Chris Kodama had been a secretary for 25 years when the arrival of a new granddaughter led her to drive to Boise with her husband from their Ontario, OR, home to look for baby clothes. They found a nice resale clothing store in Idaho. “When my husband saw the store,” Chris recalls, “he asked, ‘why aren’t we doing that?’” Why not, indeed? In September of 2000, Chris quit her secretarial job and launched her new life as an entrepreneur.
Care-O-Sell, Kodama’s store, is a “first-class children’s and maternity resale store.” “I had been in stores like this before,” Chris says, “but I knew I could do it better.” And, Chris says, the move meant something important: “No more memos!” Care-O-Sell carries anything related to children including clothing, toys and equipment. Running a children’s clothing store is anything but child’s play. Chris devoured magazines and books about the retail clothing business and set about creating a business plan that would work for her family.
From the start, Chris relied heavily on the support she found at Treasure Valley Community College’s Small Business Development Center. Through her firsthand experience with the SBDC’s staff and the services it provides, she has become a true believer, even going so far as to write to legislators in Salem urging their support for Oregon’s SBDC’s. “They’re awesome,” Chris says of the SBDC staff who has worked with Care-O-Sell. “They were there when I needed them. They helped me develop a business plan. They were available for counseling.” Chris says Debi DeBord of the SBDC actually went on trips with her, scouting potential locations when it came time to secure a building for the store. “I can’t imagine trying to do this on the phone,” Chris says of her relationship with her local SBDC. “If I had to call Salem or Western Oregon, I think I would have lost it. I don’t think I would have accomplished what I have. Who would have helped me pick out a name for the store? Who would help me find a spot? Who will pull ‘all-nighters’ with me in preparing the business plan? I just am really; really grateful for having them so close by.”
Fast forward three and half years to July 2004 and Care-O-Sell is not only still in business but has doubled in sales and revenues and added a one-fourth FTE to the workforce. She started with herself as full time and her daughter, Codi as half-time. Chris is still full-time but now has a three-quarter time assistant (she has even found time to escape on short-term fishing trips with her husband). Her five year old granddaughter has been at the store since the doors opened and is the “official greeter.” Jasmine’s pay is to try out all the toys and playthings that come into the store on a daily basis besides being the best-dressed kid in town. (One would never know the clothing is used).
So how is it that revenues have doubled in a down economy from $40,000 to $80,000? Chris provides exemplary customer service and prides herself in greeting at least 80 percent of her customers by name, not a small feat when she has at least one new customer per day shopping at her store. A bulletin board in the back is packed with pictures of new babies and growing children. A section of her store is devoted to the kids’ play area complete with a walled in play area and TV/VCR to allow Mom and Grandma to shop at their leisure.
Chris’ involvement in the community does not stop with the store. As a certified Child Safety Seat Technician, she actively participates with training at the local hospital where she instructs new parents on the safety standards of new car seats and their proper use. She then offers assistance in making sure the car seats have been installed correctly into the vehicles.
Recycling clothing and other items from Care-O-Sell means helping the local Domestic Violence Association. Chris makes sure that the items not used by her store are donated to the Unique Boutique, a resale store operating on donations. The profits are then donated to the victims of domestic violence. The two stores complement each other and act as a referral source for one another also.
Since her doors opened in late 2000, Chris has realized the importance of mentoring relationships especially important for sole proprietors. For the past three years, five women business owners, all of whom began their businesses in 2000, to include SBDC counselor Debi DeBord, meet on a bi-weekly basis. Not only do they meet to strategize but they use each other’s services, to include an embroidery company for company logo clothing; an interior designer with whom they consult on the design of their work areas, and a massage therapist to help them to cope with the day-to-day stresses of being in business. This group helps Chris to brainstorm marketing ideas, employee challenges, new network marketing strategies, and offers overall camaraderie.
Chris recalls the struggles of starting up a business and going through the growing pains. As such, she is a great supporter of new businesses and has devoted an area of her business to consignment of items from new ventures. Through mentoring and networking, she displays the wares of a candle store that has recently opened, a photographer just launching her business, and soaps and lotions from yet another entrepreneur. The SBDC always knows we can count on Chris to send new ventures to her place of business to consult with her from a businesswoman’s perspective. Chris in turn has supported the SBDC in terms of writing letters to our legislators substantiating the immeasurable value the SBDC’s offer to businesses.
According to Chris, she has the “best job in the world.” She loves her customers and how supportive they have been since she opened her doors. She loves her family and how supportive THEY have been and she extends her appreciation to the SBDC for their continued business advisory and support. This has been a business the Treasure Valley Community College SBDC has been proud to support and help to guide for the past three and a half years.