Julie Ann (Kameck), ’98, and Andrew Davis, ’97, made their life-changing decision on a plane ride home from Vegas in 2009. (Shouldn’t every couple’s story start that way?!) This was it. No more waiting. No more trepidation. They were finally going to take the plunge.
They were ready to open their own small business.
“That plane ride back to Buffalo was so exciting,” Julie Ann remembered. “I had been thinking about opening my own clothing store for years, but that was the moment—on that plane—when I knew it was really going to happen.”
And when she says she had been thinking about it for years, she means years. In fact, Julie Ann first visited the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State three years earlier to ask how one might go about opening her own business.
“I had spoken with one of the business advisers, Andrea Lizak, and she gave me a big packet of info and advice on doing market research. Well, three years went by and I was working other jobs in retail, but I was always taking notes and jotting down ideas for my own store,” said Julie Ann.
Those notes eventually translated into a well-thought-out, 100-page business plan for Cats Like Us, a store specializing in retro clothing for “rockabilly cats and pinup kittens”—new apparel made with today’s fabrics and inspired by Hollywood and rock-and-roll fashion styles from the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. The Davises called on Lizak as soon as they returned from Las Vegas, and the adviser was so impressed with their idea that she encouraged them to put it into action immediately.
The Davises didn’t waste any time. After the April meeting with Lizak, they applied for a bank loan in July, leased retail space on Main Street in downtown Tonawanda, New York, in August, and opened the store in September.
“A lot went into just getting the store open—everything from coming up with the name to hiring a good accountant and lawyer. But once we were up and running, we found that the real work had just begun,” said Andrew, whose career experience in web development and design fit right into the small business’s plan to sell clothing through both a storefront and online (www.catslikeus.com).
From the start, the couple knew it would be difficult to rely solely on customers shopping at their brick-and-mortar store in Tonawanda. Online sales would have to be a key part of the business—and they have been. Online sales generate about 70 percent of the business’s current revenue, and that figure will likely go even higher.
“I think we’ve done a good job of balancing the two. We have a very dynamic website and a pretty aggressive strategy with search engine marketing, web advertising, and social media,” said Andrew. “And at the storefront, we’ve established a great customer base with regulars from Buffalo and Toronto and Cleveland and Rochester—and they’ve been great about spreading the word about the store.”
One of those regular customers, Meagan Kyla, recently became Cats Like Us’s first employee. That hiring came on advice from Lizak.
“The Small Business Development Center has been an extremely valuable resource for having ongoing discussions about how to grow our business,” Andrew said. “Andrea suggested that it was time to hire an employee to work the retail side so that Julie Ann and I could be freed up to spend more time on marketing and inventory. That’s been a great decision for us.”
As the business continues to evolve, Julie Ann and Andrew are happy they decided to pursue that quintessential American dream: to own their own business.
“You never completely stop being scared as a small-business owner. There are always some things you can’t control, but we work hard to offer a great selection of items and excellent customer service, and we have a lot of systems in place to be successful,” said Julie Ann. “I’m so glad that we took the leap—it’s very fulfilling to own our own business.”