Archived Story

Edwardsburg entrepreneurs all business

Published 5:50pm Tuesday, April 23, 2013



CASSOPOLIS — Their passion for fashion is obvious.


Sophomore Gabby Golba’s dress belt matches junior Sean Billisitz’s shirt worn with a white tie and grey suit as the Edwardsburg students pitch their vision for a youth-oriented (ages 13-29) clothing store at University Park Mall to Jessica Kehrer.


They have a business plan thick as a catalog, supporting material they scroll through on a tablet and brochures for a quick read.


They calculate their rent knowing the going rate is $14 per square foot.


They deconstruct their decisions to cross-train their staff, rotate stock to make it a frequent destination, demand excellent customer service and go after Macy’s with a fun, musical atmosphere and a Deal of the Day mobile app for outfits the owners assemble.


Gabby said her brother, 11, might want to shop at Abercrombie and Fitch, but its dark, perfumed interior turns off parents.


“We don’t want parents to feel uncomfortable. We want to keep it kid-friendly and parent-friendly,” right down to slogans printed on imported T-shirts.


When Sean proffers a business card, it’s an ah-ha moment. Maybe this store already exists.


That’s what four months of early mornings and late nights will do.


“Optimus,” their so-far fictional venture, is Latin for best, and Dowagiac graduate Tanya Lillie’s business technology and management students submitted perhaps the best-developed strategy at Young Entrepreneurs Day, sponsored by Edward Lowe Foundation in partnership with Lewis Cass Intermediate School District career and technical education at the Tower of Tomorrow in Billieville.


Their only apparent weakness was being a bit overdressed for the previous activity, crawling around on the floor, sorting toys while blindfolded, to promote teamwork.


Ironically, they were thrown together at random when both happened to be absent during team selection.


“We were both sick that day,” said Sean, whose mother is an accountant for the South Bend School Corp.


They didn’t know each other very well, as Sean transferred from Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind.


“If I have an opportunity to open up my own store, I’m going to remember this,” but Sean’s foremost interest is business marketing.


They latched onto retail clothing after asking themselves, “Why don’t we do something we actually like?”


“We knew it would be a lot more work than cupcakes or cookies,” said Gabby, who wants to be a physical therapist. “We knew this would be worth it because we know what we’re talking about and know what customers like because we are customers.”


“You guys did a fantastic job,” Kehrer said.


Kehrer, a Dowagiac Union High School graduate who attended Central Michigan University, oversees Honor Credit Union branches in Berrien and Cass counties as regional manager. She has a degree in business management majoring in human resources management.


She leads a committee for Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce and serves on the Dowagiac Optimist Club board.



Student business plans



Cassopolis Ross Beatty



Soccer World — Kelvin Curtis


Prestly Family Farms Inc. — Tyler Prestly


ViK’s Tricks — Victoria Pearson



Dowagiac Union High School



R&D Clothing — Ramone Martin


Candy House — Gayla Kiggins


Nire Attire — Erin Corey, Nate Michaels


The Big Dough — Emily Roach


Wrackly Rams — Zane Sams



Edwardsburg High School



Be Beautiful — Tinsley Elliott, Brooke Griffith, Brianna Kinzel, Meredith Mayfield


Optimus — Sean Billisitz, Gabrielle Golba


FreshMeck Cinemas — Alex Freshour, Kolter Mecklenburg


Crazy for Sweets — Camron Crennell, Miranda Karacson, Kendall Black, Jacob Brown


Cookie Monster — Drew Conley, Aubrey Ritchey, Katelynn Rogers



Marcellus High School



Boyer Theaters — Jacob Boyer


The Living Bookshelf — Courtney Hartline


Swartz Farm Repair Shop — Nathan Swartz


Mac Blasting — April Brown



Critiquing plans



Jason Dillenbeck, Honor Credit Union branch manager for Dowagiac and Niles and a former small business owner with more than 19 years experience in customer service; Lorie Bowers, a State Farm agent and vice president of Edwardsburg Chamber of Commerce; Dan Duchesneau, special assistant to the dean of advanced technologies at Southwestern Michigan College; he has a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Central Michigan University, attended the U.S. Navy Propulsion School and a Michigan residential builder’s license; Susan Klemm, president of Christianson Industries in Edwardsburg; Walt Smiles, manager and owner of Christianson Industries and a banker for 13 years; Jack Strayer, a Washington lobbyist for 30 years who is raising the funds for the Berrien Youth Equestrian Center and Expo for the Berrien County Youth Fair; Joan Strebeck, lead instructor for the SMC office administration program and coordinator for the School of Business internship program; Richard Judd, owner of Judd Lumber Co. in Dowagiac; and Dr. Ronald Herr, who teaches in the SMC School of Business after a 35-year career in four major industries — not-for-profit, insurance, health care and education.



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