IN FOCUS – SMALL BUSINESS – Feathering the 'Nest'

Posted on Dec 7, 2012 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Interior designer and store owner Pamela Butler Channel aims to make her Sheboygan store Nest a destination for seekers of fine home wares and gifts.

Style, ambience are keys to Sheboygan home store’s success

The very word “nest” elicits feelings of coziness, warmth and home, and that’s the kind of atmosphere Pamela Butler Channel envisioned when she opened her Sheboygan shop home interiors/design store Nest 10 years ago. And it must be working.

One customer even asked if she could just stop by and sit and read in the comfy shop.

Having an inviting ambience, inspiring and eclectic offerings and personal service – along with a design philosophy best described as “eclectic-ing,” (eclectic collecting) – has allowed Butler Channel to live out her design fantasies while building Nest into a successful business.

In addition to interior design services, the shop in the city’s downtown features an ever-changing, and carefully selected, mélange of quality bedding, tableware, furniture, giftware and children’s items.

“A lot of a store like this is sharing with your customers what makes it special,” says Butler Channel. “The most fun is seeing someone get as excited about it as you are.”

Childhood entrepreneur

Butler Channel got the entrepreneurial bug really early. As a child in Iowa, she would ride her bike one and a half miles to town to buy gumballs and candy and then sell them to neighborhood kids (after a small mark-up, of course!). And when she wanted to have a lemonade stand, her mother urged her to buy the supplies herself. Still, these ventures were tough with very little traffic in her rural town.

“I’ve always had tenacity, and I have a lot of entrepreneurs in my family,” she admits. So starting Nest was just another challenge.

More than 10 years ago, Butler Channel – a married mother of two – was the family breadwinner, working as a copywriter at the nearby Kohler Company. She had been working nights and weekends doing interior design, but after Sept. 11, 2001, she decided to follow her dream and open Nest.

“You see people react to something tragic in different ways,” she says. For Butler Channel, there wouldn’t be a more opportune time to open the shop. “I’d always had this in the back of my head,” she says. But she soon faced roadblocks.

She says being female and seeking a small loan for a niche business was difficult. “I had interviews with three banks, and only one (representative) showed up,” she recalls. After finally securing a Small Business Administration loan, writing her own business plan and using $10,000 of her own savings, Butler Channel opened Nest in 2002.

“It was a happy place for me,” she says, but realized it needed to be more than that. “It was make money or I would go back to work,” she adds. “I was not going to give up.” That determination helped Nest be profitable its first year – that and a carefully curated inventory. “We do a lot of research behind the scenes,” says Butler Channel, who sources items from more than 100 Midwest artists and also features fair trade toys and other offerings from global artisans. “Not every customer cares where (an item) came from, but I do.

“It costs more to have things made in a conscientious manner. These are investment pieces, quality pieces,” says Butler Channel.

After an expansion a few years ago, Nest moved to a 2,000-square-foot venue on Eighth Street and now houses about $180,000 in inventory, including wooden beds handcrafted by her carpenter husband.

Butler Channel says the recession impacted the business, but, interestingly, when the recession hit, her interior design division – now about 40 percent of her business – really took off.

The mantra of “location, location, location” isn’t lost on Butler Channel, who remembers it well from her days of hawking lemonade and candy. And while Sheboygan isn’t a large city – around 50,000 – Butler Channel notes, “the local people really carry you through.” Summers and holidays are especially busy, with tourists visiting the lakefront, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the Weill Center and Blue Harbor Resort.

Having a location downtown also helps energize the city itself, according to Betsy Alles, executive director of the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce.

“Shops like Nest set the bar and appeal to the tourists and residents who love the dining and shopping experience of this small urban environment…it’s one of those very special places that magnetizes the downtown, creates a loyal following and adds to the total experience in a very high quality way,” she said inan email message. “Shops like Nest, so lovingly and expertly designed, are a huge service to residents and visitors alike.”

After moving to the region more than 15 years ago, Butler Channel now feels like she has found her little “nest,” and she credits it to following a dream, but having the foresight to plan ahead.

“It’s logic-based. You cannot risk your life savings and your family’s welfare if you don’t have a good idea,” she says.

A CLOSER LOOK

Nest, 823 N. Eighth St., Sheboygan
www.nesthomestore.com