We had the good fortune of connecting with Mike Pham and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mike, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Opening your own business is all about timing I believe, stars have to align and you have to be willing to bet on yourself that you can get it done.
Owning Proper was never really in the plans, I had worked there as an employee I would say around 2007 or so. I had got to learn a lot there from the owners who later on became mentors but I knew it was their business and I wasn’t able to become part of the ownership. I was then given the opportunity to go back to college by my uncle.
After 4 years and an accounting degree on the horizon, I reached out to Tristan, who owned Proper previously and he said “buy as many as you want before I sell it.” At that moment I felt it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up and immediately called my cousin Chris, he then proposed the idea to our other business partner Tommy. About a month later and now nearly 7 years in here we are.
Though it hasn’t always been easy, it has certainly been rewarding building from what my friends had started. We opened a second location which is in Houston, grown the e-commerce platform and expanded our own brand label.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Getting to where we are currently at has not been easy, there is no blueprint that you can google on how to become a successful shoe boutique. Each store owner can a test that their journey has been different and difficult as we each navigate our way through the industry.
Challenges come every day with brands deciding not to open you because of any which reason. By doing so we have continue to show we are a store that they need to be associated with to elevate each others brand as equal partners.
Some lessons I’ve learned are “no’s” are not forever, it just might take longer than expected. Also just like you are told “no”, you also tell other “no” when they want you to carry one of their brands. Therefore be kind to everyone because you might need each other down the road, that same rep that you said “no” to but were kind to could very well be the next rep of the brand you are seeking.
What most people don’t know about Proper now is that we are owned by three Vietnamese-Americans, all of our parents migrated over here during the Vietnam War in order for all of us to have a chance at the “American Dream”. We’ve been lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time to take full advantage of the situation we are currently in. We hope as people discover the store and brand they enjoy what we are curating for them and hope on the journey we are taking together.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Depending on which location you are visiting it would be different.
If one was visiting Houston there is definitely more here than one expects:
– eating Texas BBQ is always the first thing and our go to here in Houston is Truth BBQ
– Himalayas or Agas for Indian/Pakistani food
– Hai Cang Seafood, Tay Do, and Siu Lap City for Chinese/Vietnamese food
– Ninfas on Navigation for TexMex
– James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyscape as the run is rising
– An Astros, Rockets or Texans game
– NASA Space Center
– Brewery (Saint Arnold’s, Eureka, Buffalo Bayou, 8th Wonder)
– Sushi (Uchi, Kata Robata, Neo & Soto)
– If they happen to come in February there is the Houston Rodeo
If one was visiting Long Beach, seeing as that Long Beach is in between Orange County and Los Angeles there is a plethora of things to do:
– going to any number of beaches down the coast
– Los Angeles Contemporary Modern Art Museum
– The Broad
– Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles
– Korean or Japanese BBQ
– The Pike
– 4th Street in Long Beach
– Taqueria La Mexicana
– La Brea/Fairfax
– LAFC, Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Angels, Rams, Chargers game
– Griffith Observatory/Park
– Hollywood Sign Hike
– The Getty
– Rodeo Drive
– The Grove
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The shoutout would have to be my tribe of family and friends, without them this journey would not have been as enjoyable.
However my mom would be have to be the biggest shoutout as she’s always been my number one supporter.
She’s instilled in me core values of family, friendship, love, gratitude, empathy, honesty and dedication.
Three things to know about her would be:
Her story of moving here in her teens from Vietnam and having to learn not only a new language but adapt to different culture is a feat in itself.
She also went back to college to get her paralegal degree while in her 40s, while juggling the rigors of raising myself and my two brothers.
Lastly, she also became a marathon runner which I’m extremely proud of her for doing when she found out she had diabetes, it started out as group of women just wanting to get into shape and she turned it into a full on hobby.
My mom made life look easy, like it was her super power.
The other person I would mention is my Uncle Paul, without him I wouldn’t have been ready to take on the opportunity of purchasing Proper.
While visiting him one summer he asked if I wanted to go back to college and that he would pay for all my expense, the only contingency was that I had to move from California to Texas so that I would be more focused. I jumped at the opportunity that once I finished with a degree I could make my way into the corporate world and make money for myself.
My uncle I must tell you is an entrepreneur himself, he’s done extremely well for himself in the medical field and it has expanded into commercial and real estate property. He’s given me endless advice and mentorship that could not be taught at the university level.
Therefore when the opportunity came up to purchase Proper, I knew I was ready with everything I had learned from him on what to expect. I still continue to seek his perspective on business and life.
Ben Sassani for the picture of myself Alex Nguyen for the store photos