mon Amie. So, oftentimes, I have planned activities or phone calls or meetings in the morning, I always leave the afternoon for being on the floor with the brides in the staff.

Imani 01:15
Okay, cool. So, would you say that having that routine is important, if you’re going to be a leader, do you think that plays into?

Laurel 01:26
I think so. I think because working out, evens me out and I think that a good leader has got to be able to assess any situation on the spur of the moment and be able to handle it and if you’ve got extra aggression or anything going pulsing through your body. It’s hard to stay level headed.

Imani 01:49
Okay. So, Mon Amie is fairly, fairly established. It’s been around for a long time.

Laurel 01:57
1976.

Imani 01:59
That’s crazy and in the same location, right?

Laurel 02:02
No. always in Costa Mesa been a…. she started the business in 1976, next to a ice cream parlor in about 400 square feet. When I came to work for the company, two short years later, we were in 1200 square feet. When I first started, I was the fourth person to receive a paycheck for Mon Amie.

Imani 02:24
That’s amazing. So, when did you take it over?

Laurel 02:28
Well, that’s a really long story that I will bullet point, started working in 1978 until 1994. In 1989, we moved to our current location that was built from the ground up to the specs that Verna Houston, the owner and founder of Mon Amie had put down at that point. So, this is we are in the original footprint from 1989.

Imani 02:56
Wow. And as a store stayed relatively the same, or in terms of like its size and…

Laurel 03:06
This is our original footprint plus 1200 square feet. At one time during the late 90s into probably about 2008 or nine. We were the entire side of this Shopping Center, which now houses two restaurants, a day spa and a ballroom dancing establishment

Imani 03:28
Kind of a perfect place for a bridal store.

Laurel 03:31
Yes, when we first moved here, friar tux was with us and they were with us for about 27 years. They kind of redid their business plan. And now they’re just at South Coast Plaza. We had a cake place. We had a photographer, and the hair salon has been here for 29 years.

Imani 03:49
That’s awesome. Yeah, it was cool.

Laurel 03:51
It was a one stop place.

Imani 03:55
So what would you say has been the biggest change since you were the fourth employee originally when Mon Amie started?

Laurel 04:05
I would say, well, obviously the consumer has changed dramatically. The industry has definitely changed. There’s no longer print magazines that brides would come in with stacks and stacks and stacks of magazines that they ripped out of magazines of the pages and wanting to try those gowns on. The consumer of today is much more educated than they were in the 70s, 80s and even early 90s. But the basic reason that everybody walks through that door. They’re getting married. Yes. And that hasn’t changed and I don’t think that time can change that. Time can’t take away that magic of a woman picking out her wedding gown.

Imani 04:52
Yes. So, when you had started here, were you already married or did you get married.

Laurel 05:03
So little bit back history. When I first started, I was not married, and I got married to the first blip in the screen and in the history of my life. Very young, it was 1979 and that lasted about six years. So, then I really became a…. we were growing, there was So, much to learn. I really delved into the being the career of Mon Amie and I was introduced to my husband of almost 30 years, while I was here. The person that introduced us worked here, and I was set up on my first ever blind date.

Imani 05:46
Wow. So, this place has a lot of impact. Maybe on your own personal story would you say?

Laurel 06:00
I learned what I have learned about business. I learned; her name is Verna Houston. Verna taught me, I mean, from quarterly taxes to budgeting when the cash flow is low, too. How to treat people how to be a leader within the walls of Mon Amie. Has it impacted who I am? Yes, it helped mold who I am, and helped me believe in the power of women to celebrate women, which is something we’ve always done. So, absolutely.

Imani 06:37
And So, when you were here, and you were getting married, were you when you picked your dress did was it? How was that experience working in [crosstalk 06:49]?

Laurel 06:48
And we’re talking about the second one, the first one, that doesn’t count. It was actually very stressful for me, because we were in New York. I got married in September and we were at April market and I had been told by a designer that was very popular at the time that he was going to give me my wedding gown, and I was going to be able to design it. I’m not a designer. I have a good eye, I can look at design but I cannot come up with it. So, that was a little stressful for me. So, in going to the different design houses because we would see fashion shows every single day. Back then that was in 1990, a wedding gown came out onto the runway and I said, there it is. That’s the dress I hadn’t tried it on. I knew that was a dress, I wanted to walk down the aisle in. The only caveat for me at the time was I wanted to wear pink.

