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Monday, June 11, 2007

Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News

(caption information) Nancy Solomon helps customer Carolyn Williams of Novi in her shop.****Nancy Solomon, who left Domino's Pizza after 17 years to open her own consignment Smart chicks shop in Novi on Thursday, June 6, 2007.

Money Makeover

Making dough on consignment

Brian O'Connor / The Detroit News


Work tips

"One choice Nancy made was to start with a partner, not uncommon but not always successful," notes
career coach Prudence Cole of Grosse Pointe, co-author of "Finding Power, Passion and Joy Being at Work" and author of the Web site If you decide on a business partner, here are some questions to consider:
  • Why do you want a partner? Yes, there is safety in numbers and it feels less lonely and scary but it also adds complexity. You must be willing to share leadership and control.
  • Do you have a shared vision? If you don't clearly communicate and mutually understand your goals it will be like a team of horses going in different directions -- a lot of wasted energy and very little progress.
  • What is the decision-making process? Joint decision-making takes time and slows down progress but it ensures you are in agreement. If you agree to divide and concur you need to be clear on what and under what circumstances. You also must have a high degree of trust in your partner's abilities and be willing to relinquish some control.
  • How will you stay in sync? Find a way to keep each other up-to-date on decisions, issues, opportunities and overall business matters.
  • Is your life situation similar? If your partner's financial situation is different from yours when it comes to how much to invest and how soon to take cash out, your partnership will suffer. Resentments build up when one partner puts in more or has less of a sense of urgency to generate profits. Differences in available time can also be an issue.
  • What's the exit strategy? What will happen if one partner leaves? Understanding what will happen with the business, investments and debts, and customers and employees will ensure that ending a partnership won't end a friendship.

    Nancy Solomon

    Personal: Married, lives in Pinckney
    Born: Wayne, 1959
    Education: Cherry Hill High School, Inkster, 1977; Henry Ford Community College, 1978-79
    Old career: Domino's franchise services
    New career: Owns Smart Chicks Consignment in Novi; (248) 347-1600 or

    Remade your career?

    Did you switch from engineering to sales? Escape the boss from hell? Use your severance pay to start a business? The News wants to hear from readers who've remade their jobs, professions and careers for future stories. To tell your story, e-mail Personal Finance Editor Brian O'Connor at

    Related Articles and Links


  • When Nancy Solomon worked at Domino's Pizza LLC, success meant getting the pies delivered in 30 minutes. But when it came to success in launching her Smart Chicks Consignment store, that took a little longer.

    "They say it takes three to five years to build up your business," says the 47-year-old Pinckney woman. "I thought, maybe for others but not for me. Now, going into my fourth year, it's phenomenal, even though this is where I expected to be after my second year."

  • Where she came from: After finishing high school and some community college, Solomon worked for law firms in Detroit and Ann Arbor for about eight years.

    While in Ann Arbor, she saw an ad for jobs at Domino's Pizza headquarters and applied.

    She worked with franchise owners, then moved into store development, working with store construction and helping franchisees manage their businesses.

    "They were good at making pizzas but didn't know a lot about business," she says.

  • What changed: Domino's founder Tom Monaghan sold the business to a private-equity firm, which then took Domino's public. After that, Solomon started to think about moving on.

    "I was in my 40s and there were changes," she says. "I thought, 'I don't want to do corporate work for the rest of my life.' As great as it is to get a paycheck every week and paid vacation, I wanted to do my own thing."

  • Moment of truth: Solomon had been a consignment shopper for many years. She knew one advantage of opening such a store would be the lack of inventory costs, since consignment goods are left by the owners, who aren't paid until their items are sold.

    She researched the business with the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops, which is headquartered in St. Clair Shores, went to a national conference, read and scouted locations. She also had a friend who wanted to join her in the business.

    Once they had a plan outlined, Solomon approached her Domino's bosses in May 2003 about quitting. They asked her to stay on part time, which gave her time to get ready and open the store in Novi in November.

  • Stumbling blocks: One of Solomon's fears was that they would have trouble finding merchandise. She had no trouble there, but other problems cropped up. First, her partner's husband lost his job, so her partner left to go back to work. And Solomon's lack of retail experience left her unprepared when business slowed down.

    "I had no idea how much sales fall off in retail after the holidays," she says. "By January of 2005, it just died after Christmas and I wasn't prepared for it. I though we were going to have to close."

    Instead, Solomon invested money from her 401(k) retirement account, and her landlord worked with her on her lease.

    "I was just angry at myself for thinking that we didn't need to have a lot of money in the bank, even though that's what everyone says," Solomon says. "And I didn't want to go back to corporate life."

    She had luck with additional advertising and some other nearby consignment shops closed. She managed to hang on until business picked up.

    "I just never lost faith," she says. "It was as if we were blessed.

  • Words of wisdom: Her first piece of advice is to start with enough capital.

    "Have money in the bank before you open your doors," Solomon says. "We thought we'd make money from the day we opened and we did. The problem was that we were putting it all into the business. In retrospect, we should have saved the money."

    Choosing the right location is another point Solomon emphasizes. Her store is on Grand River Avenue near shopping, but also near an expressway. Die-hard consignment shoppers will travel to a good store. Solomon says the location even helped boost business despite road construction.

    "When traffic was backed up they had nothing to do but look around -- they saw my store."

    Solomon also has learned from experience, tweaking her advertising strategy and refining her pricing and mix of clothes.

    "We've gotten smarter in the way we do things than when we first opened," she says.

    Now, with three employees and turning a steady profit, Solomon is talking about expanding to more space or even another store.

    "Last year, I finally was able to tell my husband, 'I think we're going to be OK,' " Solomon says. "I always knew my store would work and that we could be successful."

    You can reach Brian O'Connor at (313) 222-2145 or

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