By Nina Polien Light | Photo by John Goldy
Business at Mullholland and Sachs is brisk now, but getting off the ground was a challenge. Co-owners Rita Sachs and Anne Sachs Mulholland were promised a loan by the same institution they had used for personal banking. Six weeks before opening, however, the bank reneged, saying the women had sufficient personal funds. By then, they had given up their jobs and were too deep in the planning process to turn back.
“It made us very shy of bank loans, but we waded through on our own, and we’re OK,” Sachs says.
Their shop, which debuted in Shaker Heights 15 years ago and moved to its current 1,800-square-foot location at Eton Chagrin Boulevard in Woodmere 11 years ago, offers gifts for all occasions. These include everything from pillows featuring designs of Cleveland and other locales, to extensive tabletop, jewelry, and hand-blown Simon Pearce glass pieces. Many items are made in the United States.
A small part of the business is geared to the corporate market. Some customers seek one gift to thank a client, executive, board member or donor. Others want 500 gifts personalized with the organization’s logo. Kathy Grabner, who is Sachs’ daughter and Sachs Mulholland’s sister, handles the store’s personalization and monogramming program.
When working with corporate customers, the women look for items recipients will want to display in their offices or homes — such as small bowls, clocks, leather goods, umbrellas, travel cases and bags, metal canteens, and Simon Pearce pieces. They consider how well the items will travel. When possible, they suggest domestic products.
“We tell customers if they’re travelling, it’s not appropriate to take a gift made in another country elsewhere,” Sachs says. “We work on getting the documentation (that it’s American made) and put it in
This summer Mulholland and Sachs was the only local gift store invited to be a vendor at the Republican National Convention. Their pop-up store, located in a marketplace adjacent to Quicken Loans Arena, offered bottle openers, magnets, and other items emblazoned with the RNC logo.
“We designed the RNC’s official lapel logo pin, which the RNC bought from us and gave out as the official Cleveland pin,” Sachs says.
The retail business runs in their blood. Sachs’s late husband worked in retail, as did her father, mother, mother-in-law, and sister. Despite understanding the cyclical nature of the retail world, Sachs and her daughter were drawn to the industry and both earned degrees in merchandising.
“It’s part of who we’ve always been,” says Sachs, whose career began in 1957 as an assistant buyer at Bloomingdale’s.
Still, the duo never sought entrepreneurship before opening Mulholland and Sachs when Sachs was 66 and Sachs Mulholland still had a school-age daughter living at home. They began the boutique because they enjoy working with people.
“Anne and I believe we sell service with things attached,” Sachs says.
The courtesy they show customers extends to their own relationship. Sachs Mulholland began taking the early shift when her daughter was young. Her mother closed the store, so Sachs Mulholland could spend time with her child after school.
Today the cooperation continues, with Sachs controlling the corporate side and her daughter merchandising the store, selecting jewelry, and designing displays. Both work the sales floor, along with employees that include other relatives, at times. They rarely bicker.
“We’re both the type of person that can’t hold on to an annoyance, so if (we disagree), it’s over in two minutes,” says Sachs Mulholland, who began working at May Company at age 16 with her father.
The biggest challenge came during the 2008-09 recession. Customers continued to purchase wedding, baby, and anniversary gifts but skipped buying items for themselves. The duo weathered the downturn by working with well-established vendors who extended credit.
On steadier footing now, they recently signed a five-year lease, which means they are committed to their venture until Sachs is 86.
“We both like working, and I have no desire to sit home,” Sachs says, emphatically.
For more info: mullhollandsachs.com
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