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Lansing business owners share their secrets to success
Owning a business is far from easy, even under perfect circumstances. Success is hard-won and results from months (or years) of effort and dedication. What, then, is the secret to success in the capital of the state, where organized events, politics and tourism make a significant difference in traffic?
Chad Jordan, the owner of Cravings Gourmet Popcorn, believes in being genuine.
“I think what helped us stay in business for 10 years was authenticity,” Jordan said. “Being local and talking local and promoting local and being authentic, not fake, and building relationships with our customers and the community has really helped sustain us over the years.”
At Cravings Gourmet Popcorn, Jordan sells fresh, hand-crafted popcorn that comes in dozens of unique flavors. When asked how he would encourage others to succeed, Jordan was prepared.
“Understand how money and cash flow work,” he said. “Building a brand around something that’s needed and something you can be totally into. Don’t look at opening a business as a job. Look at it as something that you’re passionate about…something you can turn into your craft.”
Lynn Ross, the owner of Mother & Earth Baby Boutique in Old Town, agrees with Jordan’s focus on authenticity.
“Be true to yourself,” she said. “I feel like, if we put support into the community, they will reciprocate that to us. This is something I’m passionate about. I love coming to work and doing what I love.”
Ross sells American-made and Earth-friendly goods at Mother & Earth Baby Boutique. The company was founded in 2011 as an online platform. Later, it moved to a showroom store. Then, it found a permanent location. Ross adds that the atmosphere in Old Town is far different from other areas of Lansing.
“Its kind of like a little hidden oyster,” she said. “Sometimes people just don’t think to come down here and, when they get down here, they’re really surprised by how much we have to offer.”
Ross adds that, for prospective business owners, education is key.
“Always keep learning,” she said. “I think it’s so important to keep educating yourself whether that be about your products, your customer, your city, or anything. As business owners, it’s easy to get stagnate because you don’t have somebody pushing you. You have to be self-motivated.”
Stewart Powell, the owner of Linn & Owen Jewelers, shares similar educational views.
“In order to have a retail business, you have to have a specific attitude, a desire, a drive to do it,” he said. “You have to be willing to go without days off, without vacations. There are so many sacrifices that people don’t understand.”
Powell suggests learning underneath a business owner before getting started.
“Nearly any business owner now would take on a student, an apprentice, with the hopes that they would eventually buy out their business,” he said. “Small businesses aren’t worth anything to anybody anymore. No business has a transition. They just close. In the old days, someone else came in and took over. That would be the greatest opportunity for a young person.”
This year, Linn & Owen Jewelers is celebrating 100 years in business. Powell purchased the company in 1993. He claims his secret to success is overcoming modern obstacles.
“There’s no denying that our modern culture has had an enormous impact on all retail everywhere,” he said. “No one is immune from it, so you have to continue to be innovative and you have to be tough and be willing to overcome a lot of discouragement. You don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.”
Kevin Vandenboss, a commercial real estate broker in Lansing, believes close ties make the business community special.
“There are parts of Okemos and West Lansing that seem to be more national chain type places and you find that more in your shopping areas,” he said. “And those places are just naturally going to gravitate toward there. And, in some cities, that becomes the entire city. Lansing has preserved these areas so well. And these locally owned places seem to be better than national franchises.”
Less than a decade after the recession, Vandenboss sees a light for Lansing business owners.
“Things are definitely getting better,” he said. “People with some drive and some creativity, they’re creating different types of jobs and it’s working.”
To rent or buy? It’s a never-ending question for City of Lansing residents
The City of Lansing is home to dozens of small businesses, college students and several of the most important landmarks in Michigan history. It isn’t, however, a permanent home to many people. The Greater Lansing Area, defined as the East Lansing and Lansing areas combined, holds more than 400,000 residents. The City of Lansing is home to just over 100,000 of them.
“Honestly a lot of people are trying not to own a home in the City of Lansing,” Nichole McCollum, a Lansing Realtor, said. “They are looking for what they consider to be better school districts, which are all outside the city. There aren’t a lot of families. Just single, working people and people that work for the state who typically like to stay close to the city.”
McCollum added that, despite the drawbacks, the city is an affordable place to live.
“It is cheaper overall to buy a home in Lansing than other school districts,” she said. “It’s definitely one of the less expensive areas to live in. You can get more house for your money than you can outside the city.”
If buyers and families are looking elsewhere for homes, are Lansing residents focused on renting? McCollum says maybe.
“There’s definitely a higher number of renters in the city than the surrounding areas,” she said. “That’s based on affordability. Lansing just offers more opportunities for rentals.”
Todd Weber, a renter in the city, acknowledges the number of rental opportunities. He isn’t however, impressed by the quality of landlords and living options.
“I come in contact with bad landlords on a regular basis and they don’t care,” said Weber. “So I don’t really care about making sure my rent is paid on time.”Todd Weber, a renter in the city, acknowledges the number of rental opportunities. He isn’t however, impressed by the quality of landlords and living options.
Weber is concerned that Lansing landlords are focused on money rather than meeting renter expectations when it comes to necessary repairs and communication.
“It’s ironic and funny how often they ask me for money but don’t reply back on my request for fixing things and going through the lease properly,” he said. “In my current situation, I’ve been asking for screens in my windows and I want to be able to open them without bugs flying in and it’s been nine months. I’ve stopped asking. I just suffer.”
Weber has been a renter in the Lansing area for more than 10 years. He believes his location near several college campuses has something to do with the problem.
“It’s the City of Lansing that I’ve had frustrations with because it’s associated with school,” he said. “They want to rip off the students. But I’m not a student. I get mixed in with that and I get treated like a student, even though I’m actually the person that takes care of the house. When I move somewhere, I put in my own money.”
Weber claims the legal system isn’t doing enough to protect renters.
“It’s like this all over the city because the laws are pretty inefficient,” he said. “There’s no actual following through with code checks.”
Weber also notes that different parts of the city exhibit different living conditions.
Dr. Rex LaMore, the director of the Center for Community and Economic Development at MSU, notes that living in Lansing offers a number of unique benefits.“I’ve been in the northern part of Michigan Avenue, the good area, and I’m currently living on the south side of Michigan Avenue, the bad area,” he said. “The people in the north side are very specific and picky. They almost won’t allow students to live by them. But on the south side, it’s every man for himself. To me, it’s really weird that one road divides such a weird and drastic change in living. It’s a huge contrast in lifestyle.”
“It’s a generally safe community,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot of crime. It’s also relatively affordable compared to other parts of the United States.”
LaMore, like McCollum, believes that buyers are taking education seriously when it comes to homeownership.
“Schools are an important element of the home purchase decision,” he said. “Most first time buyers who are thinking of starting a family think about the school district their children might be in. Then they’ll search for houses in districts they find.”
Weber shares that he would, someday, like to own a home of his own. McCollum agrees that home ownership is worth the lifestyle change.
“There’s a certain amount of pride that comes with owning something that’s yours and doing with it what you’d like in terms of cosmetics,” McCollum said. “You can make a house your home, versus a rental where you don’t have the flexibility. You’re also going to get more for your money when you buy versus when you rent.”
In spite of the ongoing problems, McCollum believes there’s hope for the city.
“I would encourage people to live in the City of Lansing,” she said. “There are more options than people think are available.”