There are many reasons why entrepreneurs might start a business–from being a life-long dream for some to losing a job due to financial and budgetary constraints. Regarding the latter, meet Denise Kulak, a highly-enthusiastic entrepreneur with a positive and infectious attitude. She lost her job three times in ten years, but rebounded in the world of entrepreneurship.
Kulak, is the Chief “Fun” Officer, with other Fun Stuff! an experiential unique creative gift boutique in Birmingham, Michigan. She is a 3rd generation retailer starting with her great grandfather who owned a hardware store in Hamtramck, followed by her father, a store executive with Kmart for forty years. Following their lead, Kulak developed an extensive, broad and diverse business background throughout her career. Many of these experiences are now the foundation for her own business on a daily basis.
Before starting other Fun Stuff two years ago, Kulak started as a cashier at Kmart and has done everything from run a coffee shop in Indianapolis to managing the US distribution for a UK stationery and greeting card company.
I recently interviewed her for thoughts on how corporate restructuring launched her entrepreneurial spirit, the company’s unique name and how she decides which “fun” products are offered to customers.
Lee: When and what drove you to start other FUN STUFF?
Kulak: After losing my job 3 times in 10 years, I decided that’s it. I’m done. Summer of 2012, I set up a test gift shop out of our pole barn in Frankfort, Michigan. I paid for product with severance, set up shop and sold enough in 8 weeks to pay for the product. The test worked. I decided to find a space close to home in Birmingham to set up permanently. I opened in Adams Square two years ago and love it! My inspiration came from my realization I had the education and the skills needed to run a business. All of the challenges of losing my job caused me to reflect and make the decision. It was time for me to cut my own path.
Lee: What skills did you learn from your corporate experience that you use on an ongoing basis?
Kulak: Oh, there are so many! I learned from corporate experiences and working for entrepreneurs. Avon gave me an intensive training of direct selling techniques and presentation skills. Kmart increased my knowledge of pricing, product, promotion, distribution, merchandising, financial analysis and inventory control. Saks Fifth Avenue gave me luxury customer experience skills.
Working for entrepreneurs taught me anything is possible and patience pays. Two mentors shape how I operate my business. Dick Dale an independent sales representative shared his selling style, how to develop product, shipping from China, the importance of networking, and saying yes, then figuring it out. Goddie Quaye walked me through international currency exchange rates, communication operating a US business with management in the UK, tax and profit implications, and clean accounting.
Lee: You have a unique name–one that plays on fun. What’s the story behind it and why did you choose it?
Kulak: Starting as an extension of Gary Kulak Sculpture, other Fun Stuff is similar to a sidekick in a cartoon! I am “Fun Stuff” complementing the fine artist and renowned sculptor, Gary Kulak. The store is other Fun Stuff! Five years ago, before I started the shop, Gary was putting a sign at the road in front of our place in Frankfort for his business. The sign read “Gary Kulak Sculpture”. I said where am I? Gary said what do you want to be? I said, other FUN STUFF!” The finished sign reads, “Gary Kulak Sculpture….and other Fun Stuff!”
Lee: As an entrepreneur, what advice would you give to others are thinking about starting a business?
Kulak: Think it, Do it. Have a dream. Have faith. Believe in yourself. Act. It takes planning, hard work, and energy. Love what you do. Live what you do. Be true to you.
Get up each day and move in a direction. Take advantage of opportunities and know everything will not work out exactly as planned. Being an entrepreneur is exciting and energizing. It is also difficult and challenging. There is no greater joy in creating your own destiny and no greater defeat than letting yourself down. Go for it!
Lee: Conversely, what would you tell others who may have hit the proverbial wall for growth?
Kulak: Overcoming adversity is the character building part! Know if you are honest with yourself, open your mind, keep going, anything is possible. Believing anything is possible leads to anything is possible. Everything begins and ends with faith and belief. If you don’t believe in you, who does? Pick yourself up, pull up the boot straps, get out of your comfort zone, get help if you need it, ask questions, and don’t stop until you have the answer. Sometimes the hill is straight up. Remember the roller coaster comes down and is fun! Picture it!
Lee: You go out of your way to sell products your customers are seeking. How do you determine products to sell? In other words, how do you research your market?
Kulak: I’m focused on every product having a story and every customer sharing one. I listen to customers, attend trade shows, art fairs, shop competition and use my 20+ years experience in the industry.
One customer suggests an item, I listen. Second customer asks for a similar item, I take note. Third customer comes in and asks for the same item, I try it. This works for me.
Many products from companies I’ve had personal experience working with or knowing. For example, Avanti greeting cards (local, good people, American Made), Bear Necessities and Eli Tea (my Blackstone Launchpad entrepreneur colleagues) and Baggallini (handbag line my customers suggested).
Lee: You also provide opportunities for those wanting to reach you when you’re not there. In other words, haven’t you opened your store if a person calls you and you’ll come in. Please explain your approach.
Kulak: My approach is simple. People are more important than product. My shop is 4 blocks from my house and I am committed to the community. With this in mind, I have a sign on my door when my shop is closed that reads, “Fun Stuff is out having fun. If you need Fun Stuff NOW! Call or text 248-760-9749. Most likely I am very close and can open just for you.” Last year, people called me wanting to open after hours. I met them at the store and opened just for them.
Lee: Other thoughts?
Kulak: Success is not about an individual, it is about the relationships, partnerships, friendships, and alliances created over a lifetime. I’d like to thank my friends at Walsh College, Blackstone Launchpad, Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce, and Inforum Professional Women’s Alliance for providing the support and foundation for me to have the courage to grow in business knowing I have solid allies who are always willing to help. My friends, family, and community are also most important. Businesses are not successful in a vacuum, it does take a village. Thank you to all of you who have touched me and given me the confidence to continue on my path.