Success stories

Chalets offer shopping and valuable experience

Leiko Bergers, left, works with Northern Initiatives Business Coach Cailin Kelly

Leiko Bergers has always shared her energy and “retail can be a good exchange of energy,” she smiles. “I used to shop with my mom, finding little treasures, so this is my happy pill,” she says of Mirthy, her store in the Muskegon Western Market Chalets.

“I’m giving my energy as a service,” she says. “I want to keep my prices low, but I also want to …” “Stay in business,” chimes a customer.

That dichotomy is part of what Cailin Kelly, Northern Initiatives business coach, is helping entrepreneurs with at the Muskegon Chalets with this summer. The small-business incubator space features 17 shops on a color-popping block in the heart of downtown Muskegon, with a farmers market on one side and a giant playground out back. Each of the chalets, complete with electricity and insulation, is rented May-December.

“It’s our eighth year,” said Ann Meisch, Muskegon City Clerk, who runs the farmers market as well as the Chalets. “Usually we have a waiting list, but this year we had 14 openings because so many people ‘graduated’,” she said. Her own son is one who has moved on to a bricks-and-mortar store of his own.

Meisch said the City realized early on that a technical assistance component would be a welcome addition to the Chalet program. “Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know,” she said. She noticed a “drastic difference” in success rates after TA was offered, which is where Kelly comes in.

“Profit and loss statements, financial plans, marketing, pricing … there’s so much information out there,” Kelly says. “It’s nice to get to know each business and then help them with exactly what they need.” As part of a partnership with the Muskegon Community Foundation and the City of Muskegon, Kelly works with each of the entrepreneurs throughout the season as they build their businesses.

Leiko ended up in retail almost by accident, but mostly by design. “One door closed and another opened” just before the summer chalet season started, and she quickly snagged a space and started building Mirthy, “to spread joy and laughter and to watch people’s faces light up.” The shop is filled with rocks and minerals (90% of which she collected herself), clothing, accessories and things that make her smile. “I ran out!” she says of the first week of business. “Maybe my prices are too low …”

Sally Osgood, owner of Lakeside Jewelry and Art

As part of Kelly’s work with the business owners, they’re all given free subscriptions to Initiate, Northern Initiatives’ technical assistance portal. Resources available include accounting basics, cash flow budgets, and time management, among 100s of others. “It’s great because I can send them tools specifically targeted for their needs,” Kelly said. “There are tons of resources for startups, which a lot of these shops are, and the marketing module is very popular.”

The business owners at the Chalets have built their own community of resources too, with people trading tips on point-of-sale systems, social media trends, and even merchandise.

“I traded for one of Leiko’s candles!” laughs Sally Osgood, owner of Lakeside Jewelry and Art, and a veteran business owner. She loves the size of her chalet, one of the biggest ones at 150 square feet, as well as the City of Muskegon. “You have all the amenities of a city without the congestion,” she said. She’s helped others with computer questions, merchandising, and helping them know what to expect. “I even tried to help fix a cash register. I couldn’t, but we had fun.”

City Clerk Meisch said the Chalets are rentable by anyone, not just residents of Muskegon County, and cost between $1,400 and $2,500 for the whole season.

 

 

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