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Siblings Start Their Own Clothing Business

(U-WIRE) NORMAN, Okla. – A University of Oklahoma student and her brother are bringing their entrepreneurial spirit to Norman, Okla., by melding their love of fashion with their business sense.

Leah Beeson, management senior, and her brother Russell Smith grew up in a business-oriented family in Texas, Smith said. Now Beeson and Smith are combining their talents to bring a new kind of store to Norman.

Appello, which is Latin for "style," is scheduled to open in January and will offer high-end women’s clothing at first and will add men’s clothing next summer, Smith said.

"This area is starved for nice things and good clothing," Smith said.

Although Smith said the current economic situation is a concern, their store is starting small to allow time to adjust.

For entrepreneurs trying to get a business off the ground, Norman — because it’s a college town — offers a lot of good and different opportunities, especially for younger entrepreneurs, said Susan Urbach, regional director of the Small Business Development Center. The center, based in Oklahoma City, has four full-time consultants on staff who help new businesses get started.

"People have an idea about what kind of business they want, and then they ask, ‘now what?’" Urbach said. "We try to answer that."

The quickest way to get that answer is by attending the center’s session entitled Charting Your Course for New Business, Urbach said. During the class, business developers are informed about tax implications, licenses, permits and business financing. The center also offers one-on-one consultation sessions.

The Norman Chamber of Commerce tries to help new businesses through the Norman Economic Development Coalition, which works to assist local businesses in making the move easier, said Anna-Mary Suggs, director of the chamber.

"A lot of what we do is just trying to create a better business climate through working with the city on issues and legislation that deals with business," Suggs said. "A lot of what we do is not a direct service to one member, but makes their business more likely to succeed by creating a better business environment."

The chamber also acts as a source of reference on networking and advertising for new businesses, Suggs said.

The chamber will be helping Smith and Beeson promote their store’s grand opening by introducing Appello to other chamber members in the Norman Business Journal and publicizing its ribbon-cutting, said Mark Hyde, the chamber’s director of member services. Smith and Beeson joined the chamber earlier this week.

As a new member, Appello will be linked with a member of the chamber’s President’s Club, Hyde said. The club is comprised of eight people who go around Norman to mentor new members for their first year in business. The club tries to increase chamber retention by integrating members into the chamber.

Smith has an opportunity to bring something new to Norman: professional young men’s clothes, Hyde said. As a young professional himself, Hyde said it is sometimes difficult to find professional clothing that accommodates a young man’s style.

Smith said he and his sister have been fortunate in meeting the right people who can help them get their business started. Smith and Beeson read books, spoke with friends and simply went into area stores and asked the people there for advice.

While growing up in Texas, dinnertime conversation among their business-oriented family sometimes included discussion on whether the Federal Reserve Board was going to raise interest rates, Smith said. Now Beeson and Smith are combining their love of business and fashion to bring a new kind of store to Norman.

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