Despite having finally opened her brick-and-mortar accessories store in Waldorf , Brelyn Freeman says she prefers to interact with inspectors, contractors or county officials over e-mail.
That’s because Freeman is 18, and grown-ups don’t always take her seriously in person.
“My landlord hasn’t been too bad, but some people see an 18-year-old and think, ‘What does this little girl want?’”she said.
What she wants is to make a living selling the splashy costume jewelry she’s always loved. On November 5, Freeman took a major step in realizing her dream by opening her store, Breezy’z Accessories, in a strip-mall storefront in Waldorf.
By doing so, Freeman became part of a rare breed. There are only 41,000 self-employed 18 to 19 year olds in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — far fewer than in any older cohort. There are also 70 percent more self-employed men than women in her age group. The U.S. Small Business Administration has placed a new emphasis on growing the ranks of young entrepreneurs, hosting forums
around the country throughout November to connect young people with local business advisors.
“When I was little, I would always be the one pretending I owned a store and running the toy cash register,” Freeman said. “I always knew this was what I wanted to do.”
Granted, Freeman is lucky to have two angel investors under her roof. Her parents fronted her most of the startup money, but not before Freeman did much of the initial research.
Last year, she held a consignment sale out of her closet to raise money for what she hoped would become her store. She made $6,000, which she re-invested in jewelry at trade shows and online. She opened an online store to bring in revenue.
One night, Freeman Googled, “how to write a business plan” and wrote up the framework for what would become the brick-and-mortar Breezy’z. She found a spot in the strip mall she thought would get plenty of drive-by and foot traffic.
“There are a lot of hair salons and a beauty supply store around here,” she explained. “It’s a woman-driven shopping center.”
She presented the plan to her parents, who are both pastors, and she made a “vision board” — a poster with drawings of what she wanted her store to look like. (“My dad always says you need a vision for your life or you won’t get far,” she explained.)
Freeman wouldn’t disclose how much her parents gave her, but she said she intends to pay back the full amount — and then some. Her mother, DeeDee Freeman, said an accessory shop was a smart choice in this economy — a time when women might buy inexpensive jewelry in lieu of new outfits.
“She’s an entrepreneur at heart, and she’s always been very focused and determined,” said Dee Dee Freeman. “I knew our money wouldn’t be in vain.”
From there, Freeman got to work calling contractors, securing permits and negotiating her lease terms. The process wasn’t without its pitfalls. A few days before the November 5 opening, she realized she didn’t have her Use And Occupancy Certificate, a required document that she needed multiple inspections in order to obtain.
A few days before her grand opening, she managed to schedule six different inspections on one day.
“It was a long hard process, and I really thank God that it all worked out,” she said.
The finished shop is a 1,000-square-foot space with a sparkly black floor and hot-pink walls. Two leather couches and a buffet table in the back form a “lounge,” which Freeman hopes customers will reserve for parties. Freeman’s inventory has come mostly through trade shows and through family friends who occasionally send in donations.
Most of her items retail for $4 to $60, and on a typical weekday she gets about one customer per hour. Freeman said she’s not worried about profits, however, because the online store covers her expenses and $1,500 monthly rent.
Freeman works in her store for about 10 hours every day but Sunday, and she does online classes through Liberty University at night. She’s majoring in general studies, but she said she’ll probably switch to business.
According to some research on young entrepreneurs, Freeman’s store will be somewhat of an outlier if it succeeds. Scott Shane, an entrepreneurial studies professor at Case Western Reserve University said that although the majority of new small businesses fail in the first five years, the rate of success increases with the age of the business owner.
“The failure rates decline with the age of the person,” Shane said. “Starting a business out of high school is on average not a great strategy.”
People aged 20-34 also have the lowest business creation rates of all age groups, and that rate has been declining steadily over time, according to a March entrepreneurial activity study by the Kauffman Foundation. (The survey didn’t look at business owners younger than 20).
But Freeman didn’t want to wait any longer to launch. She was homeschooled for high school and said she doesn’t see herself in a traditional college classroom, preferring to learn by growing her enterprise. She plans to eventually hire employees and move to a more posh area — she has an eye on Georgetown in Washington.
“This will be a good outcome for me,” she said, adding that the act of providing goods for eager customers energizes her. “It does my heart good to see that people can afford my jewelry and still look fly.”
Interested in becoming a young entrepreneur? The SBA has a number of resources available:
· SBA microloans are low-dollar loans for entrepreneurs who are just starting out, and they often come with training and technical assistance. Find out more at www.sba.gov/microloans.
· Community.sba.gov is an online community of over 20,000 small business owners. Young people can go online to ask questions or find events for entrepreneurs near them.
· SBA has a network of resource partners available to help write a business plan, apply for a loan and more. You can get mentoring from business executives at the over 350 chapters of SCORE nationwide. SBA also has 885 Small Business Development Centers, many of which are located on college campuses.
· To find these SBA resources and more, visit www.sba.gov/direct. Plug in your zip code and some information about your business and you’ll be presented with a customized list of resources near you.