Cleveland Business Connects

For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...



That’s the message from Northeast Ohio’s African American boutique owners

Greater Cleveland Boutique Owners

  • Brenda Munford, president, Jewels By Brenda, Cleveland
  • Carmen Leftwich, sole proprietor, Chez Carmen, Richmond Towne Square
  • Connie Ware, owner, Something Special by Connie, Garfield Heights
  • Danise L. Tufts-Carter, president, Designer’s Palace Couturier, Cleveland
  • Diane Linston, owner, Styles Of Imagination, Maple Heights
  • Gilbert Young, owner, Linda Calith, vice president, Change Unlimited, Shaker Heights
  • Hallie Briggs, owner/president, Hallie’s With Class, Cleveland
  • Helen Prince, Owner, Just Bags & Accessories, Cleveland
  • Lamar Wright, Owner, Things For You, Maple Heights
  • Pauline E. Walker, President and Owner, La Belle Femme, Shaker Heights
  • Renay Fowler and Tracy Fowler, Co-owners, Fashions By Fowler, Cleveland
  • Rosie Jefferson-McClain, Proprietor, Sir Cedric’s Boutique Inc., Cleveland
  • Sharon Norman, Owner, KYCJ Designs
  • Shkehlaht Belit Yisrael, founder, RAWkin,’ Cleveland Heights
  • Sonyette L. Farrier, Owner, Foot Traffic and Accessories, Northfield Center
  • Vanessa Junior Jones, President and Owner, Jones Collection Ltd., Cleveland


Photos by McKinley Wiley

Diane LinstonCBC’S two-part series on black-owned boutiques in the Cleveland area concludes with shop owners talking about the challenges they have faced and what advice they would offer to anyone interested in starting their own business.

What have been your greatest challenges?
Getting black people to buy from me and trust in my product and me. There are so many cheap retail stores in Cleveland. That’s my competition. — Brenda Munford

When they say location, they mean location, location, location. Because my product is “impulse” stuff, basically, you see it, you want it, and you buy it. If you’re in a location where people can’t see it, you can tell them, “I have beautiful earrings, I have beautiful necklaces, I have beautiful clothes,” whatever, but if they can’t see it, they don’t really make an effort to come by. It’s an impulse. So, the challenge is location. — Carmen Leftwich

Trying to get into the bigger shows out-of-town. — Danise L. Tufts-Carter

Robberies and people doing cutthroat things. — Hallie Briggs

When the economy was at its best, keeping enough inventory on hand was a great challenge. It was necessary to travel to fashion markets bi-weekly, keeping reliable employees, and promoting Sir Cedric’s name. — Rosie Jefferson-McClain

Having people say they want something and then they don’t get it. — Sharon Norman

Sometimes my health issues slow me down, but I don’t let them get to me. I move past them at my own pace and keep it moving. — Vanessa Junior Jones

My greatest challenge has been the economy. My customers don’t have as much disposable income. — Lamar Wright

Keeping fresh and new merchandise and staying within a budget. — Sonyette L. Farrier

Your biggest disappointment?

Not yet being where I want to be so that I can help family and others in other ways. — Connie Ware

Not having enough of the designs that I should have. — Tufts-Carter

I can’t say disappointment, so I will say life lesson, I knew how to design and sew, but I didn’t know business. I allowed so many people to take my money, and I didn’t do my homework to find who they were. I gave money to a company that told me they could get investors to help back my company. Two months later, when I tried to call them, I got a “This number is no longer in service.” I gave money to a company to help me with a business plan. When I tried to contact them, their website was no longer existing and I got the same response with their phone number. — Diane Linston

People going into business and not staying — starting it and not finishing it. You’ve got obstacles, but you’ve got to remember, they’re made to be hurdles and you climb them. — Gilbert Young

A big disappointment is that ladies don’t dress like they used to dress. We’re getting very, very casual, and I want to see the women dress again. Women used to come in dressed in gloves and their hats. They don’t do it any more. — Pauline E. Walker

