STERLING HEIGHTS — Kristin Hartwell is only in her mid-20s, but she’s already taken the entrepreneurial plunge with her own business, Glam Passion, LLC, on the west side of Mound between 16 Mile and 17 Mile.
The Madison Heights resident wanted to start a store selling stylish fashion items — as good as the high-end brands, but at a fraction of the price. Now, the place is a reality, full of glittering jewelry and other items like headbands, hats, sunglasses, purses and wallets.
But the business didn’t build itself overnight. Many questions had to be answered. And a half-year in, many questions remain, as the business continues to find its footing.
A 2005 graduate of Lamphere High, Hartwell attended Oakland University with no specific focus in mind. After a couple of years, she went to cosmetology school in Sterling Heights. Soon, she was styling men’s hair while at the same time finishing up her business degree at Oakland Community College.
Through it all, she was trying to find herself, but no direction felt right. The weight of things started to wear on her, to the point where life seemed a bit bleak and hopeless. Part of her knew things were OK, but she didn’t feel like herself. She felt paralyzed emotionally and decided to leave the barbershop.
She had a business degree in hand but had to get her strength back and find her focus. She started working part-time at a family photography business and, in time, stabilized enough to ask herself: “What do I really want to do?” She understood the business basics, and she knew it was something she could do, having worked directly under the owner of the barbershop. She just needed the vision.
Inspiration came when she visited a fashion store, now one of her competitors. When she saw what they were doing, the idea dawned on her to try something similar — but do it better.
It was something she had always dreamed about, but it took her newfound resolve to realize it was within reach. At that point, she knew the goal, but getting there would be an epic undertaking in itself. It would require learning many things that most people don’t even realize go into a business.
Setting up shop
The process began last November.
“My first step was asking my parents for support,” Hartwell said. “Looking back, I didn’t realize how much help I’d need from them. Honestly, my store wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. They did just as much work on the store as I did.
“That’s not what I wanted, at first — I wanted to say I did it all myself — but for example, my dad was here on his hands and knees, doing the flooring, the moldings, the painting,” Hartwell said.
She also heaped praise on her mother, who assists with everything from tidying the place up to repairing jewelry.
“My parents help a lot.”
Her parents have also helped with personal expenses and acted as a second set of eyes when it came to financial matters like loans.
Before she could calculate the costs, however, she needed to figure out inventory, and before suppliers would work with her, she needed a business bank account. This, in turn, required Hartwell to secure a business license through the state. She said she started the process at www.michigan.gov/business.
“They had a lot of useful resources at the site,” Hartwell said. “They even had a checklist of what I needed to take care of before I could start my business.”
After completing this process and obtaining her Employer Identification Number (EIN) for a small fee, she began scouring the Internet for suppliers that sell only to businesses. She wanted to find items that were trendy, quality, but affordable.
“Every girl likes a designer purse here and there. I’ve been known to get a $250 purse every now and then,” Hartwell said. “But at the same time, I’m not going to spend that on a purse every season, every time I need one. It’s nice to get something cute that not everyone has and that doesn’t cost a fortune.”
She quickly found a dozen good suppliers, most of them from L.A., and another in Oregon providing licensed MLB and NFL items. She also found a couple local suppliers, including Ink Detroit. The real time investment came in winnowing down the massive selection of items the suppliers had. One wholesaler literally had more than 10,000 earrings in their catalog.
“I order a lot of items that I, myself, like,” said Hartwell. “My mom always jokes that, ‘Hey, if the business doesn’t work out, at least you’re going to have a really cool closet!’”
It took her several months to figure out her inventory, ordering a sample of each item to confirm its quality. At that point, she could start figuring out the business plan.
She went online and found a complete layout, a fill-in-the-blank-style checklist for a business plan, with nearly 30 points to consider. She crunched cost estimates for rent and utilities — before finding a location, so she high-balled the cost, to be safe — as well as liability insurance, a security system and more. She had to account for the inspection fees needed for about six city permits. Even the store sign and logo had to be considered.
With the business plan in hand, she applied to different lenders for a small business loan but found most weren’t willing to take a chance on unproven upstarts. So instead, she acquired a personal loan in February, supplemented by some of her savings. She budgeted enough so, if the first six months passed without a single sale, she’d be OK.
Then she, her mother and a friend scouted out different locations, looking for a place that was relatively new and wouldn’t require drastic work to the interior. They were also looking for traffic count and good neighbors. After considering about a dozen locations, Hartwell settled on her current address, a former dance studio next to a successful salon and private gym used by pageant girls. Built in the mid-2000s, the location at Fox Hill Shopping Center already had a bathroom and dry wall in place. A contractor was hired to add a back storage room, office and 1,200 square feet of flooring, among other work.
With the location acquired, the inspections done and state sales tax license acquired, she was finally ready to start selling.
Open for business
Glam Passion launched this past April. Since then, they’ve attracted some regulars.
“She has pretty much something for every occasion,” said Kelly Felimonik, of Madison Heights, a customer at Glam Passion. “Another thing I like that Kristin does is she’s always looking for advice from her customers. If she’s not carrying something they want, she’ll do her best to get what they’re looking for. Since it’s a smaller store, she has the time to really talk to the customers, learn what they need and find it for them.”
Now, Hartwell is trying to figure out how to grow her business. Building a website is one daunting task, due to the volume of inventory to represent. Getting her name out is another, and to that end, she’s been finding some success at events like the Romeo Peach Festival and Clinton Fall Festival, for which she packs up 75 percent of her stock and pitches a big tent, selling enough to make up for some of the slower days back home.
She’s also contemplating allowing people to host parties at her store afterhours, complete with drinks and appetizers, where a percentage of the proceeds go to the host.
She doesn’t know how things will pan out in the end, but whatever happens, she feels that it has been a journey worth taking.
“It took a lot of research and some negative things in my life to finally get up the courage and motivation to open my own boutique,” Hartwell said. “I never in a million years thought I would be a store owner. I’m just happy being able to do what I love — and I’m just taking everything one day at a time.”
Glam Passion, LLC, is located at 37811 Mound, in Fox Hill Shopping Center on the west side of Mound between 16 Mile and 17 Mile in Sterling Heights. Store hours are from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call (586) 275-2806 or check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/glam.passion.boutique.