Big Advice

Ever think of opening your own store? If you’re a Westporter, you probably have—the number of small businesses certainly suggests so. Westport magazine, itself part of a small business, approached twenty local owners and asked them to share insights about what they have learned from opening and running a shop in town. Some places have been ringing the till for decades, others could be counted in months, yet all agree on certain principles. We’ve grouped them into a crib sheet to guide fast-track entrepreneurs. Get ready to hang that welcome sign.

Jamie Camche
Photograph: Debra Somerville

1. PARTNER WISELY
“Choose really good people and compensate them well. Make sure you select good people to work with in order to help build your business,” says Jamie Camche, owner of JL Rocks, a jewelry boutique that has been in business in Westport since 2001. “They represent a significant part of your success. Once you find them, compensate them well.”

Hiring people is one thing. Bringing on a partner is an even deeper commitment—and more complex. “If you choose to have a business partner, it is really helpful to have different strengths but a similar work ethic,” advises Kelley Frey, who is business partners (and friends) with Shereen Koshnoodi of Fred Sip & Shop, a fashion store which they opened in Westport in 2017.

Businesses, both young and long-established, also need to focus outward, and keep an eye on their relationship with the town in general. “Become a part of the community, whether it is partnering with a local charity to host its event or using local restaurants and vendors to provide services,” advises Amy Cesaratto, co-owner of Westport’s Southern Tide. The preppy clothing shop is rooted in the South, with a location in Playhouse Square that opened this year. “It’s a win for both businesses.”
Savannah Bee Company,which sells premium honey and honey-based products, also started in the South (we’ll let you guess where) before opening a shop in Bedford Square. “Benefit and engage your community at large,” says store manager Julie Cook.

Corri Neckritz
Photograph: Melani Lust

2. PUT CUSTOMERS FIRST
“It’s extremely important for small-business owners to deliver exceptional customer service,” says John Green, president of Lux Bond & Green, which sells fine jewelry. “Big brands can get away with OK service, but as small-business owners, to compete, we have to be smarter and better than nationally known stores.”

Other locals agree that customer service is paramount. “Always treat your customers well,” says independent jewelry designer Ronit Tarshis, who founded the brand Lera Jewels in 2012 (online she lists local retailers who carry her pieces). She adds that excellent customer service provides the extra benefit of positive word-of-mouth marketing.

Corri Neckritz also went into business in 2012. She opened her brick-and-mortar shop with the catchy name, Groove. “Be present in your business,” she advises entrepreneurs. “I’m in my store on a daily basis getting to know my customers. I work hard to build relationships with them and also my employees.”

Natalie Toraty, owner of Noya—a jewelry store that opened in 2015— agrees. To attract shoppers, she suggests: “Stay true to your mission and your voice.”

“Your ingenuity will come through and customers will follow,” adds her business partner Renée Segal Sarfaty. “Surround yourself with your community. Embrace your town’s culture and life. It’s your home too.”

WHAT WORKS FOR YOUR BUSINESS? DON’T BE TOO PROUD TO CHALLENGE YOURSELF ON YOUR APPROACH, AS YOU MIGHT FIND THERE’S A BETTER WAY.
-AMY PAL, WHIP SALON


3. SEEK LIFE/WORK BALANCE

“You can’t do it all by yourself,” says Faye Kim, owner of Faye Kim Designs, the jewelry boutique she founded in 2012. “Surround yourself with authentic people who have your back; make lists; and prioritize.”

This advice carries over to life outside of work. “The best choice I made as a small- business owner was not expanding or growing too quickly. It allowed me to balance my work and life,” says Amy Pal, owner of Whip Salon, which opened this year in Westport’s Bedford Square. “My children were, and always will be, my priority. Having control over my business allowed me to be a parent first and foremost. It’s easy to get stuck in routine for the sake of it. So, don’t just do things because it’s how you’ve always done them or, even worse, because everyone else is.”

Running a business and looking after a family take energy. “Take a break sometimes,” says Laura Laboissonniere, who opened her Pure Barre studio in 2013 and Elliptica, a second fitness studio, this year in Fairfield. “My best ideas come on a vacation and not in the day-to-day grind, or when I am stepping away from the business for a few days, so I can clear my head and recharge. Self-care is essential.”

Steven Pan
Photograph: Melani Lust

+ PAY ATTENTION
“Whether shopping for a single shirt or the whole look, understanding the needs of the client and providing the unique shopping experience are what I am after: great service, attention to detail and the atmosphere that makes them return for a catch-up, a drink and another order later.” —Stephen Kempson, bespoke clothier and owner of Stephen Kempson London, which opened in Westport in 2017

Melissa Levy
Photograph: Melani Lust

4. PASSION
Every small business is rooted in its owner’s drive—that belief in what it has to offer. Tina Dragone opened the doors of her local fashion boutique in 1999, and she boils down those nearly twenty years of experience to this takeaway: “Come from your heart. It’s got to be your passion. And always sell the customer right.”

Even newer businesses pick up on this thread. Melissa Levy—designer of the jewelry brand Devon Woodhill, which launched in 2015—says, “Have a strong point of view and don’t deviate. Know who and what you are and develop that across all you do. You can’t be everything to everyone, so be you.”

Annette Norton agrees on this point. Her gift shop celebrates its first year in October. “As a mom, wife and local independent retailer at Savvy + Grace of Westport, I find the most important rule to go by is to keep it real.”

“If your vision is something you believe in, don’t be dissuaded by the fact that it may take time,” says Shereen Koshnoodi, of Fred. “Stay positive, remember why you believed so passionately about the business in the first place, and keep going.”


NEW IN STORE

RUNNING A SMALL BUSINESS TAKES PASSION FOR THE PRODUCT. HERE’S WHAT THEY LOVE!

Bespoke Designs
Photograph: Nicole DeTone

TAKE NOTE
Bespoke Designs fine stationery
“Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. You must have courage and conviction in your vision. I have found it invaluable to have a solid group of advisors for counsel and support on the journey.”
—Shari Lebowitz, owner of Bespoke Designs, opened in Westport in 2017

Ippolita Cherish ring, 18K gold and diamonds
Photograph: Contributed

TIME TO SHINE
Lux Bond & Green fine jewelers
“It’s important for small-business owners to be involved in their community so the residents really get to know who they are.”
—John Green, president of the fine jewelry store Lux Bond & Green, which opened in 1898. With six locations, the family-owned business is in its fourth, going on fifth, generation of leadership.

Photograph: Contributed

SWEET TOUCH
Savannah Bee honey and honey-based products
“Leave a positive impact by supporting, donating, sharing and collaborating to make Westport the vibrant town that it is.”
—Julie Cook, manager at Savannah Bee Company, which opened its second location in Westport in 2017.

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