Open For Business
Mother-daughter Duo Finding Success With Secret Garden, Magnolia & Fig Shops
Some mother-daughter pairs love to shop with each other. They seek out the latest styles and the best bargains as well as enjoy quality time with one another. Other mothers and daughters avoid a retail excursion at all costs because they have different tastes, budgets and aggravation tolerance levels. Cheryl Susemichel and her daughter, Stephanie, have a unique retail relationship that goes far beyond what most mothers and daughters experience together.
Cheryl has been the proud owner of Secret Garden for nearly 23 years. Over the years, she has moved locations and added inventory, but her love of gardening and her desire to give customers unique gardening products has never wavered. She is now experiencing a new kind of joy that comes from seeing her daughter, Stephanie, find success as the owner of Magnolia & Fig, a clothing boutique that shares 1,000 square feet of space with Secret Garden.
Stephanie has long had an eye for color, form and line, so it makes sense that clothing and jewelry would be her niche.
“When she was three years old, she was little Cyndi Lauper,” Cheryl says. “She’s always been extremely talented, even from an early age, at putting things together. Sometimes she’d put on all her favorite things all at the same time.”
Although Stephanie has a bachelor of fine arts in painting, she always wanted to be in retail.
“I knew I wanted to have my own store, but I didn’t know it would be clothing,” Stephanie says.
The entrepreneurial gene dates back to her grandparents, and she gained experience from a young age when she would accompany her mom to Atlanta, Georgia, where they attended the AmericasMart, a market that features gift, merchandise and apparel items.
“I started her, when she was working for me, with doing some buying. She’s very good at picking good-looking things,” Cheryl says.
Selecting products is a time-consuming endeavor that takes a lot of research. Cheryl spends time with sales representatives as well as reading gardening, retailer, garden center and landscaping magazines.
“I’m constantly feeding myself with material so I can see the new things that people are going to be decorating with,” Cheryl says.
Stephanie differs in that most of her research is done online, although she does go to market twice a year. She also has to think beyond just what individual pieces she likes and thinks her customers will like. She has to think of entire outfits and combinations that will work together to give her clients a range of style options.
Buying for Secret Garden is much different from buying for Magnolia & Fig.
“We run a business really similarly, but clothing is so different from gardening and home accessories,” Stephanie says. “Clothing is so seasonal. If you don’t sell a dress in three months, it’s pretty much worthless. It’s not like you can sell a Derby dress this time of year. You have to move it out.”
She is thankful for her mom’s guidance over the years, which has helped her learn the discipline that is necessary to order just enough and pay bills on time.
“I have told Stephanie how important it is to stay on top of trends and try to get items before her competition does,” Cheryl says. “I’ve told her to always be honest in her business, with her employees and her customers.”
One of the most important pieces of advice her mom has given her is about being an owner who models a strong work ethic.
“Mom’s really big about, ‘Don’t ask your employees to do it, if you’re not willing to do it,’” Stephanie says. “You can’t expect your staff to work hard if you don’t work hard.”
Being back in Middletown has been a real treat for Cheryl. She has moved a couple times over the past two decades and learned valuable lessons from those experiences. The realtor adage “Location, location, location” is especially true for retail establishments. One of the things she loves about being back in Middletown is the high visibility of the space.
“I also love that it’s 5,000 square feet which is perfect,” she says. “I love that a lot of my customers that I had in 2000 when I was in old Middletown are happy I’m here.”
High visibility has been a boon for Magnolia & Fig, too, and at the beginning of 2019, it will expand into the space next door to Secret Garden. The new space is 2,700 square feet, which more than doubles the boutique’s current size.
“I knew pretty soon after opening that when a space became available I was going to want to look at it,” Stephanie says. “It was always my intent to grow the store.”
She is excited to put in fitting rooms, change the flooring and paint and make it her own.
The 1,000 square feet that has housed Magnolia & Fig will once again be Cheryl’s domain, and she has exciting plans for it. She will create a walking path with fountains and flowers in faux beds.
“You’ll feel like you’re walking through a garden,” she says. The middle of the space will be used for Fusion Mineral Paints classes and workshops.
Magnolia & Fig’s move next door is both exciting and a little nerve-wracking, which is why planning is essential, whether the risk is expanding or selecting items for the store. Stephanie has learned to listen to her gut instinct and modulate entrepreneurial risks. Sometimes she takes a chance on buying a unique piece of apparel, but she takes steps to ensure that risk is well-managed.
“When the item gets here, you merchandise it, you have a staff that’s trained to sell it, and you help people know how to wear it,” Stephanie says. “That makes it a lot less scary if it’s a piece you took a risk on. Having a plan ahead of time makes it not as big of a risk.”
Cheryl has passed on her love of retail to her daughter, and while they focus on different merchandise, they share a passion for what they sell and how much they value their customers. Stephanie loves Magnolia & Fig’s rayon bamboo basics.
“Our leggings are the best on the planet,” she says. “They are my number one selling item.”
She calls herself a jewelry fiend and carries handmade pieces that she is passionate about. Cheryl loves Secret Garden’s chimes, candles and landscape-grade tools, but she says it is hard for her to select her favorites out of all the merchandise she carries.
“When you buy it and pick it all out, it’s like they’re all your babies,” Stephanie says.
When it comes to thinking about the future of their retail operations, Stephanie says to open a Magnolia & Fig in Savannah, Georgia would be her “pinch-me” experience, while Cheryl holds out hope to one day be featured in “Southern Living” magazine. Cheryl may be sowing the seeds of entrepreneurship in Stephanie’s toddler son, Emerson. She is teaching him how to garden and sharing her love of flowers with him. Who knows, one day he may take over his “Noni’s” Secret Garden, continuing the multi-generational retail relationship.
Secret Garden and Magnolia & Fig are located at 12621 Shelbyville Rd.