Imani 07:54
Of course,

Laurel 07:55
I wanted to wear pink and So, I tried it on and I said, “Can you do it in pink?” And yes, they could, yes, they would make that exception, because the designer had very strict guidelines. It was a scuzzy and at the time, he had just come off of designing all of Nancy Reagan’s clothes. So, he was kind of a big deal at the time and he didn’t do colors at all but he agreed to do that for me.

Imani 08:29
Wow, that’s So, fine.

Laurel 08:37
But then I had to go back to the designer that had So, kindly said you can do whatever you want and that will be my wedding gift to you and say tell him that I had found a wedding gown.

Imani 08:52
So could you just show him the wedding gown and be like, Can you make this and put it into

Laurel 08:59
No, because they didn’t do that they didn’t. Designers didn’t copy each other each designer because there were few of them that they each had a signature look. It’s not, maybe if there’s 300 wedding gown designers today, there was maybe 65 name brands

Imani 09:23
And they all had their own style. It is very different though, because you will walk in to a store and you’ll see a lot of designer’s kind of doing some version of the same thing because of that particular you know, So, that’s I mean to hear that a designer isn’t going to copy a designer like that almost sounds foreign in today’s time.

Laurel 09:44
Yeah, and that’s really kind of the sad part of the evolution of the bridal industry is that there are definite standouts that you can look at a gown and go that’s this one or that’s that one. But a lot of times you have no idea and it’s not as important to the brides these days, which is a good thing, actually, you know that they’re going to they’re looking in the mirror of what looks good at them, for them on their body, and not necessarily who designed it. Which is very healthy.

Imani 10:18
Yeah, and I think too, what’s So, great about that, as well as a lot of the designers that are are copying, you know, for lack of a better word. Other designers, a lot of times they’re doing it in a more affordable price range for people that want that look, but maybe can’t justify spending the kind of money that these other designers are asking.

Laurel 10:41
Yeah, and that’s kind of a double-edged sword. You want every bride to feel as beautiful as she can on her wedding day. And yet, if she has a very tight budget, you were very respectful of that and So, it’s a good thing that she can find something in that silhouette that isn’t the one who may be initiated it, but she’s going to walk down the aisle and feel amazing.

Imani 11:07
Yeah. But I mean, like you said, it is really great that brides today are not, they don’t have tunnel vision on one particular idea or one particular designer, it’s just about what makes them feel good, what makes them feel like a bride, which is the whole point in the end?

Laurel 11:24
Well, I think, from a different perspective, and its really kind of along those same lines. The difference that I’ve seen to now from 30, 40 years ago, is how women can look in the mirror and feel beautiful, no matter what society has told them, because society is in such a better place now. The inclusiveness is So, exciting to be and all women are beautiful and that has been a message that I’ve always felt in my heart but it’s true. It’s So, true and that’s the difference between now and when I started in 1978.

Imani 12:09
There is a lot more empowerment within women and women kind of feeling liberated in themselves in their own beauty. Which I’m glad you brought that up because I did want to ask you what it means to you to be a female business owner. In today’s times, especially?

Laurel 12:29
It’s exciting. It’s frustrating. I have I never stopped learning. I think the big difference is the women today can walk in anywhere at any type of business, and be okay and what comes out of their mouth is listened to and that’s a huge difference. Huge difference and I think, because we as women have come So, far to have that confidence, because that took during, you know, I’m old enough that I went through the women’s movement and we were not allowed to have strong opinions. Yeah. And if we did have strong opinions, we were labeled and that is gone, that is shattered. We have a long way to go as far as equal work and equal pay but the strides that we’ve made within a lifetime are huge and it only continues to grow. So, that’s, I love being a woman business owner.

Imani 13:46
I mean, it’s really amazing and I think one thing I do always notice about you is how open like you said, how open you are to improving and to learning from anybody. It’s never been like you would ever look down on anybody or think that somebody was not qualified enough to tell you ways that you could improve your you’re willing to adapt to changing times and I think especially, you know, for generations older than the present one, it’s very hard for these changes that are So, different all the tech, the new technology, and the social media is So, hard to get the hang of when you didn’t just grow up with it and things were So, different. So, I think that’s one thing that is really, it’s really great about how you lead and how you how you show other people how to lead as always, never think you’re too good for anybody’s.

