by: Candise Montemayor
In September, BrickCity Emporium celebrated its five-year benchmark anniversary. Founded by Fort Smith business leader, Sara Adams, this innovative retail business offers more than a place to shop. It is also a hubspot where new and would-be entrepreneurs can get real advice.
This past year, Sara was nominated for, and won, at the regional Small Business Administration InnovateHer competition. InnovateHer was founded by the SBA as a platform to highlight innovative products and services that improve the lives of women.
“I have always had a vision to help small business in general. But I was unaware, at the time, of the great impact that my business has on women in our community. Winning the award was a nice surprise,” she said.
“We have been referred to as an in person Etsy shop,” Sara explained. The almost 20,000 square foot indoor retail space has a wide-ranging concept that offers everything from home décor and clothing to original art and gourmet foods. A fun and useful advantage to the emporium is how it is organized by streets. Each hall has a street name, such as Yellow Brick Road. “Our research has shown that two-thirds of women still want the experience of shopping in person,” Sara said.
Sara was inspired by Oprah about 20 years ago, when a segment aired in which she opened her backyard to friends who set up little businesses where they could buy from each other. Sara added her own creative spin as she thought about all the holiday markets and festivals she had visited. Those vendors were making product all year round and she could see how many of them could benefit from a permanent location to sell their goods.
“Many of the vendors also have day jobs and need someone to sell their products for them,” Sara added as she explained how all the bits and pieces came together for her business, which is now helping so many realize their dreams. Sara offers a low overhead retail opportunity for women entrepreneurs. Additionally, she provides real tools to help them become successful retailers.
Incorporating education into the business model, she offers literature that helps each shop owner learn about current Small Business Administration programs. There is dedicated meeting space where entrepreneurs can meet with Startup Junkie Consulting of Northwest Arkansas. The firm offers free one-on-one professional consulting to anyone in the community.
Vendors not only have the option of starting with space as small as a two-foot wall, but BrickCity Emporium also provides staff to assist customers and ring up sales. There is a process in place for everything from space rentals to inventory control to sales and the proper collection of sales tax and distribution of revenue back to the vendor.
Sara has come to realize that the Emporium is a very successful business incubator. “I hope to inspire any person who has a dream to have their own business. That’s our mission—to empower others to achieve that dream,” she emphasized. The consulting and educational services help to retain existing vendors, as well as to encourage new vendor additions.
Sara advises, “There comes a point in every dream when it gets difficult. It’s important to be engaged with your community and do your due diligence. There are so many resources to help you.”
A crucial piece of advice she offers retailers is to know your seasons. Sara developed a calendar that helps her vendors know when to prepare for their seasons. She wants to make sure everyone who is a part of BrickCity gets a lot more than just space. “We don’t want to see anyone fail,” Sara emphasized.
The Emporium’s volume of sales has grown 230% since opening. Sara has plans to expand to 10 locations in the next five years. Shop BrickCity Emporium at 3215 South 74th
Street, call them at (479)434-5858, or find them online at brickcityemporium.com.
Candise Montemayor is a seasoned journalist and freelance writer/photographer who has been published in newspapers and magazines throughout Arkansas,Texas and Oregon. She has taught several young adult creative writing classes in the Fort Smith area. She is passionate about community involvement and contributes part-time to the Fort Smith Public library as a teen specialist in the youth services department.