Matters Column

Dear Liz, here’s small-business advice from Grandpa

May 4, 2018
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My granddaughter, Liz Nol, is opening a women's clothing store, Marie La Mode, on Cherry Street SE. The grand opening was May 5. She has lived with the realities of business ownership her whole life. Her parents, Jeff and Debbi Nol, own Arie Nol Auto Center in Kentwood. Her two brothers are employed in family-owned businesses. I was a self-employed CPA for 40 years. 

So given all that, what does Grandpa think of this venture and what do I wish for her?

Hope and dreams do not work in small-business ventures. Hope is just an emotion and dreams end when the alarm clock goes off. She has done her homework. Her degree is in fashion from Central Michigan University. In Chicago, she worked as a buyer for a large clothing company and then returned to Grand Rapids to settle down with her husband in Caledonia. A local contractor employed her for a while as office staff. She came up with the idea of a mobile boutique and has succeeded in that venture. From that experience, she decided to open a store in Grand Rapids.

So much of what we hear today is the internet will take over retailing. That may be true in big stores, but websites cannot give you personal service. Sitting at home over a keyboard, you cannot ask the simple question, “How does this look on me?”

I have in this column for years advocated for small business and personal service. Everybody is a customer. Not everybody is a client. An oil change is done for a customer. An owner of an auto service business that is responsible for the overall function of your automobiles has clients. An online retailer of woman's clothing sells to a customer. A personalized boutique that services the unique fashion needs of a core of regular customers has clients. That is a 75-year-old male accountant’s view of what women want. I think I will stick to the business issues.

Of course, I am proud of her. That pride is not based on how successful she may be.

My pride lies in the fact that she got her degree in the field she loves and is willing to put out the effort and is taking the risk to live the career that she desires. My pride is in who she is, and win or lose, she is still that person.

I am not afraid for her. She is half Hollander; it is in her genes to be an entrepreneur.

She will have moments of wild, exciting successes and will have moments of crushing disappointment. She will eventually learn the ups last a moment and so do the downs. Most of business is a roller coaster of events. Keeping her eye on the goal eventually will become natural.

She is going to need a good professional team to guide her through the tangled legal, accounting, tax and regulatory burden of being in business. There is an old description of a person as having their head screwed on straight. If Liz fits that description, she will be fine. She is asking the right questions and acting on the advice she receives. It will take a few years for her to learn how to measure the quality and value of what she receives versus cost. It is important to recognize what you know and what you don’t know. You also have to recognize what you are good at and what you are not good at. The trick is once you know those things, you can fill in the blanks with employees or outside services. I am pretty sure Liz is not thinking about her breakeven point right now, but I am. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention her faith. Like so many West Michigan business owners, she places her trust in the Lord.  She has the full support of her family and many friends. Her husband is rock solid in his support of her. She will experience deceit, betrayal and dishonesty. It will sting deep into her soul. She will always be able to return to her family, faith and friends to soothe her emotional pain so that she can get back on her feet and push on.

I spent the bulk of my career fighting for the right of individuals to chart their own course in life. The Small Business Association of Michigan and the National Small Business Association have been very appreciative of my efforts, and obviously, I gained clients from the publicity. That's great, but Marie La Mode is my true reward. Go get ’em, Liz.

Paul Hense is the retired president of local accounting firm Hense & Associates and past chairman of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

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