North Star Fine Jewelry of Sarasota County
When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Susan North decided to stop and take a good look at her life. She asked herself if she was living out her lifelong dreams, and if she wasn’t, how could she start turning them into reality? After living in Arkansas for 20 years, North and her husband decided to move to the Sarasota area, but that’s not the only big change she decided to make.
“It was during COVID, when my husband and I decided to play a game,” North said. “We asked ourselves if we could be anywhere in the world, doing anything we wanted to be doing, where would we be and what would that look like? We knew that we wanted to end up living in Sarasota eventually, so we just kind of expedited things. I decided my dream come true would be to own a fine jewelry and gift boutique in downtown Sarasota. So, I actually went online to Google, “jewelry stores for sale in Sarasota,” and there was one! So, I took that as my sign and it became the first step in my journey.”
North began putting the pieces of her dream business together. That’s when she created North Star Fine Jewelry and Gift Boutique, a unique destination for the luxury buyer that sells one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces, as well as lovely gift accessories. However, because North was new to the area and wished to network with local Sarasota businesses, she began to seek guidance. That’s when she got connected with the Florida SBDC at University of South Florida.
“Having a dream is just a starting point. Turning the dream into reality is a whole other story,” North said. “My husband and I spent the last 20 years in Arkansas, where I was an IHOP franchisee for most of that time. This was an ultimate “pivot” move and big change of careers for me. I didn’t have the necessary relationships established yet in Florida. I was fortunate enough to connect with Scott from the SBDC, who referred me to Brad Owens, who became both my mentor and biggest cheerleader.
Scott Carpenter is the Florida SBDC at USF’s business consultant based in Sarasota County, while Owens is a capital access specialist based in the Tampa office. North said she feels as though she has received an unmeasurable amount of guidance and support and has successfully leveraged that support to build her business.
“One of the best tools that Scott and Brad introduced me to was the LivePlan,” she said. “It really became the blueprint of my business. The LivePlan provides a basic outline of expenses and services that need to be itemized on your P&L during the development process and more importantly after the doors open for business. Completing proper due diligence is crucial to your business’s financial success. Brad was able to introduce me to a number of local banks here in Florida and advise me how to best approach them, increasing my odds to secure the funds needed.”
North credits the pandemic for encouraging her to jumpstart her ambitions of building her dream boutique. However, she learned quickly that securing a loan for a retail brick and mortar in the jewelry industry, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, wasn’t the ideal situation.
“Brad’s expertise and knowledge of negotiating with bank lenders and navigating the SBA loan process was instrumental in overcoming the many obstacles I was confronted with,” she said. North is grateful for the help of her consultants at the Florida SBDC at USF.
“During COVID-19, banks were not as generous or giving as many bank loans, especially to new businesses; someone like myself who has only been in the jewelry business for a few years,” North said. “Brad at the SBDC at USF helped me translate how my previous years in the restaurant industry prepared me for this new endeavor. His constant encouragement enabled me to remain focus even on the days that I was frustrated and feeling really challenged. He took the time to get to know me and understand what I was about. He believed in me. When I got my bank loan approved, one of the first people I called was Brad at the Florida SBDC at USF. It was great to share the news with him. We had made it over the finish line together!”
Moving forward, North is excited to see where the future of her business takes her, and she plans to have the Florida SBDC at USF by her side every step of the way.
“There’s a lot of marketing opportunities, things I’m still learning about, especially social media,” she said. “What’s great about having access to a facility like the Florida SBDC at USF is that there are always solutions and answers to our questions. All we need to do is reach out. I know that if I have any questions at all, all I need to do is pick up the phone, call Brad, and we will get connected with each other.”