When the Orange County company was sold to an Australian concern, the president, Bill, Barry, myself and several others were cut loose, and we scattered throughout the country. Not yet having relocated my family, we were impacted somewhat less.
With my severance package, I decided to start something locally, and we soon found a new development, an indoor mall, close to our home, and decided to start a couple of businesses, which my wife and I could each run.
Since there was a food court in the mall, we decided that a coffee shop would probably go well, and so, Harley’s was born.
The mall was designed to include 70 shops, each ranging between 160 and 215 square feet at ground level, with a second level of approximately half again that, accessed by a steel ladder. Each shop was secured by a steel roll-up curtain at its front entrance, and included a ½ bath upstairs. Rent ran about $1.40 per square foot, but as new construction, was delivered to each proprietor in very basic condition – bare concrete floor and concrete block walls, with utilities brought only to the perimeter of the locale. It fell to each individual to install all electrical and plumbing, flooring and wall covering. This, for Harley’s, meant an additional investment of around $10,000, to prepare the location, and outfit it with refrigerators, freezer, counters and such. I selected the location nearest the mall entrance from the parking lot, and began preparations.
I decided to start out with coffee, cappuccino, soft drinks, hotdogs, nachos and other snacks, but soon expanded the offering to include an assortment of ice creams and smoothies.
Simultaneously, I prepared another locale, located immediately inside the front entrance to the mall, for Coco’s venture. She had decided upon a beauty supply, which she named Beauty Unlimited, a name suggested by my mother. The initial investment here was similar to Harley’s, although because the area was somewhat larger, the rent was higher. Coco set about establishing relationships with various suppliers, and began stocking her shelves, only with premium quality products.
Both of us saw some initial success, and since we both prepaid all our expenses (except for rent and utilities), we were cautiously optimistic about the future.
When we first started out, we were among the first occupants, totaling only seven shops. Eventually, over a period of several months, occupancy grew to a maximum of thirty four. At less than 50% occupancy, the public soon tired of making their way between empty storefronts, to find one that was open. Some shops, that were ill prepared to weather the start up costs, and ups and downs of a fledgling business, failed, and the number of vacant shops increased. The Association tried a number of promotional events, some of which were quite successful, but eventually, it fell to the developer to make good on his promotional promises, as business was falling off.
Meanwhile, Coco had bought out a beauty parlor, which commanded the side entrance to the mall, and was well outfitted. She had already included the application of acrylic nails in Beauty Unlimited, and she now moved that to Beauty Unlimited, Too, and added yet another nail technician. She hired a trained hair stylist that did quite well at helping to establish a clientele. Between the three ventures, we managed to nearly make ends meet, keeping our 12 year old daughter in private school, but falling behind in our home mortgage. (fortunately, the financer on our home was a friend, and was willing to wait for us to get on our feet)
After a year of hand to mouth existence, and a string of broken promises from the developer, we came to the conclusion that things could never improve substantially under those conditions, and decided to pull the plug. We closed our doors, and liquidated the assets, in an effort to recover what we could, from a painful learning experience.
Ain’t it GREAT bein’ in busines for yourself?