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Starting a Small Business in Hazelwood: Choosing a Business Concept

'Hazelwood Patch' offers inspiration and advice from nine local small business owners on how they decided on their own business concepts.

When you’re considering starting a small business, the first step is to decide exactly what you want your business to be--to develop a business concept.

Whether you choose to go the potentially safer route and open a franchise or you choose to think outside the box and open a unique business, the first thing you need is a good idea.

Since we discussed buying a franchise last week, we’re going to focus on coming up with your own original business idea. We’re taking a little inspiration from some Hazelwood business owners who shared the different ways they were inspired to start their own businesses.

Filling a Need

Monica Black, owner of , told Hazelwood Patch that the reason she opened her business was simple: people in the area “needed some help” with their etiquette. Black, who once worked with Fortune 500 companies as well as in higher education, noted that even educated people sometimes need a little assistance with the “soft-skill piece.”

It’s easier to learn proper etiquette when you start young, so she teaches etiquette classes for kids as young as 5 years old. She also teaches classes for older kids and teens, as well as for adults.

Black chose the name “Etiquette Inclusion” because when you know proper etiquette, you can be included in more opportunities, she said.

“I want everybody to be able to have that,” Black . “I think it will change the world for the better.”

Changing Lives

Self-confidence is a precious commodity among girls and young women, and no one knows that better than Marilyn Diggs, owner of . As a mother and grandmother, Diggs that she was inspired to start her business in order to help kids feel better about themselves while having fun at the same time.

Since Diggs opened her store in the in 2010, her goal of helping her customers have , one girl at a time.

"After the children are finished modeling on the stage, they have so much confidence,” she said.

A Backup Plan

Joe Ruesing, a Hazelwood resident who owns a webhosting and website design company called JMR Web, was a .

He told Hazelwood Patch that he loved his DJ job, but it wasn’t paying the bills. He also loved working with computers and had been one of the early embracers of the internet when it first began to come into homes in the mid-90s.  

He started his company as a backup plan, a way to supplement his income. Today, it’s his sole source of income.

Fulfilling a Lifelong Dream

owner Lisa Thompson that opening her busy Hazelwood salon was the realization of her lifelong dream. After she became a licensed cosmetologist in 1997, she worked for other salon owners until she was able to open Trendz in 2005.

She wanted, and built, a professional salon in the North County area. Thompson said that today,  Trendz offers “the same quality…you would find if you went to an expensive Clayton or Chesterfield salon” at a more reasonable price. Her full appointment book seems to indicate that she’s right.

The Family Business

, a Hazelwood institution for more than 30 years, hires no “outside help.” Only family members work at the store, Ray Strini .

There’s something to be said for running a true “family business,” particularly because many customers are more likely to trust and support a local family they brush shoulders with at the grocery store or at church on Sunday morning.

For example, even as new chain jewelry stores pop up in malls and strip malls across the St. Louis area, Strini’s customers remain loyal. Strini suggested that’s because the family takes a more traditional approach in its business and offers a more personal shopping experience.

Partnering Up

The four owners of once worked together in a salon owned by someone else. They became fast friends and kept in touch even after they each left that salon and went to work at different salons in the area.

Years later, they were discussing opening their own salons because they needed flexibility their current salons couldn’t offer—and because each had wanted to own her own business. Before long, they realized the perfect solution: a four-way partnership.

They that since the responsibilities are divided four ways, each salon owner really feels like she can have it all—especially considering their individual family and personal responsibilities.

Realizing a Passion

Casaundra Bronner, a Hazelwood single mom, has degrees in marketing and worked for Anheuser-Busch for 11 years before her position was eliminated. Little did she know that just a short time later, she would open her own baking business.

Bronner that baking had been one of her passions since high school, so when her mother suggested she open her own business, it was the logical choice for her.

Her business, Conversation Pieces, creates edible works of art, baked from scratch. Bronner also makes her own candy and chocolate. She said she wants her products to look good and taste even better.

“I tossed around a few different names, but I wanted something that hinted at edible works of art that taste good,” she said, when Patch asked her how she chose the name of the company. “Then I came up with Conversation Pieces.”

Inspired by Reality TV

Sharonda Ellis, who owns , an event coordinating and decorating company in Hazelwood, found her niche in a rather interesting way.

“The idea for the company came from watching wedding shows on television,” Ellis . “It seemed like something I would really enjoy doing, so I gave it a try.”

Events Above the Rest recently expanded to open a division called Kids Events Above the Rest. It specializes in parties and events for children.

Buying the Dream

Rick and Shawntá Harmon purchased a chain of three toy stars when Shawntá’s former employer decided to sell the chain in 2006. They that they pride themselves on offering specialty toys with an eclectic and well-rounded mix of products for kids and fun households. 

Shawntá said that they build relationships with their customers, who she feels are better served when they're given individual attention. The proof is in the pudding—the stores are thriving and have many loyal customers.

These days, the Harmons are successfully managing their toy empire. Though the couple recently closed at the St. Louis Mills Mall, their company, Happy Up Inc., also does business as Once Upon a Toy (not to be confused with the used item store, Once Upon a Child) in Edwardsville and has a LagoonaMagoo store in Fairview Heights.

Shawntá reports that both Illinois stores are "open and thriving."

Do you own one of these businesses? Claim the free listing now! Simply click on the listing and claim it.

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