SCV Business Gurus Share their Secrets to Success
March, 2006 - Issue #17
While most of the businesses in this country are considered "mom and pop" in one way or another, the tragic fact is that the vast majority of them (some estimates are as high as 80 percent) go out of business within their first five years.

Here, Inside SCV Magazine has focused on six locally owned businesses that have stood the test of time. What has been their key to success? Read on - you may learn a thing or two.

Charmaine's Florist
Charmaine Wojciechowski

"To be competitive, you have to be meticulous."

Charmaine Wojciechowski of Charmaine's Florist has been professionally arranging flowers for 40 years, 25 of them in the SCV. Originally the owner of three local florist shops, she combined her satellites under one roof after the Northridge earthquake in 1994.

"I can give my customers better service when I'm here to oversee everything. I couldn't do that with three different shops," says the florist.

"To be competitive, you have to be meticulous. I still check every arrangement that goes out of this store," she continues, "you just can't get that with the internet or from a grocery store."

Wojciechowski, who has partnered with FTD and Teleflora in order to send flowers around the globe, believes that personal attention and knowledge of her industry is why she's still in business.

"I'm a designer and an owner, so I know everything about my product and I can take special care to ensure that the right product is what my customers get every time. When a client comes in for a wedding, for example, they meet with me. All of their business and design questions are answered easily by the same person."

Cobblestone Cottage
Kathy Allie

"Be different, fill a need and exceed expectations."

Celebrating 19 years in Valencia, Cobblestone Cottage and owner Kathy Allie are mainstays of the community. "Our area was just on the verge of growth when we opened up. There were all these houses with white walls that needed to be filled, and that's what we did," says the number-one resale account for artist Marty Bell.

Santa Clarita isn't the only thing that's grown since 1987. Cobblestone Cottage started out with 900 square feet of retail space, and has since grown (in the same location, thanks to other rental vacancies and a strong clientelle) to nearly 3,600 square feet.

"We wanted to be different than the other 'country' stores; we are more high-end, and there's a need for that here," says Allie.

It seems that there's also a need for new lines. Her daughter spotted the little-known Brighton brand on a trip to Texas years back; originally wary, Allie was won over, began carrying the brand and now holds the top spot for independent Brighton dealers in the nation.

Exceeding customer expectations is what keeps people coming back, says Allie. During the holiday season, client thank you's didn't end at the free gift wrapping. "We had an oven in the back and we made homemade cookies. And no matter the season, our coffee pot is always on," she says. Having multiple knowledgeable staff members on the floor at all times is also important. "I want my customers to know that there's always someone there, ready to help them."

Auton Motorized Systems
Virgil Walker

"Stay current with your industry and take advantage of new products."

In 1955, Virgil Walker founded Auton Motorized Systems to market the rack and pinion television lift he had invented. Over 50 years later, Auton is known globally for their television lifts; from the Bellagio in Las Vegas, to the White House in Washington and the luxury hotels owned by the United Arab Emirates in Dubai, Walker's visionary creation has been consistently selected by architects, designers, and other trade professionals for use in the most luxurious homes, hotels, yachts and aircraft.

Taking advantage of new products is what Walker believes is the key to his company's success. "You always have to stay up with your industry. The introduction of the plasma television really helped us take off, and we've grown sequentially every since. We have an innovative staff, one that's ready to adjust to new technology," says Walker.

Of course, a passion for what you do doesn't hurt. "I'll be here every day until the day I go - and I don't mean 'out of town,'" says the founder and Stevenson Ranch resident.

The Paseo Financial Group
Doug and Melanie Sedam

"Be an active participant in the community you live in."

In 1991, Doug and Melanie Sedam founded a mortgage company, and as Santa Clarita grew, so did the list of services the Home Loan Pros provides. Now, their company also offers real estate, investments, retirement, insurance, closing services, and more.

"When you're handling people's money, they want to know that you are trustworthy and are going to be around tomorrow," says Melanie Sedam. "Being involved in the community not only gets your name out there, but it gives you a chance to show your consistency," says the highly-involved volunteer.

"Whether it's working with the Hart High Boosters or the Child & Family Center, people see that we care about the community we live in, and it's another opportunity to earn their trust," she continues.

Making contact, according to the Sedams, is what it's all about. "We stay in touch with the people we've done business with in the past. It helps with referrals and shows that we value them. Human contact is so incredibly important," says Melanie.

So is being flexible with your clients. "Life changes so quickly. Tomorrow, you could lose it all. We're a small enough business that we can creatively lend, and we care enough about our clients to take the time to do it."

Eugenia Weston

"You have to provide a customized experience for everyone that walks through your door."

You wouldn't know it to look at her, but Eugenia Weston is celebrating 30 years as the founder and creative director for her company, Senna.

What started as a small makeup boutique has expanded to a nationally recognized brand, with 10 studios, a successfully televised home shopping show and a new skin care line.

Why do so many women swear by the Senna experience? "We really work with our clients to educate them, and to do that correctly, you must have a strong knowledge of your product - it's the only way you'll be able to adapt to everyone as an individual," says the makeup guru.

Passion is also a requirement. "You have to love what you do, and be energized by that love," says Weston.

Her passion for faces inspired what Senna may be known best for: eyebrows. "Brows are the most important brushstroke on the face. We make women look 10 years younger. If you can provide serious, dramatic results, you shouldn't be surprised that something takes off."

J. David's Custom Clothiers
David Guenther

"Always keep your long-term goals in mind."

David Guenther started his own fine men's clothing store in Santa Clarita in 1988 and now has customers in 31 states. His business model is built on two things: the value clients get for their money and the service that they receive. "Clients know that we are around 24 hours a day. They have our cell numbers. We deliver to the airport if they forgot to pack something. We've met people on the way to an important engagement who had ripped their pants and needed a quick replacement. If something needs done, we get it done."

In his opinion, a lot of businesses get it wrong. "So many owners look only at the immediate. They want to get customers to spend as much as possible - today. I'd rather sell $500 less today and know that the client will come back because we didn't push them to purchase items they didn't need."

The same philosophy is behind Guenther's decision not to charge for tailoring on items purchased in store - ever. "Depending on the item, we may lose money because of the amount spent on regular alterations, but the goodwill that comes from that is worth so much more. If they look great and feel good about the process, they're going to send in their friends."

J. David's boasts a hearty list of long-time clients, including 45 major league baseball players. "We work with their schedule and meet them on the road in Houston if that's what they need. Our services spread, totally from word of mouth."

Basketball stars are newer editions to the lineup. The owner of the Clippers contracted with Guenther to provide custom suits for every player and coach on the team. "Now, those same guys will think of us first when they want to look good."

Having a talented staff makes the process easier, too. Master Tailor Baltazar Chapela has worked for David for 16 years. A renowned tailor from Mexico, Chapela still tailors entirely by hand. Armando Dzul, also from Mexico, and Matar Khouma, from France, round out his skilled team of tailors. "You can't possibly take all the credit yourself," says David, "I've been fortunate to be surrounded by great people."
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