By Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press.
Beth Kranyak started working at 11.
She had a summer job renting bicycles and golf carts on a vacation island, where her family had a home. After a few years, she said, she was managing the rental operation. By the time she graduated high school, she was an assistant manager of a leather-coat shop, Donna Sacs, in metro Detroit.
Then, she and her manager, Jim Seba, had an idea: They could open their own store.
Kranyak and Seba borrowed about $150,000 from relatives — they didn’t want to give up equity — and opened their own clothing boutique in Southfield and went to work, every day. They were living at home, Kranyak said, and for the first year, they each lived off only $25 a week, and put every other dollar they earned back into the business.
“When you are young, you don’t have too much to lose,” she said.
In a couple years, they opened a second store, eventually growing the business for women to five stores, and paying back the loans.
Since then, they’ve closed one store, and did not renew the lease on another.
Kranyak, now 53, has three boutique clothing shops, C’est La Vie, in Farmington Hills, Dearborn and Novi, with her partner The small business women focus on women’s clothing, and what Kranyak calls fashion-forward styles. The company has more than 30 employees and annual revenues of about $3 million.
“Looking back, I just know we worked extremely hard,” she said. “Many people who go into business think: Wow, it’s going to be so great to be my own boss and be able to take the time off I want. We were totally the opposite. We were there seven days a week. We were there open to close. We were there Sundays. Most people aren’t willing to give up that much.”
In a conversation edited for clarity and brevity, Kranyak talked about what it takes to be an entrepreneur:
Question: Where did you come up with the store’s French name, C’est La Vie, meaning that’s life?
Answer: My mom picked it. My mom’s very clever — and we liked it.
Q: So what are your thoughts on running a small business? The joys and the frustrations.
A: I think it’s so much harder than most people think because you have to really mind every dollar, every penny, and every detail. It’s second nature to us and we do it, but it’s very time consuming. We are a really close knit company. We have girls there for 25 years. Everyone knows everyone. We’ve never had the attitude: We’re going to do great and relax. There’s been a lot of ups and downs with the economy.
Q: Considering that you went to work — not to college — how important is formal education to be successful?
A: It depends on what your business is. For us, it probably would have been detrimental. I have to go by my heart and brain: What I like and what we are going to need.
Q: So it’s a women’s clothing store chain. You own half of it and run it, too. Why there aren’t more women in business?
A: There are a lot of women. But, generally, it’s hard for women — hard for men too — to give that much. I had my husbands complain to me to take another day off, get off early. It takes a lot of hours and sometimes people aren’t willing to give up all that. People assume men are better at some jobs. But, there are many brilliant women. I just don’t think women have been pushed that way. I was, because my family was entrepreneurial. But, you have to give a lot of yourself, and there’s not a lot of time for family. A women might be compelled to have children, and as you can see, I didn’t.
Q: Do you regret that?
A: Definitely not. I just think it couldn’t have fit into my life style.
Q: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
A: If you have a venture you feel strongly about you have to check out every angle. Be very sure, and make sure you are fully funded. If we hadn’t had that money in the beginning, we would have been in trouble. You can’t do things — excuse my language — half-assed.
Q: Any free fashion advice?
A: When you dress better, you feel better about yourself. You feel really good when you’re pulled together.
Q: Looking ahead, do you think you’d ever want to retire?
A: No. When you retire, you die.
Q: OK, but you aren’t going to live forever. So do you have a plan for the store to live on in case — God forbid –something happens to you?
A: Sometimes you plan things out and they don’t go as planned anyhow. In life, you just do your best.
Q: Thus the name of the store?
A: (Laughter) I guess. But, we really just thought the name was cute.
Title: Co-owner, vice president
Experience: She started working at 11. After a brief stint working for Donna Sacs, she started her own shop.
Family: Husband, Tony Alfonso; step-children: Jesse Kranyak, 38; Meghan Wotsch, 36; Nick Alfonso, 28, Allie Alfonso, 23
Car: 2012 Toyota FJ