Polish immigrant and veteran Barbara Jozwik Kent opened a boutique with her sister, Joanna, with huge success. Here’s how a business credit card helped the pair get started.
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Barbara and Joanna Jozwik
Barbara Jozwik Kent and her sister, Joanna, immigrated to the United States from Poland as children. They watched their mother work hard to put food on the table. They learned that success is achievable with grit, determination and education.
In 2014, after both sisters faced major life changes, they regrouped and started their own business: Birdy Boutique. The boutique is a baby and children’s e-commerce site that offers uniquely designed and branded products. Their premier item was a car seat poncho that allows children who are wearing puffy winter coats to be safely buckled into car seats with no gaps. Soon, a variety of products followed – and quickly became solid sellers.
Birdy Boutique is headquartered in Armada, Michigan, and conducts sales through its own website, as well as Esty, eBay, Amazon, Walmart and Jet. Kent also aims to have Target carry their products on its website.
The e-commerce business model made the most sense to Kent. She was medically retired from the Army after 16 years of service but didn’t want to stop working. Since her husband was and is still an active-duty soldier, she needed to be able to run the business no matter where they were stationed.
“My goal was to generate extra income so that I could travel with my kids, show them amazing places and expose them to different cultures – all things that my family didn’t have the resources to do when I was a child,” says Kent. “It is extremely satisfying to take a trip and not worry about expenses and know that I earned the money for it! In addition, we use the funds for retirement savings.”
Outside of the financial benefit, Kent says owning a business is intellectually and emotionally satisfying. She values being able to work closely with her sister who is also a business partner. “I’m setting a great example for my kids by teaching them about entrepreneurship and having all the freedom and independence of decision-making,” says Kent.
Here’s how a credit card is helping to increase Birdy Boutique’s profit margin, as well as being an overall useful tool.
What was the beginning like for you?
My sister and I tiptoed around the idea for too long before jumping into it. Deciding to start the business was the hardest part. Sometimes, it’s better to have everything 90 percent ready and to go for it. As opposed to waiting until you have every detail worked out, only to lengthen the time it takes to open up. It only required us to invest about $1,000 and it could have been done with less.
Each year, our business has grown incredibly, and I am so proud to see the products I designed and ideas I created on large platforms such as Amazon and Walmart. I am also incredibly proud to be a certified disabled veteran-owned business through the National Veteran-Owned Business Association, which holds the highest standards for certification.
Did any surprise costs catch you off guard?
Yes, in our type of business, there were lots of additional expenses with Amazon fees – especially those for storage.
Amazon is always recalculating their storage fees, so we have learned to be very careful with how much inventory we send in to sit at the company for their “Fulfillment by Amazon” service. If you have too much inventory that does not sell within 30 days, many extra fees are assessed.
How have you been using credit cards for the business?
We have the PNC Cash Rewards Visa Signature Business card. It’s a cash back card, and we chose it because it works conveniently with our business bank account. The rewards are perks, for sure.
One of the main ways we use the credit card is to assist with buying inventory upfront. The more inventory we can order in advance, the better the manufacturing and shipping import rates become.
Therefore, the credit line helps us to purchase these expenses up front and we pay the balance off as we sell the inventory. We charge all kinds of things for the business, though, such as samples, materials, packaging and shipping. We also use it for everything for the office including utilities, internet and business travel expenses.
What have you learned about borrowing money along the way?
Credit is a convenient perk that helps grow your business. However, having the balance paid off promptly is a very serious goal that we follow! As a rule, we don’t carry debt over for long, and try to pay it all off within 60 days.
Any wisdom or encouragement to pass on to prospective entrepreneurs?
If you have a business idea that you believe in, go for it. As long as you have done your research and think there is space in the market for your idea or plan, don’t worry about what others say.
Believe in yourself and push forward, giving it 110 percent of your energy! I believe that anyone can start a business, at any point in their lives. The best thing you can do is learn as you go and then adapt when you need to. Use your knowledge and experience and just take the leap!