Along the sparkling restored streetscape in downtown Norfolk is a gem of a store set within the shabby chic bricks and mortar of the old Pasewalk Building. Bright pastels for the up-to-date interior design and shiny floors make it hard to believe for a visitor this outlet offering the hottest brands in children's apparel actually is a second-hand clothing store.
"That's what we tried to accomplish," said Kookaburras Kloset co-owner Glenda Aschoff during an interview on WJAG radio's "Morning Coffee" shortly after the store opened for business Dec. 5. Aschoff, along with her daughter and co-owner Julie Weidner, and granddaughter Katie, run the store.
"My daughter actually came up with the idea after talking to a number of Norfolk residents and finding a need for a children's clothing store in the Norfolk area," Aschoff said.
Then there's the shop's name, taken from the old nursery rhyme of the Kookaburra sitting under the old gum tree, eating all the gum drops he can see. Drivers on Norfolk Avenue can't miss the gaily decorated sign outside.
"We wanted something catchy," Aschoff said, "and thought it would be something people would remember."
The store buys new to nearly-new kids' clothing, toys, shoes and many other items; they're not a consignment shop, so sellers can bring their goods to the store on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and by appointment on Saturdays, and get paid immediately. The stuff goes right on the shelves and hangars, so Aschoff said, "our shop changes probably hourly, as fast as we get things in, recondition what needs it, and putting it out."
That encourages foot traffic just to check out the latest offerings. Kookaburras Kloset is a little selective, though.
"The merchandise they’re trying to buy is typically stuff you can’t get in Norfolk, Nebraska," said David Brunsing, vice-president at Frontier Bank in nearby Madison. "They've got clothes there from popular kids stores, like Gap, Old Navy ... some of the stuff they like to buy you can’t get in this part of the state."
Putting the deal together
Aschoff's daughter, Julie, came to Brunsing last spring with the idea of a store that would re-purpose clothing--and an idea for a location in a re-purposed building downtown. The lender suggested she visit Loren Kucera at the Nebraska Business Development Center in Wayne for help with financial projections and a business plan.
"Like any retail business in a small town, the question is whether there's a market for this," Brunsing said of the town of around 24,000. "Would it be a viable business in a town this size? I guess the one thing they had going for them was there was no business in town like this."
But for the business to be more than a dream, Brunsing needed to call in some help to provide the funds to purchase inventory, make leaseholder improvements to the shop and have some working capital. He called on Holly Quinn from the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District and Juan Sandoval with the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project, who joined Loren at a conference room table, and "asked what can we do to make this work."
In addition to loans from NNEDD and REAP, and a small down payment by Weidner, the lender used the SBA's Rural Lender Advantage to cover the balance of the project.
“Without the SBA, this deal would have been more difficult,” Brunsing said. “The SBA guarantee made it very easy to move forward with the financing.”
The application was approved August 17, one of eight SBA loan approvals to small businesses in Norfolk, and one of 15 SBA loans made in the state by Frontier Bank in Fiscal 2011.
"At the beginning I was pretty skeptical, you know, retail stores come and go. But I credit the persistence of Julie," Brunsing said. "She never gave up, and we just kept looking for ways to make it work. I think we were all surprised that the projections were better than we thought for a kids' clothing store. I’m glad we all stuck with it, I believe it is a unique store in Norfolk and I think it can make it."
Brunsing also credited the work from NNEDD and REAP. "We're fortunate that they're here, that they want to see start up businesses come to town."
And the lender can add one more person happy to see the store open.
"My daughter is tickled pink," Brunsing said. "She's nine, and she thinks this is great that she can find those name-brand jeans she wants."