The Joy of New Beginnings
Talking to the business advisor with West Company was like this huge weight off shoulders…Knowing someone else is looking at it too, someone with experience and resources, and someone who wants to help.
The love of community can be found in the inviting and cozy atmosphere that fills Mendo Baby, a children’s consignment store located in downtown Ukiah. Anyone who spends any amount of time there will quickly discover this is the inspiration that drives it forward.
“I want people to feel like this is a safe space,” explained store owner Jasmin Blanc, “When we have downtown events, I like to be open so I have a changing table in the back that is fully stocked. People know that they can come and sit in here and nurse their baby in a safe, quiet and comfortable place. People come in and hang out in the play area just for the sake of letting their child play. I love that. I am just happy to provide a space, as a service for people.”
The store has a 20-year history in the community as a children’s consignment store. Before Blanc took it over, it was known as Mendocino Baby for ten years, and before that it was called Baby Boom for ten years. Prior to buying, Blanc was a patron of Mendocino Baby, first starting to come there when she was pregnant with her first daughter to take some of the classes offered, such as breastfeeding support.
Blanc is a native of Ukiah, who, with her husband, has two children of her own, two daughters, one two and half and one four and half year old.
“I love it here. My husband and I are both born and raised here and our families are here. It is really true what they say that it takes a village to raise a child. I can’t imagine someone who is all alone somewhere with no support system. Our families have just been totally tremendously supportive of all of our choices in life,” said Blanc.
When the previous owners announced they were selling the store on their tenth anniversary, Blanc, having always wanted to own her own company and who was searching for change in her life, decided that it was just the opportunity she was looking for.
“I was in this place in my life where I was working at a job I had been at for ten years that was making really good money and it had incredible benefits, but it was just killing my soul. I was dying inside. And for a couple years I would just pray about opportunities,” shared Blanc.
Blanc quit her job as an office manager for a labor union and dove head first into the project. With little retail or business experience, she had to learn all in-outs of running a retail business.
Blanc invested time in beautifying the store space to create a warm and supportive environment for expectant moms. “Before [the space] was just dank and dingy, and I was like, I just want to come in and love you. You can really feel the love when you come into this place, and the feedback from the community has been really profound and heartwarming and really encouraging,” said Blanc, who received Business of the Year last year through the Ukiah Main Street Business Program.
“Before I knew it the community came to me and said can I use your space to teach a class; I need a support group; have you thought about doing this. So I just started filling up my calendar with events,” said Blanc.
In the past two years, Blanc has expanded upon what the store offered, from an assortment of new, used and locally-crafted products as well as an amazing array of free educational classes, events and support groups.
And while, the journey so far has been extremely rewarding, she says it has also been difficult.
“I was so blind by my own excitement, and by my own vision that I didn’t see the bumpy path before me. I did not anticipate the seasonal roller coaster, the financial roller coaster, nothing is ever stable,” explained Blanc.
After two years, Blanc says she was struggling to make a profit outside of the holiday season, let alone pay off her massive loan. Eventually, she realized she needed help to continue providing valuable services to her community, so she reached out to West Company, a local non-profit that supports small business growth.
“I knew I needed help with certain areas that I couldn’t devote the time, energy and attention to myself either for lack of knowledge or lack of time,” explained Blanc who is currently the primary person, with some help from her sister, manning her store requiring her to work six to seven days a week.
She had heard of West Company before, but never reached out because she was unsure of how much they could help her, but in retrospect she says she wishes she had contacted them sooner.
“I should have reached out to them when I was in the bargaining phase. I did not realize they assisted with the acquisition of businesses. I would have negotiated something way better,” explained Blanc
Blanc has started working with West Company to improve her bookkeeping, marketing and branding, and is receiving help from a range of experts and educational meetings. Improvement in these areas will help Blanc to better understand her business to see where she needs to focus her energy, as well as how she can expand.
“It has been comforting to have validation that I am not a crazy person that I am not working so hard for nothing. It is building something. Talking to the business advisor with West Company was like this huge weight off shoulders…Knowing someone else is looking at it too, someone with experience and resources, and someone who wants to help. It is really cool that everything that they have provided so far to me has been free,” explained Blanc.
Blanc is not sure what the future of the store will look like, but she feels grateful that, despite the difficulties, she can be a resource to the community she knows and loves.
I love it and I don’t regret it for a single moment. I shed so many tears, but my heart is so full. It has all been incredibly rewarding. I love the community and I just love the people that I serve. I must, why I would want to be here otherwise?” said Blanc.
Mendo Baby is located at in downtown Ukiah at 198 South School Street. They are open six days a week, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m to 5 p.m and from 10 a.m to 6 p.m on Saturday.