Fashion graduate opens bridal boutique

Shelley Blundell

When 22-year-old Nicole Hepler graduated from Kent State in August of 2004, she soon discovered the harsh realities of the job market.

A fashion merchandising major, Hepler found few positions that interested her. Having previously worked for a bridal boutique, Hepler started seriously thinking about starting her own business.

“After I finished my internship and was looking for a job, I really didn’t find anything I was looking for,” Hepler said. “So I thought about starting my own business and the idea grew from there.”

Nicole’s Bridal Boutique, located in Seneca, Pa., has been officially open for business since Jan. 15, and is doing far better than Hepler ever expected.

“I’ve had to reorder almost double the stock — I get glowing recommendations every day and am actually turning a profit,” Hepler said.

Hepler also credited her employers at the bridal boutique where she used to work as a great help in starting her own business, giving her leads on contacts and a few small business tips.

Hepler acknowledged her story was a little unusual — she first pursued the business loan and then, once her business was established, joined her local chamber of commerce and put together an in-depth five-year plan for her business.

However, not all small business owners get such an easy start.

The Ohio Small Business Development Center is one resource potential business starters can use for help.

Offering a free introductory seminar covering the basic ins and outs of starting a small business, the SBDC works with people from all walks of life interested in starting their own businesses.

Linda Yost, director of the SBDC in Northeast Ohio, said the SBDC provides constant support for anyone interested in starting his or her own business.

“If (the potential business owners) decide entrepreneurship is something they want to do, we arrange for them to meet with someone to help them do market research and start with the business planning process,” Yost said.

One of the most important stages of a small business start-up is the market research stage, Yost said.

“Market research helps people discover whether their business is viable or not before they go into the costly process of taking out a loan that has to be repaid,” Yost said.

Diane Bogniard, an adviser on the SBDC board and vice president for business banking at FirstMerit bank, said most people who come in for a loan to start their own business don’t realize what all is involved.

“Many people come in totally unprepared and are very surprised by all the things a bank requires to give them a small business loan,” Bogniard said.

These requirements, such as a complete business plan and a three- to five-year income projection, are sometimes difficult to put together on one’s own. This is when Bogniard refers people to the SBDC.

“There are those people who know how to do what they do very well but aren’t aware of the expenses involved,” Bogniard said.

“So I refer them to the SBDC — they can meet with counselors who will assist them with their questions and help them put together the necessary requirements.”

Since starting her business, Hepler has attended small business seminars and spoken with various people for advice with her business.

While her story is undoubtedly one of success, Hepler did caution others who were thinking of starting their own businesses.

“If you’re going to do it, make sure you’re serious because it is a long-term commitment.

“There is money to pay back and you don’t do it instantly; it does take a while. It is very risky but it’s also very rewarding,” Hepler said.

Contact general assignment reporter Shelley Blundell at [email protected].