Women in Business Q&A: Vicky and Nikoleta Lirantonakis, Owners, Best Dressed

Binita Patel Photography

Sisters Vicky and Nikoleta Lirantonakis own Boston's first brick-and-mortar cocktail dress rental boutique, Best Dressed. Best Dressed is designed to provide women with an affordable but stylish alternative to buying dresses they would likely only wear once.

The sisters handpick every designer piece they carry, from mainstream dress designers to lesser-known but equally beautiful designs. Having mastered the balancing act of business and family, Vicky and Nikoleta are sharing their experience as fashion entrepreneurs.

How has your life experience made you the leader(s) you are today?
We come from a family of entrepreneurs who we've grown up watching build (and sometimes lose) their businesses. Whether it's a pizza place, hair salon, real estate or carpentry, we've learned so much about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, from our parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We learned that we could be and do anything we wanted and that hard work pays off.

Being the daughters of immigrant parents has definitely shaped us to be leaders. Our parents came to this country not speaking the language, knowing only each other and a few other people. They had to figure it all out and build a life here.

How has your previous employment experience aided your journey starting Best Dressed?
Every job we've had in our lives have set us up to open Best Dressed. Whether it was the ice cream shop Vicky worked at when she was 14, where she learned to open and close the store on her own, or the bank we both worked at, where we learned about finances, or the numerous retail stores we worked at and managed, where we learned to style, sell and manage people. They all played a role in where we are today as business owners.

What have the highlights and challenges been thus far?
The biggest challenge for us at the beginning was curating the collection. It was definitely risky to buy 300 dresses and not know if anyone was going to like the selection. When someone comes in and doesn't find a dress they want to rent, you start to question each decision you make. We have come to realize that you aren't going to be able to accommodate every single person that walks in the door. But with each new season we take the feedback we receive from clients to become better buyers.

Another challenge for us has been marketing. We have been fortunate enough to receive great press so far, but because we are just starting out, our marketing budget is very limited. We want to make sure we are putting our money in the right place. Seeing positive results is definitely a highlight, because it means our strategy is working.

One highlight for us is being able to give back. While we are limited a bit with resources, we make volunteering and donating to well-deserved causes a priority. We donate many silent auction items and door prizes, as well as offer discounts for guests attending charitable events. In 2016, we hope to increase our community involvement, as well as host an event to support a local charity/cause.

The biggest highlight for us is when we can help a client feel beautiful and also when we have repeat customers. Being open only 8 months and having return customers confirms we are on the right path. We love hearing their stories and how we played a role in helping them feel confident.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
First, dream big! The best way to stay motivated is to have bigger dreams and goals that you want to achieve. On that same note, take action. Don't think about it too much, just do it. And when you do, don't be afraid to take risks or worry about failing. You learn from failure. It's failure that gives you a true appreciation of success. Another important thing we've learned, is to prioritize your customers, really listen to them for valuable feedback and always deliver more than is expected. Lastly, believe in yourself and the success of your business, don't ever give up!

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
The most important thing we've learned is quite simple, actually. It's to be kind and focus on building great relationships. With them you'll get much further than you would without.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
We know how important maintaining balance is for our mental health, so we try to make sure we do at least one thing for ourselves each day. That can be something as little as going for a walk to grab some coffee or something bigger like getting dinner with friends. When you own your own business there never really is a day off, but because we know everything is in good hands when one of us needs a break, we are able to do that every once in awhile. We definitely notice a difference when we come back relaxed, we're ready to take on anything!

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
It's true what they say - it does, infact, take a village. No one can do everything they want alone. We are mentors for each other, in matters of Best Dressed and in life. We remind each other to be and do better each day, so that we're continuously learning and growing as people.

We also have a group of people that we seek advice from regularly. Whether professional or personal, we draw from the various talents and knowledge in our network to ensure we're going in the right direction.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Our mother. She's one of the hardest working people we know. She ran multiple businesses with our dad, all while raising the two of us. She inspires us every day, is an amazing mother and friend, is open and honest with us and always has our best interests at heart.

We also admire Jessica Alba for seeing a gap in the market and building a billion dollar empire in less than 5 years. She is resilient and worked hard to change people's perception of her as just another Hollywood actress, trying to put her name on a company. We admire her because she does things her way. We mostly love her for this recent quote in Vanity Fair, because we truly relate to it: "If it was easy, everyone would do it. You have to be a little bit crazy; you have to have gumption and tenacity. A lot of people give up at the first roadblock. But, for entrepreneurs, if there isn't another road, we create it. We break concrete; we throw dynamite; we figure it out."

What do you want to accomplish in the next year for Best Dressed?
Our primary focus, at the moment, is to open another store in the Boston area within the next year! We want to give our clients even more options for their special occasions and expand our collection. Our vision is to become more of a style resource for women in the area. There is nothing we love more than making women feel confident, sexy, and beautiful. By curating a collection that our clients love and providing personalized service, we hope to make Best Dressed the place to go for affordable styling in Boston.