It’s always a joy to talk with our clients and hear their stories. We’re fascinated by the journeys our clients take to start and run their businesses. We were lucky enough to chat today with “D” Muenster, a business owner in Green Bay, WI, about how she started her two successful (and very different!) businesses as well as why she enjoys participating in Small Business Saturday. You’re going to want to read to the end for this one!
Hi, “D!” Thank you so much for talking with us today. Can you share with our readers a little bit about yourself and your business?
Yes, I’m “D” Muenster, the President of Furs & Clothing of Distinction in downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin. We started about 28 years ago. My husband and I had already started one successful business, and I was looking for an additional business venture.
I purchased Furs from a woman here in Green Bay knowing nothing about the fur business. I quickly learned, and within a couple of months, the store was doing well, but it wasn’t the kind of activity I was used to. Then, a beautiful building came for sale — I walked across the street to look at it, and two hours later, I purchased the building.
I went home to tell my husband, and he almost dropped dead! But we moved into this 5,000-square-foot building and expanded our business beyond furs to include casual wear, costume jewelry, mother-of-the-bride clothing, men’s leather jackets, and more. Our prices range from very affordable to more expensive, so we can cater to pretty much any shopper.
Wow! What a journey! What do you pride yourself on the most when it comes to your business?
We try to do at least one thing to make every shopper’s experience great. We ask you when you come in if you want assistance or not. If you don’t, we leave you to browse. But if you want assistance, then someone is with you every step of the way. We’ll take the clothes off the hangers for you and lay them out in the dressing room — taking the clothes off and putting them back on the hangers is such a hassle when I’m shopping — we make that easy for our shoppers.
We’ve grown from two employees to nine, and all of our employees have been with us for a long time. We’re a great group, and we just do everything very full service.
So, how did you get started with Small Business Saturday?
We started probably in year one — I really didn’t know anything about it and our LOCALiQ rep at the time came over and told us about it, and the people from the chamber of commerce told us about it and asked if we wanted to participate. We did an ad in the paper and gave away some prizes and door prizes, and it was so successful, we’ve expanded on it every year.
That’s great! What’s it been like over the last 10 years?
We have a lot of regulars that come back, and we usually give away a $100 fur scarf. Everyone who comes in gets a prize of some kind, whether they’ve made a purchase or not. We also serve refreshments all day. It’s a great time.
I always say I’ve never had an original idea in my life — I’m just a very good plagiarist. I plagiarized this many, many years ago from Harrod’s in London. They did this once-a-year sale and it was so successful. I happened to be in London and lucked into that sale and thought it was a fabulous idea, so I’ve replicated it for us on Small Business Saturday.
They say imitation is the highest form of flattery! How do you get the word out about your event?
We’ve been advertising with USA TODAY NETWORK in the paper for 24 years. We run an ad in the paper every year around this event using the Small Business Saturday logo, and it talks about the drawing we hold, and make sure everyone knows they’ll leave with a free gift. We also try to let all of our customers know weeks before about the upcoming event — we’ll mention it as they check out.
Why is supporting the local community important to you?
Oh gosh. I’ve lived here all of my life. I started in business with my father when I was 8 years old working at his business. I was the little girl who didn’t want to learn to cook or bake or clean — my mother sent me to dad’s gas station where I learned how to work on cars and be a real people person. The guy that I married 50 years ago worked at a neighboring gas station, too.
Yes, you said Furs was your second business — tell me how you got started with your first.
When we were in our late 20s, my husband and I started our own gas station and repair shop and still own that to this day. And I helped get that off the ground to get that running.
At that time, you had to go to school before you could buy a Shell gas station — my husband said he couldn’t go to school, so I said I’ll go to school.
When I tried to enroll, they told me the school was for men only.
Oh, what did you do?!
I very nicely said to them, “you can’t say that to me — you can’t discriminate here.” So, they got all crazy, and three days later, I’m off to school, on a plane, in Chicago. At the time, I had never flown. I’m dropped off at O’Hare airport and told to get a taxi, which I’ve never done before, to find that I’m the only woman with 43 men. The guys didn’t want me there and made very lewd remarks. I went to school, then would go home and cry myself to sleep. They didn’t even have a women’s bathroom. They put a sign on the door that said “D is in here” that I had to turn — the minute I’d go in, they’d turn the sign back around, and they’d all come in.
It was a huge growing experience for me because when we got in the garage, I knew more than 70% of the men there, and I earned their respect.
I graduated fourth in my class, and they picked me up and carried me on the stage, and I’m still friends with two of them to this day.
I came back and we’ve had a thriving business for 40 years. My husband just retired, and my son now runs the gas station. So, we’ve been part of this community with our two businesses for the last 40 years.
It’s official: I think they need to turn your life into a movie!
Thanks, again, to “D” for sharing her story about her journey to owning two businesses and participating in Small Business Saturday. We hope to see everyone out and about in their communities shopping small this year on November 30!