Making HerStory

Karla Kritz and Deb Holten: Vibrant Entrepreneurs

Melessa worked with Karla and Deb years ago at a seasonal giftware company.  Karla was her boss, and she was an incredible mentor to Melessa, particularly teaching her the importance of pacing herself.  Karla and Deb worked there together for fifteen years, before Deb left to become a buyer for a national retail store.

When Karla was downsized in March, she didn’t want to retire, but she was not looking forward to getting up every day and looking for a job that she wasn’t passionate about.  She and Deb toyed with the idea of opening a popup store, but soon realized that the costs would be more than a lease.  Then they checked out a space in St. Paul, and they immediately knew it was the perfect space in the perfect location to open their new clothing and home decor shop: Vibrant Decor and Style.  It opened just last month.  Brace yourselves.  It’s gorgeous AND affordable (a delightfully dangerous combo during the holidays)!

“Vibrant” is a buzz word in the media right now.  It refers to whatever makes you feel alive, from personal expression to how you feather your nest to how you relate to others.  Karla and Deb knew that it would be the perfect name for their store that encapsulates all the joys of life, including home decor, gardening, cooking,clothing, jewelry and gifts.  No detail has been overlooked in their gorgeous space.  The biggest challenge for shoppers is knowing what to choose!  But there were definitely some challenges for Deb and Karla along the way to making this dream come true.

Deb and Karla in Vibrant Decor and Style

Deb Holten (left) and Karla Kritz are fulfilling their dreams of being entrepreneurs.

Since Deb was a buyer at Herberger’s department store in her twenties, she has wanted to own her own store, but life kept interrupting: her parents got divorced, she got married, her husband became ill, her stepfather died. But Deb’s dream never wavered.  Over the decades, she gained more experience and contacts, and she traveled around the world.  She says, “It was all those experiences that helped to put this store together.”

Karla agrees.  She says, “Even though this is scary, it is a joy to use a broader range of talents than a regular job.  Doing this is really keeping me young.”  Karla had never dreamed of having her own store, mainly because she literally grew up in retail.  From ages 11 to 23, she worked in her parents’ hardware store.  A week before the pair signed the lease for Vibrant, Karla started having second thoughts.  Deb recalls, “I was trying to figure out how to open the store on my own, and I almost fell out of my chair when Karla called and said she would do it!”

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Karla knew she wanted to take the chance, but she was afraid.  She laughingly explains her decision to take the leap of faith, “I figured, ‘What have I got to lose, except a lot of money?'”  She says, “It’s different when it’s your own store [instead of just somewhere you work].  Deb and I have much more invested in it.  We’re hoping to be part of the neighborhood rather than just being a commercial venture.”

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Karla and Deb wanted to open their shop in a fun, friendly neighborhood that wasn’t overrun with corporate influence like some areas of the city have become in recent years.  When they checked out the shop space on Selby, they knew they’d found Vibrant’s home.  It even has a basement, which Karla and Deb sublease to some friends who run a fantastic consignment store called Re-Vibe out of it.  It’s full of retro and retro-inspired home decor for every budget.

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Some of the obstacles Deb and Karla have run into have been adjusting for their personality differences and defining roles (they settled on Karla running operations and Deb being the art director).  They each find it helpful to have a partner, so they can divide and conquer tasks.  They both do the shopping, however.

Although they have the same interests, these two strong women don’t always agree on what to stock.  But they even found a workaround for that: they’re each granted 3% of the stock that the other partner doesn’t have to agree on!  It might seem like a tiny percentage, but it’s a great buffer that keeps their friendship afloat within their partnership.  Karla stresses, “We made a commitment to get the job done.  We put our personal interests aside to make that happen.”

Deb’s favorite part of the process of opening the store was seeing it come together before the opening.  She says, “We’d work on it in parts, pulling twelve hour days, but then it was so great to finally see it come together on time.”

Karla agrees, with a pretty clear reminder, “Opening a store is like giving birth, but you still have to raise the kid!”  Their constant challenge now is trying to define themselves and their store, especially with the shift in seasons and stock.  They work hard to focus on the big picture and set goals to make it happen.  Karla says, “That’s key.  We have to be objective when dealing with problems.”  Then she adds with a smile, “And a little denial that anything bad could happen always helps!”

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Their advice to hopeful entrepreneurs speaks volumes.  Deb says to do your research and work in the field you’re most interested in to gain experience.  After that, “Follow your passion.  If you really believe in it after you’ve done those first two things, just go for it.”

Karla says, “You can’t think about everything that’ll go wrong. Face the fact that everything won’t go your way.  There will be highs and lows.  Even though everyone loves our store, we still have the challenges of how to meet deadlines, pay expenses, and balance our home life (which hasn’t happened yet…but we’re hopeful).”

It’s also important to both women to support and empower people who are struggling.  To that end, they stock an extensive line of jewelry called Béljoy.  It is made by people in Haiti who have been taught how to make quality jewelry from locally sourced materials like clay and paper beads, bone, and horn.

When Deb and Karla first saw the line at a booth in Dallas, they both stopped in their tracks.  It was completely different from anything else there, and the beautiful handcraftsmanship was definitely unique.  Karla and Deb are hoping to source more lines with an outreach focus, because, Karla says, “Life is challenging, and you need the beautiful things to lift yourself out of it sometimes.”

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If you’re in the Twin Cities, don’t miss Vibrant’s holiday open house on Small Business Saturday, November 26, from 10am-6pm.  They’ll have treats, and the first thirty customers will receive a Mix & Mingle treat bag.  You can also register to win an outdoor holiday planter worth $100, a Vibrant gift certificate, and more!  Mention the savings code “Mix & Mingle” to get $5 off your purchase of $25 or more.  Check out Vibrant’s website for location info, and follow them on Facebook to receive their style and decorating tips!

 

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3 Comments

  • Reply
    Laura and Melessa
    November 23, 2016 at 10:09 am

    We love this store! And yes, we purchased a few things for ourselves;)

  • Reply
    Melinda Pollard
    November 23, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Amazing story and the store is absolutely stunning!!!

    • Reply
      Laura and Melessa
      November 23, 2016 at 11:11 am

      Thanks, Melinda! We both walked out of there with full shopping bags! 🙂

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