Lily & Kate's Small Business Journey

At The Scout Guide Bergen County, one of our favorite things to do is to share our members’ small business stories. Erica Mazzilli, owner of Lily & Kate, has an amazing small business journey to share. We are sure you will be inspired by her career and outlook on life.

TSGBC: Why did you decide to start your own business?

Erica: My gift shop journey began as a gift department manager in a Bergen County specialty market. I started in the gift department, began to manage the buying for the department and eventually opened their shop. I spent 23 years there and it was this experience gave me my “gift shop legs”. When I found myself in a position to start a new chapter in my professional life, the little idea in my head of owning my own shop began to grow. Eventually, the idea grew big enough that I decided I could not live with the regret of not having gone for my dream.  When I finally got the courage up to go for it, I was in a constant state of panic and fear but I was determined not to let my doubts get the best of me.  Many sleepless nights were followed by busy days as when you are your own boss, your days do not end at 5 pm.  

I found the open retail location, I knew it was go time.  The name Lily & Kate is based on myself and my daughter. My daughter is Kate and Lily is my nickname a friend had given me.  My daughter is now grown up and getting married in May.  My dream is a reality. I am my own boss and Lily & Kate is a success. The sleepless nights were worth it and I would do it all over again.

TSGBC: What routines do you follow each day to keep your personal life and business life on track?

Erica: I am an early riser. I start my day with a quick review of emails.  Next I meet a friend for a 30 minute walk. We try to get our walk in regardless of the temperature. This morning was a little chilly, 18 degrees but we got it in. After my walk, it is home to get myself ready for the day.  I open the store at 10 am and most days I am in the shop until we close at 5 pm. It helps that I love my job and enjoy building relationships with my customers and helping them select the perfect gift or piece of jewelry for a special occasion.  My day ends with a relaxing cup of tea with my husband and a good night’s sleep.  

TSGBC: How does Lily & Kate look different now vs when you first started?

Erica: Lily & Kate is known for our gifts and accessories which was my goal when I opened the doors here in Ramsey.  My buying eye has always been on trend.  We now carry more jewelry lines like the super popular ENewton and Gorjana lines.  The luxury candle business has grown and we now carry the best brands like Nest and Lafco.  I have started to expand our clothing accessories like summer beach covers ups & sundresses and winter hats & scarves. We now have quite a following for our clothing.

My most favorite newcomer is our amazing baby department.  This department is constantly busy.  Our inventory contains the perfect gift for a baby shower, new baby, first birthday and a little love from grandma.  I pride myself on the uniqueness of what we carry.  I saw the need for a curated baby department and began to create my vision.  I am so happy I followed my instinct and have filled a need here in Bergen County.

We are known for our beautifully wrapped packages.  My goal has always been and will continue to be to provide the customer with a one stop, stress-free shopping experience: Pick the gift – hand to to my team – we wrap it, – put a bow on it – customer writes the card – and we are done – customer is out the door with a smile and a beautiful gift. 

TSGBC: Where do you see Lily & Kate in 5 years? 10?

Erica: I will for sure be here. What we do best here, is adapt to the changes in everyday life and the ever changing business world. We demonstrated this during Covid.  After a good cry, I began to get creative. We sold our gifts and accessories through Instagram and Facebook. We gave people our cell phone numbers, delivered gifts to the doorstep, heck, we even signed the cards!  Of course, every gift we delivered was beautifully wrapped which helped bring smiles to this gray time in our lives.  If and when we are faced with another challenge, I am confident that we will adapt, power through and emerge stronger.

TSGBC: How do you deal with fear & doubt?

Erica: I think back to March 2020 when I think about fear.  The Saturday the world seemed to shut down, I was in the shop by myself and I started to cry. I had worked too hard to see Lily & Kate fall apart.  As I said earlier, I knew I had to pivot. I put my creative hat on and got to work on new marketing ideas and made the new reality work for my store, my family and my employees.  

You can’t let fear debilitate you. Instead you need to use it to fuel what you need to do.

TSGBC: What is the biggest lesson learned in your career and running your own business?

Erica: Don’t doubt yourself!  Trust your instincts. More times than not your instincts are spot on.

TSGBC:  What qualities do you look for when hiring employees?  We know you have a super loyal staff so this is very interesting to us.

Erica: First and foremost I look for someone who is pleasant in demeanor. I can get a good read when I first speak to someone.  My staff must be upbeat – no Debbie Downers at Lily & Kate.  I do look for retail experience because I do know that sometimes retail is challenging, so experience does help but it is not a must have.  We have a fantastic team, everyone respects each other and our customers.  I feel my team speaks for itself and draws like minded people to work with us.  I wanted Lily & Kate to be a happy place to spend your day and think we have succeeded. 

TSGBC: Who was your role model or entrepreneurial inspiration?

Erica: Yes, I have 2 women who were both my role models, inspiration and cheerleaders.

The first is Rosalle Stanton. Rosalle owned Presents in Wyckoff.  Presents was the main go to gift shop in north Bergen County for over 20 years.  I refer to Rosalle as my “gift shop Godmother”.  She taught me everything I needed to know about this business.  She knew exactly what to say to customers and vendors.  She was always professional. She was able to simultaneously be firm, fair and pleasant.  I have channeled Rosalle in my business persona. She is simply a wonderful human being.

My second favorite person is Elenore. Elenore and I worked together for over 10 years. She called me her Little Dynamo and would consistently remind me that I can do anything!  She worked with me at Lily & Kate until she retired.  I love her and miss working with her and her daily wisdom.

TSGBC: Is there anything you would change about your business journey if you could go back in time?

Erica: I would have taken the leap earlier. I opened the doors to Lily & Kate when I was 50. If I had started this journey  earlier, I would have had more time to do more with my business.  

TSGBC:  What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur?

Erica: This is an easy one to answer. My advice is: Don’t let fear cripple you!  If you have a good idea, go for it. Don’t look back and say I should have done that.  Go for it. You can do it!

TSGBC: Fun Fact – If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would be the first thing you would do? Or What is your favorite item in your store?

Erica: I consider myself to be a content, happy person. I love my life and although cliche, I am very blessed. Blessings aside, if I know the lottery I would first recount my blessings and then book a 3 week trip to Italy.  I know the store would be in good hands, so I would catch the first flight and arrivederci, see you in 3 weeks.

Lily & Kate | 66 East Main Street, Ramsey, NJ | @lilyandkategifts

Erica & Kate in the early days of Lily & Kate.