12/23/2013 12:19 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2014

Women in Business: Q&A with Marie DeNicola, CEO and Founder of Mainstream Boutique

Marie DeNicola, CEO and founder of Mainstream Boutique, turned her passion into a booming business by carving out a niche in the $50 billion clothing industry.

After decades of experience in the fashion industry as a buyer, merchandiser and planner for large retailers, Marie DeNicola founded Mainstream Boutique as a direct sales company. With the wild success of the business, and at the request of other aspiring female entrepreneurs, DeNicola made the decision to offer the business model to other moms who wanted to be successful personally and professionally.

How has your experience as a buyer, merchandiser and planner aided Mainstream Boutique?
The company was started from my expertise in purchasing. If I had not worked in the garment district in Los Angeles, I would not have had the necessary foundation to build it.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have always put my family before the business, and continue to do this. By surrounding myself with amazing people - including my personal network of people as well as my staff, it has given me freedom to have the best of both worlds.

Missing one of my boy's hockey games, or my daughter's dance meets has never been an option for me. I have always had my priorities in place, giving me personal happiness and satisfaction, which is the real success.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as CEO of Mainstream Boutique?
Over the years there have been milestones that acted as spring boards to greater success. One of the biggest challenges that I faced was during the economic downturn. I had just moved the corporate store to a bigger, better, more expensive location. I moved in and the rest of the businesses around me closed. My positive attitude, commitment, and passion led the company to even greater success as we perfected our marketing, products, and service to be the best in the industry. Failure has never been an option for me - period!

When I was forced to lay off a key employee during this time, someone I worked with said "this is the beginning of the end". That was the biggest motivator I could have received as I am a very competitive person, it just gave me more determination.

You cannot get into and stay in your comfort zone if you want to grow.

What advice can you offer small business owners who are seeking to become a franchisor?
Take the time to study the industry and know what you are getting into. Franchising is a completely different business than your core business and it takes a different set of skills to be successful at it.

Find the best people in the industry to help you with the process starting with your law firm. It is a highly regulated industry and your success in franchising will be largely attributed to the law firm you work with in developing your FDD.

Know that it takes many years to even think about making money in franchising, so be sure you know why you are getting into it.

How can you turn your passion into a career?
I am not sure that everyone has the opportunity to accomplish this, Not sure everyone can do this, but for me it was finding a need and filling it doing what I love. Build a firm foundation, research, and go in eyes wide open. You may want to try starting something part time while you continue your current career reducing the risks associated with starting a business.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Although I may not be fully qualified to answer this question, as I have had the luxury to create my own workplace, I believe culture is everything. We have created an amazing culture at Mainstream! Our employees are happy and love working here.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentoring others is a passion of mine and something I do regularly.
I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to know you have impacted the success of another person. It is a huge part of why I do what I do! Mainstream is about so much more than ringing up transactions - it is about being the best we can be and giving our best to others.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Most of the female leaders I admire are women you would not have heard of. One of them is my friend Tracey with whom I graduated college. I watched her struggle through a divorce and not get any help to rise in her industry working in Manhattan at the World Trade Center. She has had to be both mom and dad to her children, and just amazes me with her accomplishments.

What are your hopes for the future of Mainstream Boutique?
I plan on continuing to change lives by providing women all over the country with the opportunity to own a successful business doing something they love! I am leaving a legacy for my children and the next generation to continue to grow. And, helping women look and feel great in fun and unique fashions is always a treat that I will continue for as long as I can breathe!