I am thrilled to announce that on November 27, 2013, Yes She Can Inc. became a non-profit corporation in the State of New York. (In my blog post, “My New Baby”, I had talked about why I wanted to launch this venture.)
I am also a little anxious. As an MBA and professional marketer I have always (well, usually) created plans for launching any initiative. I had to justify my spending, convince management and colleagues of the value, and build consensus and collaboration for execution. Of course, at IBM, always accompanied with PowerPoints (version 1 through 17).
This time, I relied more on my marketer’s intuition and market timing. And my own money. Since our first business is a retail business the gift-giving season would likely represent 60 percent of sales, so I felt I needed to be up and running before Thanksgiving. I am sure I have made some less than ideal decisions but I am learning on the job. I am learning about retailing and about non-profits at the same time. (I do need mentors if anyone wants to volunteer!)
So even before incorporation was certified, I put into motion the plans for Girl AGain, an American Girl resale boutique. I searched for retail space – hoping to find a kind landlord who had empty space and would be willing to give me a short term lease for little or no money. But that benefactor did not turn up. I was connected by a agent to two women who were leasing from him 3000 square feet of space in a great location to open a “family spa” called Sweet Heaven Spa. I met the sisters for coffee and they were intrigued by my mission to employ young women with autism in an inclusion setting. And of course they saw the alignment of American Girl with their target audience – girls, teens and their moms who want an affordable luxury. So they agreed to rent to me a small interior room of 128 square feet to set up my Girl AGain boutique.
Sweet Heaven Spa has been under construction for several months and while the owners had hoped to open on Small Business Saturday, their permits from the town had not been issued yet. (They are in the Harmon plaza at 157 South Central Ave. in Hartsdale, NY, across from Ethan Allan furniture.)
Meanwhile, I have been acquiring merchandise for the store through ads on Craig’s List, purchases on eBay, purchases of new merchandise from American Girl and mostly through donation requests. I have also purchased shelving from Ikea, plus bright pink area rugs and a pink chair selected by my daughter.
The beauty of used merchandise is that when it comes in, it needs work: organizing the clothes by doll character and making sure all the pieces of the outfit are there; logging missing components so we can make a complete outfit later, cleaning the dolls, doing their hair, hanging up the clothes, pricing competitively, logging into an inventory system, creating content for the web and Facebook, displaying merchandise on the shelves, and more! That means lots of jobs (micro tasks) and lots of teachable moments; and skill development that is transferable to other employers.
My mission is to have a large workforce, although it will be inefficient. Many workers will only have stamina to work a few hours a day and will require breaks. Others may only want to work behind the scenes while a few may be able to work in the boutique helping customers. I will need to find a social service agency to work with to help build a training curriculum and provide job coaching. This is critical to the non-profit mission of the business. All revenue from the store will go back into buying more merchandise to enable more workers to work for minimum wage or higher. Hopefully most employees will feel confident and skilled enough to then apply for positions at other specialty retailers (such as Build-A-Bear, The Gap, Legoland, or Tommy Hilfigger )
I have been trying to keep my daughter involved in all aspects: we went to pick up some merchandise I found through my ad on Craig’s List and met the seller at another business that employs people with autism, Roses for Autism. (They got a new customer). She helped me at Ikea selecting furnishings for the boutique, and she has helped in identifying which doll outfits belong to which historical character.
By the way, many of my volunteers (soon to be employees) are walking encyclopedias of all things American Girl – this is very useful since many things we acquire have been retired and are not in current catalogs to compare. We did discover a great wiki and two of our volunteers are quite adept at online research – they just want to verify what is already in their own knowledge bank.
I have also been helped by a wonderful graphic designer, Kat Nemec, who kindly volunteered to create the logos for both Yes She Can Inc. and Girl AGain.
I didn’t to this alone. I am grateful to a lawyer friend, Dan, who volunteered to advise me on my articles of incorporation, and to my Assemblywoman Amy Paulin who gave push to NY State Division of Corporations (they don’t know what expedite means) And especially to my former IBM colleague, Allan Friedman, and now board member of Yes She Can Inc., who has been my partner particularly investigating retailer business tools and is full of ideas; to my sister Pat who is also a board member in providing advice on non-profits; to all those people who have made donations of their beloved American Girl collections, to anyone who has helped publicize our mission; to Sweet Heaven Spa for sharing their space; to our “ladies who launch” volunteers; to our accountant Mindy; Howard at NYS Small Business Development Center. And even to Pro Bono Partnership, who turned us down to help us but said come back later when we have a more comprehensive business plan. And to my husband Paul who has been so supportive, and even put up with the sprawl of merchandise filling our garage and kitchen. (note to self: next time buy a house with a basement.)
So, if you want to volunteer your legal expertise, retail expertise, database expertise, fundraising expertise, job coaching expertise, financial planning expertise, or American Girl expertise – or anything else, please contact me.
And share our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GirlAgainBoutique
more to come….