Laurel 14:41
Well thank you and I will say that that comes from a very simple mantra of mine. I would never ask anybody to do something that I wouldn’t do myself or that I haven’t done myself and I also have the utmost respect for probably, I guess millennials before millennials after millennials because of your fearlessness, we my generation grew up with, we were kind of boxed in, and we were a little bit afraid of change. You guys aren’t and it’s So, exciting and I have a lot of respect for that.

Imani 15:19
Yeah. And that’s really exciting to see business owners that are excited about that and willing to embrace that so…. thank you….

Laurel 15:27
You are welcome. Thank you.

Imani 15:32
So, kind of on that same note, who would you say was has been your biggest influence in your career?

Laurel 15:38
Well, that’s easy. It was Verna, she kind of took me under her wing at a very early age, and always respected me, as a person, even though I had a huge learning curve. I wanted to be a movie star. When I was going to college really well, not necessarily a movie, but I wanted to be a commentator, I wanted to just be on TV, I was told that I couldn’t, that I would never be able to achieve that but I wasn’t encouraged as a person as a woman. I mean, for a very long time in that first little blip in the screen with the first marriage was really tough for me and I was with Verna, who really taught me with an open heart and an open mind, every inch of the business. So, she also allowed me to grow. You know, I had never had that in my life. I hadn’t had that type of influence. Now, my family’s fabulous. I had a wonderful childhood. You know, very the oldest of four kids but I was never encouraged. It was like, take care of yourself, get your stuff done, but never any extra encouragement and she gave that to me, and believed in me and that was huge.

Imani 17:11
That’s awesome. So, in terms of business wise, she taught you everything you need to know to run the business and when he eventually came back and were able to take it over. You just jumped in and you just knew what you were doing immediately or were there hiccups?

Laurel 17:27
Oh, gosh.

Imani 17:30
More like belches?

Laurel 17:34
Yes, there were hiccups because I had been a stay-at-home mom for 18 years. And I chose to be a stay-at-home mom, because I work So, hard to become a mother because, it’s not common knowledge. But it’s nothing that I hide that I was not able to have children and So, my children are adopted, which has taught me a lot. I’m their advocate, because all of them have special needs, which we had no idea at the time. And that’s was a real journey that taught me don’t take no for an answer. You know, keep going keep because you have, I had to be their advocate because they couldn’t be. So, were there hiccups when I first came back? Yes. Absolutely. It was a big learning curve and it still is, you know, as far as like the technology and I was very old fashioned. When I first came. It’s like, I am not giving up on print magazine. I am not and I believe I had a conversation with you about because I guess I should be embarrassed to say this, but I’m not I still get a paper in the morning because I like I like the idea of sitting down and reading something.

Imani 18:55
It is therapeutic in a way. Yeah, I do the same thing with my books.

Laurel 18:59
Right? And now I don’t want to I will not cancel my la time subscription because I know that I’m helping somebody stay in their job and that’s really important to me.

Imani 19:12
I mean, you can’t change everything about how you do what you do. You know, when it comes to your business, you change and you adapt within reason but when it comes to your personal life, just because newspapers are out. I mean, they have to be out well for [chuckling] you.

Laurel 19:30
Thank you.

Imani 19:32
So when you got here who kind of helped you get acclimated to life as CEO who taught you know what you need to do as far as buying or?

Laurel 19:45
That was nobody did. That was something that I went to a few people that we are still here that I really couldn’t be without, and thankfully they showed me that part of the business. I had to what I do as far as buying is, I’m out on the floor. I see what the brides are trying on. I learned what they’re looking for and that’s how I went forward in buying. Was there a couple of mistakes along the way? You bet you. But I think I have a handle on that and I was always just naturally good at that. For some reason. I wasn’t trained. It’s just something that I love. I love wedding gowns but I’ve learned to cut back, just because I love it. I don’t need it and I also, once a week, as I have told you, before I touch every gallon I own. I go through the store, I look at them, zip them up if they need to be zipped up, but I look at every dress.

Imani 20:45
Yes. One thing that I feel like it’s been So, funny to me. Since I’ve been here is your soft spot, because you were saying about how your wedding dress is pink, like a little earlier and your soft spot for pink wedding dresses was always the funniest to me. I remember coming and being like, what in the world? You’re like, isn’t it amazing? Isn’t it great? It’s like pink roughly and I’m like, “Oh, no.” [crosstalk]

Laurel 21:17
Yes, I do. We won’t name. But yes, I do.

Imani 21:24
But every time I saw a pink dress in the store, I’d be like, Well, I know why that’s it. But that I mean, I love that. That’s one of the things I love So, much. are you’re like, Oh, I just love pink? Yeah, you know, at least you’re consistent with.

