If there is one part of business that Karen Cox and Sheri Guse have a handle on, it’s expense control.
The tagline for their business, Klassy Kids Resale in Oconto, is, “Owned and operated by two frugal moms.” In fact, being frugal always has been a big part of their friendship.
“We were friends who liked to shop and rummage, and about four years ago, we were just talking and thought, ‘We love good bargains and searching for good finds, why not open a shop?’” Cox said.
Since this was their first venture into entrepreneurship, they set up an appointment with SCORE mentors.
“We were starting from zero, so we went with all of our initial startup questions," Cox said. "How do we set up the business? Should we have an LLC? How do we name the business and what are the legal requirements?”
They started on a business plan, obtained a federal ID number and formed an LLC. They also started looking for a place to rent with the goal of giving it a boutique feel since so many of the shops they visited while checking out similar stores seemed to be poorly put together.
“We wanted to be able to offer people a variety of things; we didn’t want it to be the typical resale store," Guse said. "Sometimes they smell or are cluttered. We wanted it to be organized."
Once they found a location, they looked at other shops and online for ideas, and with the help of family, did their own buildout.
“Of course, we were frugal and watched our budget,” Cox said. “Everything we bought for the business was used. We bought used clothing racks, and even our checkout counter is used.”
To create a boutique-feel, the walls were painted with cute images and a clothesline featuring old-fashioned clothing was hung. They spent hours at rummage sales to obtain their original inventory and selected goods that were in top condition. Now that the store is operating and well-known, they purchase items from customers.
Items are examined and considered based on brand, condition, style and popularity. An offer to purchase is made, and if the offer is accepted, a choice is given between cash or a store credit that includes a 10 percent bonus. They buy clothes, toys and baby equipment.
As additional evidence of their frugality, they do most of the work themselves, including bookkeeping, computer inventory, social media and marketing, staffing, merchandising, and all of the other hundreds of tasks that come with a small business. They also work part-time outside of the shop.
“A small business is hard work," Cox said. "It consumes you; it is always there and always on your mind. You have to be thinking ahead. In retail, if people are starting to think about Halloween or winter coats, we need to have what people want.”
And that attitude has Cox and Guse building a business that has become a destination and a loyal customer base that includes a radius from Green Bay to Marinette. To encourage visits, they have a loyalty program and will watch little ones while their parent shops. They also promise adult conversation, if needed.
“Customer service is very important,” Cox said. “When a customer walks in the door, there’s a quick welcome because the shop is also very social. We want to continue to build our customer base and get the word out that our store is here.”
While they make their store stand out as a “Klassy” retail shop, they have advice for others looking to start a business.
Cox advised: “Get a mentor — SCORE was really good. They helped us with our initial questions because we didn’t know what to do at that point. Also, be prepared to work long hours to make the business a success, and check out similar stores. Most owners are happy to tell you about their experiences.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.