In her own words: Clothing reseller Jennifer Cole
Name/title: Jennifer Cole/Owner, Once Upon a Child
Number of years in this job: 5
Years in this profession: If you call customer service a profession, 30 years. But as far as being a business owner, about six years.
Education: I graduated from UNR with a BA in English, and I got a masters in English from Claremont Graduate University in Southern California. I graduated from Wooster in 1989
Last book read: I just finished a book called “The First 20 Minutes,” by Gretchen Reynolds. It’s about athletic training and health issues.
Favorite flick: “Singing in the Rain”
What’s on your iPod: Mostly audiobooks. I constantly try to find time to read. Also the latest Elvis Costello and the Roots, and Steely Dan is on the rotation.
Spouse, kids or pets: I married my high school sweetheart, Jason Cole. We have been married for 13 years, and we have known each other for 22 years. We have two daughters, Ruby, 10, and Stella, 8. We have two dogs: Midge is a Labrador retriever/boxer mix, and Spike is unknown.
Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about Once Upon a Child and your job.
Jennifer Cole: We try to provide a fun and easy way for people to buy gently used kid’s items. We buy all day every day, all seasons all years. We are always looking for really nice next to new condition clothing, toys furniture, books, etc. I do all the administrative functions such as payroll and bookkeeping. I also lead and manage a staff of approximately 17 employees. I do all the training for buying, plus I am out on the floor about 15 hours a week doing everything my employees do, buying and selling, answering the phone and cleaning the bathroom.
NNBW: How did you get into this?
Cole: I had a very small online children’s resale operation that I did briefly for about six months. It wasn’t really growing or going in the direction I wanted, so I researched opening a storefront. Once Upon a Child has always been the benchmark in the community, so I went into the store to see what they were doing and to refresh my memory on how they did things, and there was a sign in the window that said it was for sale. I made a call and two months later I owned the store. It was the right time and the right place.
NNBW: Have you noticed any dip in sales with the opening of Sippees in Midtown and Recycled Rugrats in Sparks?
Cole: Not particularly. Competition is a good thing, especially in the resale community. Once people get in the mode of buying used, they are more apt to seek it out in other places. There is plenty of room for competition, especially in Reno where we are behind some of the bigger communities like Seattle, Los Angeles or Portland, where resale has been booming for a long time. The competition, we can only help each other.
NNBW: What’s the hardest part of your job?
Cole: The human resources aspect, finding good people, fostering their talents and making sure I am using everybody appropriately. Also the customer service issues that arise — at heart I am an introvert, so sometimes it is a little challenging for me to handle some of the more confrontational aspects.
NNBW: Is this the career you had envisioned for yourself when you were studying English at UNR?
Cole: No, not at all. I had planned to go through graduate school all the way through to a PhD program. I had always thought I would be teaching college-level literature courses at this point in my life. But graduate school, I had idealized it, and it was not what I had envisioned when I really got an inside look at academia. I decided that was not necessarily the path I wanted to take. I decided to take a break after my masters and came back and started working at my old job managing a catering company, and then started working at the Peppermill for a number of years in administration. Then I had a family. It never really came to fruition that I went back to school. I just kind of moved on from that.
NNBW: In the five years you’ve owned your shop, how do you feel you have grown as a business owner?
Cole: Wow — I have learned so much. Everybody tells you that it’s really hard to own your own business, but it’s sort of like childbirth — nobody can really explain to you the gravity of the whole situation; you have to live it for yourself. I have gained amazing amounts of knowledge, from managing people to jumping through hoops when we moved our store by dealing with architects and contractors and the whole permitting process. Every day is a learning experience and I am still constantly learning new things.
NNBW: What do you like most about owning your business?
Cole: This particular small business is incredibly fun. I get to meet lots of really wonderful families and fun and interesting people. Plus I get to basically shop and look through cute and adorable baby stuff everyday without spending my personal money. I also get to help my employees learn how to be good at what they do, and people are very grateful for the items that we provide at about 70 percent off of what they would have to spend at the mall. When people discover us they are just amazed at the selection and the quality for the price that we offer. I really love it when they say, “I wish I would have known about your store when I had my first child” and those types of things.
NNBW: Do you shop here for your own girls?
Cole: Oh my gosh, I don’t shop anywhere else! If I have to, I suffer from dramatic sticker shock. I forget how expensive it is to shop traditional retail. My daughters don’t get new stuff hardly ever. But they are getting old enough now that they are getting very brand-centric. They want Justice, they want Roxy, and they can find them here. A lot of times they ask for something they don’t need, and then they have to pay for it themselves with their allowance. That way they appreciate the value they are getting here versus buying new at Justice. It is a good lesson on how much more they can buy for their money.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Cole: My first job was working for my grandfather, who owned his own newspaper, the Mineral County Independent News in Hawthorne. At age 11 I did classified ad billing and answered phones and checked in paper carriers and other administrative stuff. I worked the summers there.
NNBW: Tell us about your dream job. Why aren’t you working it?
Cole: To own a small breakfast and lunch restaurant. The reason I am not doing it is that restaurants are super risky. I’m not necessarily risk averse, but I have never felt I was completely ready to do it. I’ve dreamed about it for a long time; it was basically go to culinary school or graduate school, and I chose graduate school, which led me away from that professional chef dream I had. Maybe someday I’ll still do it.
NNBW: What are your favorite hobbies or pastimes? How do you spend your time away from work?
Cole: Pretty much any time away from work I try to focus on my family. I try to religiously take Saturdays off and on those days we go skiing as a family, or in the summer we go on hikes, take a drive or go to the lake.
NNBW: What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?
Cole: A chef. I have always been a foodie. When I worked at the Peppermill I was assistant to the executive director of food and beverage and got to eat a lot of great restaurants and taste a lot of good wine. It’s always been my passion.
NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you? Why or why not?
Cole: I work really hard, so my first impulse is to say yes, but knowing my personality it would probably last three months before I was on to something else. I have always been a really hard worker and somebody who looks forward to meeting new challenges and learning new things.
NNBW: What’s the last concert or sporting event you attended?
Cole: My 8-year-old daughter’s indoor soccer game, which was super exciting and terrifying at the same time.
NNBW: What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?
Cole: Something with some kind of historical content. I have always wanted to return to Europe and see the landmarks and historical buildings. I’ve also wanted to go to South America and see some of the Mayan ruins. I am not a lay-on-the-beach kind of lady.
NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada? What do you like most about working/living here?
Cole: I am a third-generation Nevadan on both sides. I went away to graduate school, but otherwise I’ve lived here my whole life and this is home. It has so much to offer, not only my deep family and friend connections, but also I love to ski and hike, and we have a pretty vibrant restaurant scene. I love it here, and I am really pleased with the way our community responded to the economic downturn. We kind of all bolstered each other and have that Nevada pride. When you meet people from outside of Nevada, and they say, “Oh my God, Nevada, what’s there?” Without fail, the people who live here are going to jump in and completely defend their choice to live here and all the great stuff we have here. We are very lucky that we live in a community that sticks together.
Know someone whose perspective you would like to share with NNBW readers? Email reporter Rob Sabo at email@example.com or call him at 775-850-2146.
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