Laura Horwath - Albert's General Store/Ferne Boutique

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Note: This story was originally published on February 11th, and since then Albert's has shifted from a brick-and-mortar location in Bay City to a pop-up in Detroit, and online at ferneboutique.shoplightspeed.com/michigan-gifts

I park in front of Albert's General Store, a men's clothing shop here in Bay City, Michigan. I'm meeting Laura Horwath, the owner, here for an interview, but I'm a bit early. ⠀

An SUV parks in front of my car, and it seems like we both have the same idea - wait in the car for as long as possible because it is COLD.⠀

It's Laura.⠀

"I love Michigan, but I'm pretty much over this!" she says, as we both get out of our cars and hurry to Albert's front door. ⠀

She unlocks the store and we walk into a very cool, vintage space with wood floors, exposed brick...and giant elk head.⠀

After a few words, I'm already feeling right at home. Laura is excited, talkative, and passionate about what she does.⠀

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We start the interview...but leave our coats on.⠀

"I was working several corporate jobs, and feeling like I would work in a job for two or three years and then just move on to another one. I would like a job, but then those two or three years would go by and I'd start to feel like I had to move onto to something else. I had always envisioned doing something on my own, but I wasn't quite sure when it was going to happen or what it would be or how it would work.⠀

Then I attended a young professionals conference in the Spring of 2015, and the speaker, who usually gets up and talks about getting involved in the community and running for office and all the things that professionals should be doing, instead came in wearing jeans and a blazer and was very relaxed and showed us videos about 'if you want to change your life you can do it'.⠀

I just cried. It was affecting me in a way I didn't understand."⠀

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"I texted my husband, and I said, 'I want to open a boutique.' He thought I was crazy, and told me he could come pick me up because I was on something. I quit my job in July of 2015 and I opened Ferne two weeks later.⠀

We go a lot of places - around Michigan, outside Michigan, Europe - and everywhere I went, I was blown away by the amount of unique shops and boutiques. But we didn't have anything like that in Bay City. People shouldn't have to drive to Detroit to buy clothes or be forced to shop online to be able to find things they like. I wanted Ferne Boutique to exist here because this is where I live and I want to be able to shop locally and support people."

After about five or six months of being open, I had a lot of people asking me if I was ever going to carry men's clothing. So I followed that path based on what people were saying and what they wanted, and that's where the idea for Albert's came in.⠀

It was a slow start, but we've had great additions to the block with City Market and The Public House and the Lofts and there's way more going on here now...but of course retail tends to be slow when it's 10 degrees out!⠀

Albert's has evolved into men's items plus Michigan-based businesses that don't have a brick and mortar store. Candles, men's hair care products, etc. People might be able to buy those products online, but it was a unique offering to be able to bring in some of this stuff to celebrate Michigan as well." ⠀
 

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I ask Laura what she see in the future for her two stores. 

"For Ferne, once the Detroit location is moving along and established, I would be interested in a Grand Rapids location as well. I brought Ferne to Bay City because it was something we were missing. Detroit is also missing something like this as well; being a big city, that can change in a year. I think people will start seeing the investment level there, and it's just going to grow more which is great! I would rather a clothing store open up next to me than not because that store can help bring people to me. ⠀

For Albert's, we'll continue to sell online until we can figure out a place where a store like this would work. I toy with the idea of places like Traverse City and Holland where the downtowns are very built up and bringing in millions of tourists every year. But there's more research to be done, I would rather not just plop it somewhere. With brick and mortar, some places the rent the extremely and so you understand why some places only make it a year before going out of business. ⠀

We'll see. I think there's opportunity, but I'll know it when I feel it."

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With two businesses under her belt, I ask her what advice she would give to a new entrepreneur.⠀

“You can have a solid business plan, great projections - but it doesn't always happen the way you anticipate. I work with accountants and consultants and a lot of people who are smarter than me - but those things are still only guesses. When something doesn't work or it has to change, it doesn't mean it's a failure. We get a lot of people who are sad and think that we're closing this store and opening another Ferne in Detroit that it's "because of Bay City" and it's not. It's because I took a risk and this ended up not being the right place for this store - that isn't a bad thing, it's an opportunity.⠀

The people that take the risks needed to open a business have to be able to be honest - if I'm emotionally caught up in this, it's never going to work. It's a business. It's black and white. It either does or it doesn't. The math has to work. I want things to stay here, too - again, I'm not blaming Bay City or this area - it's just as a business owner I have to put resources where they work."⠀

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"Being able to handle adversity is the first thing, because it's so easy to give up. When you first open something, you don't know what to expect - you just keep thinking "I've only had one person here today" or "I've only had ten people come in here today and nobody's buying anything" and you can get in your own head about why things are happening. But it gets worse before it gets better. You can't expect to open the doors, everyone to fly in, buy everything and you make a lot of money. You hear things like that happening, and it's happened to people before, but at the same time, you have to know that you have to go with the flow. Take out all the negative, keep doing what is right.⠀

You can find every reason why you should quit, every day, any time of the day, all day long, but you have to overcome the problems and the things that come to you.”⠀

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