Location: Santa Barbara
Established: October 2009
Children's and Maternity Resale Boutique
As the economy continued to present financial challenges, Nicole Schultz and Lianne Clifford sought a more affordable way to shop for their own families. Inspired by the joy of finding a bargain and through their appreciation for recycling, Nicole and Lianne began shopping at children’s resale boutiques for their newborn. The more they shopped, the more they realized they could – and should - start their own resale store that would meet the needs of families like theirs in Santa Barbara. After Nicole took WEV’s Self-Employment Training course, the partners started Happy Little Hippo, a children’s resale boutique with the feel of a retail store, and the accommodating service and prices of a family-owned business.
What prompted you to go into business for yourself?
As a child, I watched my father and step-mother open their own, individual businesses. I could see the passion they had for their ideas and creations; I witnessed their thoughts and dreams become reality. I enjoyed being a part of that process. Because of this, I knew that I too would someday have the same experience and create my own business, but I never knew what it would be. When I entered my late twenties and started entertaining the idea of having children, my partner and I began perusing the children's stores in the area. We would dream of the furniture we would get, how we would dress our kids, the toys and books we would grow to love, etc. Before our son was born, a very thrifty, eco-minded friend suggested that we check out the local children's resale shop. We were amazed! Both my partner and I enjoy a bargain and appreciate recycling, but the concept of children's resale hadn't previously crossed our minds. From that point on, we became "regulars" of all children's resale stores we could find, excited to see what had just come in or what necessity we could purchase at a fraction of the price. While we really enjoyed our new shopping venues, we started to notice that we talked a lot about changes we would make to the stores or how we would do things differently. We wondered why resale stores didn't usually feel like retail stores. And why don't stores who cater to pregnant women and children always offer restrooms? The more time we spent daydreaming, the clearer it became to both of us that we could open our own store, and perhaps that we should, because Santa Barbara didn't have anything to match what we knew we could create.
What has been your biggest business challenge?
At this point, I feel like my biggest business challenge has been to maintain focus on the vision of what we want our business to be while sorting out the details of its current reality.
What has been your biggest business success?
There have been so many in the short time that we’ve been open. Personally, I feel successful when moms tell me that their children request a visit to our store, when moms say that they've found exactly what they were looking for every time they've come in, or when customers come in and after several minutes of shopping around exclaim, "Are you resale? I didn't realize you were resale!" But I think I felt the most successful when a new mom and dad came in with their newborn on the way home from the hospital and the mom said, "When we were getting ready to leave the hospital I knew I wanted to come here first."
Who is your ideal customer?
Our ideal customer is someone who has children in their life, and appreciates finding a bargain at a fun place to shop.
What has been the biggest surprise about owning a business?
The biggest surprise is that there's always something more to learn or perfect.
How do you juggle all the pieces of your life to make it all come together?
We've really gotten back to the basics to deal with the transition of opening a business. It feels as though we've given birth to twins (sometimes more!) and have had to create space in our lives for this new entity. We open the store only 5 days a week, so far, to allow our family to have special time together, and force us to take a break! And we've enlisted as much help from family and friends as possible. We take life one day at a time and communicate as much as possible with each other about our personal and professional needs. Flexibility is key. Above all else for us though, is appreciation. We try to take time to appreciate what we have, the people in our lives, and all the blessings we've been given.
What advice do you offer other women who might want to start their own company?
My advice would be to enjoy the journey as much as possible. Enjoy the dreaming, enjoy the planning, enjoy the learning, the doing, the outcomes. So many people allow themselves to get caught up in the stress of the details, worry about financials, frustrations with employees, fear of the unknown, etc. But if in the inevitable challenges, one can remember to enjoy the journey, the focus is shifted from the negative to the positive and there's much more strength in that!
How did WEV help you to achieve your goal or dreams?
I began the SET program in May 2009, signed for the store in August, and opened the Happy Little Hippo in October. In the SET program, I gained the skills and confidence to start thinking of myself as a business owner. I learned how to make my ideas practical and through the curriculum, was supported in learning the components of business with which I wasn't already familiar. I was able to immerse myself in thoughts of business with others who were interested in the same. I really feel like I came to WEV's SET class as an amateur, and finished as an entrepreneur!
Is there something you learned from WEV that you use every day?
What does success mean to you?
To me, success means that I experience a lot of joy in my life, that I appreciate where I am, and that I excitedly anticipate the future.
What is the biggest reward you get from your business? What makes it all worthwhile?
I love the personal connections that I make at Happy Little Hippo. In the short time I've been in business, I have met so many families and have exchanged stories, advice, humor, etc. The store environment at Happy Little Hippo is sometimes very similar to a mother's group meeting, where several moms, aunts, grandmothers, and their children gather to share, play and enjoy the company of others. The difference with Happy Little Hippo is that people can also find things that they need and bring things they're finished with. As a mom of a preschooler, I value the regular connection with people who are in a similar stage of life as me. My entire family has made friends with several customers from our store. It is definitely a family business. I can also bring my son with me when I need or want to. These personal connections and the family atmosphere make Happy Little Hippo so enjoyable to me.
How do you picture you and your business in one year, 5 years, 10 years?
In one year, I picture us as a more polished version of our current selves. We have learned so much already since we opened and we keep learning more all the time. In 5 years, I foresee us in a larger location, with Lianne and me working in peripheral positions. We will probably have more than one location. In 10 years, I imagine exploring the possibility of becoming a chain or of selling the businesses to pursue other ventures.
Is your business being affected by the economy? What are you doing to deal with the challenges?
We are becoming the smart choice because of the economy!
Photography courtesy of Maria Carreras Photography: www.mariacarrerasphotography.com