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Imagination Creations Hair & Vintage celebrates decade of success

As Imagination Creations approaches ten years of business, owner Heather McGartland shares what it takes to be successful and sustainable as an independent shop keeper.
Heather McGartland

Heather McGartland /Eric Tank


Grand Rapids Oportunity for Women (GROW)

"It's one of the most fantastic resources we have here in Grand Rapids." - Heather McGartland

/Eric Tank

/Eric Tank

Imagination Creations (IC), the vintage boutique and hair salon run by proprietor Heather McGartland, boasts 10 successful years this December. From the early years peddling her hand crafted art goods locally at the Fulton Street Farmers Market or traveling the craft show circuit (over 50 events a year), McGartland reflects on her first brick and mortar, the East Hills experience and her vision of the future. 

Nestled in East Hills on Diamond Street between two bourgeoning business districts sits a unique corner building that for the past four years has housed 1,200 square feet of colorfully curated eccentricities: an amalgam of vintage wears, repurposed furnishings and hair salon space. It is the only buisness in the Fairmount Historic Neighborhood, which by defalt makes it number one. 

The transition from her previous location on the South Division Corridor was an effort to expand in order to remain sustainable. 

"The minute we moved here I knew we couldn't have done it had I not expanded the business," says McGartland. 

The years on Division were a major learning curve for McGartland. Before the brick and mortar she had already been trying to make ends meet but realized she needed to add something new in order to secure any viable income. Using her business savy learned from 15 years at a popular clothing outfitter and her aquired knowledge from the Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) entrepreneurial program, she put the business on hold and enrolled in beauty school with the intention of practicing hair styling a fraction of the time to help supplement her art  and vintage sales.

The move proved to be successful, yet not exactly how she had envisioned. Immediately it became clear that doing hair was going to be her main gig. For five years McGartland spent on South Division during the day, working three other jobs such as cleaning offices and homes, cutting hair at the mall and home health care in the evenings.

Starting her business on a mere $250 and never having to take out a loan is something McGartland is proud of. All of her current inventory is owned outright. She credits this to a sound business plan, one that she mentions has been amended multiple times to accomodate change, but never deviating from the essential goal. 

"A lot of people have the idea that you don't need to write a business plan. A business plan is absolutely wonderful to do. There's a reason why banks and financial institutions require you to do it. It really helps you get your head together," says McGartland. "If I hadn't done that, I would have just launched and then failed. It would have been suicide." 

The biggest change in the move from Downtown to East Hills was the expansion of inventory and adding the back salon where she could bring in new people.

Her current operation remains focused on vintage goods sales and hair styling. IC currently has three chairs and would like to add one more in the rear parlor. McGartland rents to four independent stylists who work their own hours out of the shop, to whom she provides supplies and facilities. 

Pleased with the pace of business these days, McGartland still keeps a presence around town by doing three to four shows a year. She also continues to make art, specializing in clothing modification, leathersmithing and precious metal and stone faceting. For lack of time, McGartland says she is producing a smaller quantity, but finds this results in higher quality.

This reflects her clientel, whom she says is less neighborhood foot traffic but more repeat customers spending more money.

"Look at who's coming into your store every day," advises McGartland. "Not the one hitters, but the repeats. My favorite costumer is a return customer. I love to see familiar faces."  

As IC ventures into its second decade, McGartland envisions further expansion.

"In the next five years I would like to aquire my own building. I definitely need to triple my space," says McGartland. "The next phase of the business is huge and I've already written the business plan on the financial side of it. The financial plan of a business plan is a whole different animal. It's the reality check that most people people don't think about when they're starting a business." 

What does McGartland think is the biggest mistake small businesses make?

"I think that [money] is the very first mistake people make,"she says. "They overly financially invest themselves in starting the business." 

December 16 marks the ten year anniversary.

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