Laurel 21:47
Very consistent.

Imani 21:51
So, when you look for a new line, you’re looking for a new line in the store, what are you looking for?

Laurel 21:58
Well, that has changed in the last seven, eight years for me as well, it used to be based solely on the dresses that I was looking at and now there are other components that are just as important to me and that is who is running that company. Because human relationships are So, very important and I think that during the COVID shutdown I found out who, who treated Mon Amie nicely and who didn’t and So, that in looking for a new line, I will have several conversations with whoever’s selling me this line, before pulling the trigger, I will also check on them with other stores but I love finding just coming across new lines, because there definitely is still a lot of new stuff out there and I’ve had really good luck in the European markets.

Imani 23:03
And I think too, maybe another component of that is Mon Amie being as established, as we are,

Laurel 23:12
Thank you for not saying Oh,

Imani 23:13
Of course, We want to be being as established as we are. We also have kind of figured out a chemistry within our staff here. So, everybody kind of, I mean, we really do work very closely together and everybody kind of does work as a family and I think when designers come in, and they interact with us, all the designers we carry for the most part, I would say have very good interactions with all of the staff. So, it doesn’t just come down to like, Oh, the owner, the managers are super close with the designers, and they’re able to speak to them about this change you may want. It’s like, No, you let me ask, right, because they’re here, and I know them and I feel comfortable enough with them to ask them if these things are possible, or ask them to come say hi to you as the bride, which I think is really awesome and I mean, I don’t know personally how it is that a lot of other stores but I would have to say that’s kind of the great thing about the lines that you bring in the designers that you bring in and how this works as.

Laurel 24:16
Well. And I think the other important thing to me has been including a bride no matter what her budget, I mean, we’re very unique in that because our opening price point is fairly low compared to other stores and yet we can also accommodate the bride that has a 7, 8, 10, $12,000 budget. But those brides getting married that really only have $14100 we can find them address and they can be a Momani bride.

Imani 24:49
Definitely, So, that goes back to the inclusive thing you were talking about. It goes beyond one category of inclusivity like it’s everything. We include all body types, which I think is So, amazing and we’ve worked on that, putting that So, that we have options for everybody and we have options for all price ranges. And it’s really just been, it’s the evolution of the store just in the time I’ve been here, So, to me, it’s So, crazy to think that you have seen this store, since it was a little baby. So, that must the evolution of that must be super crazy to YouTube. So, what do you want your customers and future brides to feel about the store when they leave, after they’ve shopped or before they shop?

Laurel 25:51
I want them to walk. When they walk in the doors, they’re very excited and a lot of them, which is an emotion that I have come to learn about is that they’re nervous, they’re really nervous because most stores you don’t get the help that we give, when you go into a ready to wear store, it’s a completely different experience. So, when a bride walks out of the doors, whether she’s purchased or not, I want her to not feel pressured and I want her to be happy and joyful. I want her to have had that experience of looking in the mirror and loving what she sees. That can be tough sometimes to get to that point but I think the one thing that I am adamant about with everybody, and you’ve experienced that is, I don’t want to pressure these ladies. They’ve got too much pressure. So, I want them to walk out. breathing a sigh of relief.

Imani 26:55
Yeah. And that’s a really big thing and I’m glad you said that you know about the pressure is, I think a lot of people confuse, dress bind with my carbine. Like they think it’s like that confuse the two isn’t the same thing but they think about the same kind of feeling. Like when you walk in and you get the really pushy sales people and if it’s kind of just like a decision. It’s not like a……

Laurel 27:20
Yes. And I think the problem, if I see any problem with the current consumer Brides, is that they really torture themselves, and then it’s no longer joyful. They’ve been to seven stores, they have seven favorites, they’re going to wear one wedding gown, and they need to learn, which is probably not in their makeup at this particular point in history. But they need to learn to trust themselves at what they see in the mirror. Hmm, maybe 100% that they, it’s okay to find a dress on your first time out. Don’t assume it can happen. It can happen and it’s magical when you finally do and if you don’t grab that moment, you will always go chasing to find it and it’s not going to happen and So, I think to just put your shoulders down, if you love this dress and you love the way you look in it, and you’re going to stand up in front of your family and friends and marry the man that you love or the woman that you love in this dress. Do it. Go for it. Of course, don’t go to six other appointments and try and chase that feeling.