Someday, Rachael Henderson vows, she will get another pair of diamond earrings.
For now, she was willing to trade the law school graduation gift from her mother for the chance to follow her dream of owning a bakery with her twin sister, Sarah Alsup.
The sisters made a trip to Sol's Jewelry & Loan pawnshop, and also took out a loan based on the value of a personal vehicle, to raise money on top of their primary loan. They wanted to add some extra features not originally budgeted for to their business, which opened March 2 in the Lakeside Plaza shopping center in west Omaha.
Now she's wearing cubic zirconia and missing those diamonds.
A Business from Scratch
Sunday: The dream
Monday: The message
Tuesday: The loan
Wednesday: The shop
Thursday: The staff
Friday: The family
“It's what I wore every single day,” she said.
But to Henderson it was worth it, to have a shop that she and Alsup see as warm and inviting — an extension of their own selves and homes. Selecting, building out and decorating the retail storefront was a monthslong process that started when the sisters did their initial research for their new business, Mockingbird Cupcakes.
When they decided to “go big or go home” and open their bakery in its own shop instead of out of their homes, they used personal relationships to find a commercial real estate broker and general contractor.
Scott Moore, vice president of World Group Commercial Real Estate, knew the women's father, Omaha businessman Roger Brodersen, who is a former executive at the Scoular Co. and Data Transmission Network and now a partner in businesses including Jackson Street Tavern and Boulder Creek Amusement Park.
Moore, a few years older than the women, grew up on the same street in Elkhorn as the twins. He said he worked hand in hand with them to sign a lease in a location with high traffic counts, with rent that worked with their business plan and with the right neighborhood demographics to support the business.
He said their 1,400-square-foot shop in Lakeside Plaza fit the bill — it's in a busy shopping center between a Baker's supermarket and a Gordmans department store, with restaurants, a hair salon, a Hallmark store and other shops nearby to keep daytime traffic flowing, especially women and families likely to buy cupcakes.
“Retail is very specific because of submarket areas and demographics,” Moore said. He said the Lakeside submarket is “hot” now after “cratering” during the recession.
The shopping center is also near several large office buildings and Lakeside Hospital, home to more than 1,000 employees — “People (who) might want to go shopping. They might want to have a break and grab a cupcake and some coffee,” Moore said.
But even if shop owners have a sense of the best location, having a broker to negotiate the lease and an attorney to vet it are essential, Moore said.
“When the layperson looks on the Internet, they see what the properties are being marketed for, not what deals you can do,” Moore said. For example, if a space is advertised at $17 per square foot per year for rent plus property expenses, “I'll say, 'I know the landlord and I know I can get in at $14.50.' It's all relationships when it comes to commercial brokerage.”
For the sisters' legal work, Henderson called on a friend from law school, Andy Simpson of Farnham & Simpson, and he did the work for her pro bono. She said she graduated from Creighton University School of Law in 2004 but never practiced.
Moore said it's essential for entrepreneurs to develop good working relationships with professionals such as vendors, lenders, brokers, attorneys and contractors when getting a new business under way.
“Getting the right people involved on your team really makes a huge difference,” he said. “People are out there to help other people.”
If you don't know what attorney to use or how to incorporate a business, “Don't be afraid to ask. The stupid question is the one you don't ask.”
The other half of Mockingbird's team when it came to the company's location was Dan Junior, a general contractor who went to high school with Henderson and Alsup. He was in the right place — finishing Alsup's basement — when the sisters were planning their business.
Previously licensed only as a residential contractor, he said he studied for and passed a city commercial contractor's licensing exam while the sisters worked on designing their shop.
Alsup, who studied architecture before earning a degree in elementary education, saved money by first drawing up the plans herself, then having them redrawn by a professional draftsman to submit to the city planning department. An architect bid $13,500 for the process; Alsup said it ended up costing less than $1,000.
Traveling with Henderson's husband when he was in Chicago on business, the sisters scoped out popular cupcake shop Magnolia Bakery, whose pastel-colored, farmhouse style reflected the women's own homes and kitchens.
They imagined their own shop with wainscoting, marble countertops, painted wood cabinetry and rustic metal fixtures. And to make it feel more like home, they designed an open kitchen setup where customers can watch the baking and decorating process from behind a glass seating area.
The construction process took about five months. Junior and his crew gutted the space, a former bead retail shop, added new plumbing lines and fixtures and an industrial kitchen ventilation system, framed in a vestibule and removed a drop ceiling. They installed appliances and cabinetry and handled painting and trim work.
The sisters didn't use a professional interior decorator, but explained what they wanted through pictures and sketches. A client's clear vision and ability to describe it makes things easy, Junior said.
“It just speeds everything up,” he said.
Standing in the shop while it was under construction, Henderson could think past the drywall dust and the scent of concrete sealant and say, “It's going to be gorgeous.”
Now that the shop is open, the response she's had from customers who agree makes Henderson feel better about her decision to sell her keepsake earrings.
“It's just a thing,” she said. “What's important is following our dream.”
And, she said, when her dream turns into a successful business, she will one day buy a new pair.
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