Happy First Birthday
One year ago, on February 8, 2014, our Girl AGain boutique opened for business in Hartsdale NY. Our store-within-a-store was 125 square feet, basically a closet: one door, no windows. Blue walls, gold ceiling. My husband Paul, designed, fabricated and installed clothes racks made of cables to display doll clothes. I bought Ikea book shelves and pained a Home Depot storage shelve magenta. We filled the space with used American Girl dolls, clothes, furniture, books, and craft kits. We covered a table with fabric and used an end of it as our office: Marjorie’s laptop computer and for our cash register: an iPad with Square for check out. A constant high pitched beep from a smoke detector was heard over the spa music.
At times we managed to squeeze 3 workers and 4 customers into our boutique all at the same time. Sometimes customers overflowed out our door into the spa’s manicure station area.
I came upon this arrangement the previous August when I met two sisters who were opening Sweet Heaven Spa. A real estate agent made the connection and it was a good match for two start-ups. Fortunately there was an established business that was also sharing space, Cool Cuts hair salon for kids.
I needed a proof-of-concept (or as IBMers prefer, POC) so I paid $600 a month for 125 square feet to test if we had a business. Was there enough merchandise we could acquire for resale? Were there enough customers who would purchase used American Girl dolls to cover our costs? Were there women who wanted to work and could benefit from training? Could I create an approach and method to teach women with varying degrees of autism how to work? Could I learn how to operate a retail store? Could I learn how to create a non-profit organization? Could I find people to help me? Could my family manage on only my husband’s income? What if the POC were a success? How could I expand?
And the answers are…
(I won’t make you guess the answers to these existential questions.)
My husband and I don’t go out to dinner too often any more, or to concerts, opera, theater like we use to, we skipped Disney last year and this (daughter not too happy about that), we decided not to re-do our 1970’s kitchen. We did have our annual 7 week summer camp: Izzie to Northwood, and mom and dad having respite. We just could not give that up.
The biggest change is that I now work 7 days a week rather than 5. And for no compensation. When I was working at IBM I mostly worked from home and my daughter saw my long hours at my desk. I started my work day at 7:10 after she got on the school bus. After she got home from school I would check in on her in the family room but I was usually at my desk all afternoon on conference calls. I took a break at 5:30 to make dinner and then was back at my desk from 7 pm to 9 pm or later. I did not spend enough time with my daughter during the week days. But I had Saturday and Sunday with her. When she got angry with me she use to try to punish me and would say “No more IBM.”
Now I am still at my desk at 7:10 am on week days but then on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I go to the store at 10:30. On Mondays and Tuesdays I do “office work” from home and on Tuesdays mid- day I go to the Center for Career Freedom to work with two trainees. On Saturdays and Sundays I am at the store. For a while I was going to a Zumba class before going to the store. Now I am trying (not successful yet) to get to a yoga class twice a week before opening the store.
It turns out the POC was a success!
And Yes She Can was also able to benefit from a new IRS program to help small non-profits receive tax exempt status.
At the end of October, I was able to finally (after 12 months of searching) find a landlord that was willing to accommodate our budget. So we moved to White Plains where Girl AGain now has 750 square feet of space, and lots of windows.
Our rent has doubled and we now have a Con Ed bill that is equal to half the rent – so our store operation costs have tripled. Perhaps because of the building’s sign restrictions or the confusing parking, our customer traffic is lower than projected but we did well enough during the Christmas season.
And what has the year been like for our trainees?
Izzie comes to the store on Saturdays and Sundays and can usually manage for 2 hours each day. We have a nice “cozy corner” now for breaks where she takes her iPad or her dolls to relax. She loves helping customers, but I don’t have enough structured work for her yet.
Monica has been coming twice a week since we opened in Hartsdale. In addition, she is now enrolled at The Center for Career Freedom learning office software to increase her options for jobs. Her career goal is to work with animals but she learned that most of the work she wants is volunteer. If she could do some office work she has a better chance of paid employment at those organizations.
Cristina comes twice a week now. She has developed lots of confidence and now has a part time job at Marshall’s and is applying for a job at a toy store near home.
Paige comes weekly after her class at Westchester Community College. She brought along a classmate, Crystal who also comes weekly for a half day. They overlap with Monica on Thursdays and that makes a nice work and social group guided by Sheri Baron, our volunteer psychologist
Andrea and Kelsie are new and come 2 hours overlapping with Cristina, so now Sheri comes on Fridays to work with them.
Cici comes weekly for 2 hours as part of her high school internship program and overlaps with Cristina on Wednesdays which gives her an opportunity to be a leader.
Carly still comes weekly for an hour with Sheri and has really improved in her ability to sustain attention and complete tasks. (She like Izzie has a wish to be our best customer.)
Daria has been learning Quick Books at Center for Career Freedom and now comes to the store once a week to work so she can have some social time with our other trainees and Sheri.
Cassidy is learning WordPress (the platform for this website and Girl AGain and has added content and created a commerce page.
Dani has been working at Joann’s fabrics and has been promoted to a key holder. Her weekly schedule is constantly changing so she comes to Girl AGain when she has an off day from Joann’s.
Our goals for year 2
Employment for many of our original group of trainees
Find a “Rent Angel”
Get more used AG merchandise, consistently
Formalize our training methods
See you at our store
Learn more about Yes She Can Inc.
This Friday I will be making a presentation to Yale Child Study Center’s autism program. I’ll put the presentation on Slide Share for anyone who wants to view it.