ARNOLDS LAKE, Iowa (KELO) – Most people go to the lake to leave work behind, but that’s where an Okoboji woman found her career, at a business called Boat House Apparel.
It’s Laura Bjornstad’s brainchild.
She just moved into a beautiful new building, but you may not know she started selling her clothes by the side of a road. The growing business started small, and has anchored itself to the area.
Even a bad day at the lake is a good day.
Laura Bjornstad: “I love this (shirt). ‘Chasing the Okoboji Dream.'”
Brady Mallory: “It is a dream!”
Bjornstad: “So good! It’s such a dream.”
Bjornstad caught her dream years ago, and has been running with it ever since. This brings us to this reality: Boat House Apparel.
The clothing and lake lifestyle store just moved into this brand new location in Queen’s Court in Arnolds Park, Iowa. It’s bigger than its last home, which is just a few stores over, and has a few more bells and whistles.
“The garage door that gives us this outdoor-indoor living,” Bjornstad said, opening a garage door on the side of the building. .
There’s a lot inside: sweatshirts, t-shirts, kids’ clothes, candles, and mugs for coffee…
“Or rosé or champagne. Anything goes,” Bjornstad said.
Bjornstad isn’t just giving a cheers to her new location. The goal was never to shape a store, because Bjornstad continues to build a brand that celebrates the Iowa Great Lakes.
“The reason I started Boat House Apparel is because I have a passion and an absolute love for the lake and more so Okoboji. This place I got to grow up in and make some magical memories in,” Bjornstad said.
Naturally, Bjornstad wanted to create a future here. Years ago, it was risky for anyone to open a brick and mortar store. So, when life — or the economy — gave Bjornstad lemons, she made a lemonade stand.
“Let’s take the concept of a lemonade stand and really create it into something special and neat,” Bjornstad said in 2014.
By the time we met her in 2014, Bjornstad was already making a name for herself, and setting up pop-up shops in the area to sell her clothes.
“Running around like a crazy little 25-year-old with long blonde hair, you know. Making whatever worked and I worked really hard,” Bjornstad said.
It paid off. Last summer, we showed you the first actual store Boat House moved into. By then, she was already training her junior vice president — now three-year-old daughter, Lily.
“Do you want to stand up with me? Oh, gotcha!” Bjornstad said in 2017 her daughter.
Which brings us back to now. The business has grown, and still includes its own designs. It also features other clothing lines, housewares, a booming online store, and a small staff.
“You love it so much and it’s your baby,” Bjornstad said.
Remember, all of this came from a wooden box and an idea.
“It’s such a smart idea not to sink yourself into debt. Just from like an idea that Laura grew the whole company organically and just kind of took it step by step,” Merchandise Manager Katie Hamilton said.
“I don’t regret anything that I have done because it’s made me more thankful, grateful for this gorgeous brick and mortar store I now have,” Bjornstad said.
So, what’s the next wave for this little lakeside shop? Bjornstad has a few ideas, but says she’s focused on right now. The goal is to continue to offer families the lake lifestyle.
“They’re walking away with a story and that’s what we’re trying to definitely give to our customers,” Bjornstad said.
Oh, and of course, a few fun shirts.
Bjornstad: “Okoboji is always a good idea.”
Brady Mallory: “How do you think of these phrases? Do you pitch them?”
Bjornstad: “Lots of rosé. Just kidding!”
So, let’s raise a glass to Bjornstad and Boat House Apparel. Even though it’s just a few steps from the lake, Bjornstad says this business isn’t a vacation; it’s a lot of hard work.
However, she says even a bad day of doing what she loves is the best possible life she could’ve imagined.
“If you’re, you know, flat and you’re just trying to sell clothes, you’re just trying to sell a product; there’s not a feeling that comes with it. There’s an emotional connection with Boat House, I believe. I think that’s what has made us successful,” Bjornstad said.