Not being able to get to all the vendors that I would like to get involved with, like people in California. It’s hard to find different companies. — Norman

Usually if a big or seemingly good show is cancelled. — Junior Jones

I don’t have my own clothing line out. — Wright

The biggest disappoint is the people that you think are going to support you are not the ones that really support you. It’s the newfound clients that have supported us, not necessarily the people you think that are going to be in your corner when you first open. You may think it’s going to be family and friends, and we have got support from them, but a lot of times they have not been the ones. — Renay Fowler

Whom do you lean on for advice?
My daughter, Angel Royster, has worked for Diamond Men’s Store for four or five years and has learned a lot of stuff about retail business. So, what she has learned, she has given me the pointers. I also went to Mary Kay for information to see if I was doing the right thing in my selling. I did not join. — Munford

When my brother Jose was alive, I would lean to him. Not for advice so much, but he was my big cheerleader. — Leftwich

God first, me, and then the inspiration from my mother. My husband, Russell Carter Sr., plays a part in keeping me motivated and inspired to continue my dream. And also my friend, Vivian L. Sharp. — Tufts-Carter
I read a lot of positive books, from people like Russell Simmons and Damon John, the founder of Fubu clothing. — Linston

I never went to anyone for personal ingredients. I come up with my own with a combination of others. I see where they prosper and how they lost or gained. I knew the old pioneers — C. Wright, Johnny Ferris, Charles Ashley, the Swimp Boat; the Saddler Brother Saddler’s Construction; Alonzo Wright and the Majestic Hotel. You see, I came along in that era. In those days, we did not have real big businesses. We saw “number men” and all that stuff. But I wanted something a little bit different. And personal? All the ones I knew who could give me that advice are gone now. You know, they’re all gone. Even the guys I just mentioned, all of them are gone. I’m the only one left. They’re all gone. — Young

I really lean on my accountant. He gives me a lot of good advice. I don’t over-buy.  —  Walker

The Lord! I lean on Him for everything. And personal? The Lord! I would say the same thing. — Fowler

My marketing coach and family. — Shkehlaht Belit Yisrael

What advice would you offer someone interested in starting a business?

Pick a market. And study that market. Maybe sell what you’re interested in, but at least pick a market and see if there is a market for it. Target a certain market and don’t go all over the board. For example, the “church lady” market is the market that I picked because they buy and they like to dress well. I study what they wear because basically, as I said, I’m a plain person so I don’t wear this. But study your market and don’t go all over the board. If you’re buying for the ‘church lady’ group, let’s say 40 plus, don’t try to buy teeny bopper stuff because you tie your money up and then when the economy gets bad like it is now, your money’s all tied up in stuff that doesn’t move. — Leftwich

Keep moving forward. George Bernard Shaw once said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” — Ware
Never give up! — Tufts-Carter

I would say work for a large company and learn from there. A Couture House is always great. Possibly study abroad if you can. Take some business classes, make sure you have a business plan. Don’t just think you are going to open a clothing shop with no knowledge of the business. You will not last. And once you got a little knowledge and you are ready to open your business, make sure you have a good lawyer, a good accountant, and a good banker. If you have a mentor to help guide you, that would be helpful. — Linston

Well, this is a hard business now. This business is not like it was 40 years ago. To start this business now, because there are so many discount stores, you really have to know what you want to do in order to make it. The inflation is bad now. I really don’t recommend it. I mean, it is a hard business. Retail is really hard. It’s about the hardest business I know. If you stick to it and if you know your customers, know what to buy, and how much to buy, then when the customer comes in, listen to what they are looking for and try to find what they are looking for. — Walker

I say to stay focused around artisans and fellow crafters that are like-minded, positive, and motivated like you. — Junior Jones

Just be patient and follow your dreams! — Helen Prince

It’s very important to do your research to be financially able to hold down the business for a year. And don’t count on the customers because they may or may not come. You should have at least 12 months’ finances put aside for your expenses while you’re trying to get your clientele together. — Fowler

Make sure you are ready to put your whole heart and soul in getting it started. — Belit Yisrael

Comments are closed.