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Boot camp helps online businesses open brick-and-mortar stores despite pandemic

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Posted at 8:10 AM, Jan 07, 2022

DETROIT, Mich. — The pandemic has forced nearly every business to get its products online, but one group is teaching people to go against the grain and open up brick-and-mortar stores.

The program is called Retail Boot Camp, and it helped entrepreneur Katrina Wilson realize a long-time goal.

“This has been a dream of mine for well over 10 years. I like to call it a luxury beauty affair,” said Wilson, with a smile, looking around her new salon, Crème Brulee.

The salon is on historic Woodward Drive in Detroit, and Wilson’s salon aims to be a historic place for inclusion.

“We are going to break the barrier, and we are going to end segregation within the beauty industry,” said Wilson.

Crème Brulee opened in the height of the pandemic, and it opened a door to serving men and women from all backgrounds.

“We service everyone regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, age, or sexual preference,” said Wilson.

A trip with friends made Wilson realize no salon was staffed with the skills to serve people with different hair textures all at once.

“It was so many different ethnicities, genders, and races in that one circle. We could not get services, and I really was frustrated,” she recalled.

That is when she found her purpose.

“I always live by the motto, ‘Be the change you want to be.’ So, I knew at that moment, I had to step up and do something,” she said.

However, she didn’t know how to turn her small online business selling home products into something more.

“When I redefined the mission of my business, that could not have been done online, I needed to get out here. I needed to see people. I needed to speak with people,” said Wilson.

She spent years building a business plan and saving money for her salon, but still, she couldn’t find support.

“I heard 23 ‘Nos’ before I got one ‘Yes,’ and at times I really questioned myself like, ‘Hey, is this idea really even good, even valid at this point?’”

Then, Wilson found a program called Retail Boot Camp. It’s run by a nonprofit hub for entrepreneurs called Tech Town Detroit.

“Retail Boot Camp was created for small business owners who have maybe been selling at pop up shops, farmer's markets and really want to take it to the next level and fulfill their dream of opening up a brick and mortar,” said Amanda Saab, who is the director of Small Business Services at Tech Town Detroit.

In 2022, the question you’re probably asking is: Who wants to open a brick-and-mortar business now as everyone moves business online?

“We've had several grand openings when we've seen such a high rate of businesses closing,” said Saab of the successes of Tech Town’s Retail Boot Camp.

Saab said the demand is there, but people just need to know how to start.

“Consumers and customers really are craving that in-person physical experience,” Saab said. “We had so much of that lost in the last year that there's a true desire, and there's always going to be a need to be in person.”

Retail Boot Camp is the launchpad. The three-month intensive training gives entrepreneurs in the Detroit area legal advice and business plans to turn their online store into a real one.

“We cover bookkeeping and accounting. We have experts in industries coming in to speak to our clients. We also have architects. We talk to lawyers so they can help with negotiating leases before you sign your lease on your brick and mortar,” said Saab. “In this course, you learn how to think like a business owner, like an entrepreneur.”

“Those people, they're like little angels,” said Wilson of the team behind Retail Boot Camp. “Being able to have resources like that where the economy is right now. It’s just so, so, so important and essential to keeping your business afloat.”

Tech Town is working on making their program national because more in-person businesses can keep success local.

“We want people to be invested in the community,” said Saab. “Every dollar spent in the community stays longer when it's spent in a small business, and we want that money to stay in our neighborhoods.”

“I just want people to know that it is possible,” said Wilson. “It is so possible. I don't want them to give up on their dream. It is not easy, but it was so worth it.”

And success in her home, this salon is just the start of Wilson’s mission.

“I want this to be a safe space where not only cultures are blended, but people are blended. I realize that it's greater than me and that I need to do more and be more. My work is not done yet.”

Wilson said, eventually, she plans to open a beauty school that teaches students to work with all hair textures to further desegregate the beauty industry.

If you’re interested in joining a future cohort of Retail Boot Camp, you can find more information here.