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Behind the Review | Methodically planning business growth and expansion

Expanding your business is a monumental step. Whether you’re adding square footage to your current space or opening a new location, there are many things to consider and steps that need to be taken to set yourself up for success. Viviana Langhoff is the owner of Adornment & Theory, an independent jewelry store in Chicago that specializes in artist- and designer-made jewelry. The original, intimate 750-square-foot, brick-and-mortar space was split into a retail area and a smaller back office and workshop space. “Every square inch was utilized the most efficiently as possible,” said Viviana. And while that was workable, she also knew it was time to expand. 

It started with figuring out how she wanted to expand. Did that mean moving to a completely new location? Was there an opportunity to expand in the same space? Viviana was very methodical with her planning, knowing that it had to be the right fit for her business—both physically and fiscally. After weighing her options, she ultimately took advantage of expanding into the storefront next door.

And this opportunity wasn’t by just luck—it was a relationship that Viviana built “in fat” over time with her landlord. “So building in fat, meaning, I remember the person’s birthday. I’m friendly and pleasant in my correspondence with them, but I’m also very clear and assertive. I don’t beat around the bush. I don’t want to waste their time. They don’t want to waste mine. And I also do research on my position points so that I already know that I’m in a reasonable range. And I feel more secure when I have the direct ask.” 

Viviana set a strong foundation of direct communication with her landlord, and she’s proven herself as a valuable tenant. This track record made her an asset that her landlord wanted to keep around, and it allowed her to make requests for what she wanted as a tenant. So when you’ve decided to expand, what’s next?

“I started by asking [the property manager] for all of the measurements and layout. And then I designed every square inch of the space before I even approached one contractor. With retail, you have to divide the space by square footage and know how much you’re getting out of each piece of square footage.

“Then I had several contractors come in. I had Zoom calls with them as they did a walkthrough of the space. And before they came in, I had already emailed them the layout, the renderings, and everything per number. I already knew the HVAC systems. I already knew all the things, so that was really helpful. My brother owns a construction company in Florida, large commercial build outs, and I was also able to check the numbers against his, just to make sure that things were fair.”

Viviana pulled out all the stops when it came to planning, giving her the best opportunity to expand her business successfully. And with that came an abundance of support from her community.

“We were met with a really great reception. It gives people a sense of hope and just joy. It’s like oh, one of our favorite businesses is growing. A minority, women-owned business is expanding. We got a lot of love from people and the numbers have been growing.”

Here’s a quick look at some other learnings from this episode:

  • Grow without overextending. Manifesting your business goals is great, but you want to balance ambition with realistic expectations. Viviana is fiscally conservative and decided to grow her business but not overextend just for sake of growth.
  • Always consider both price and reputation. When choosing a contractor, sometimes paying a bit more is worth the high-quality work and value of their word. 
  • Find time to rest and recharge. Big projects like expansions and new locations can create imbalances in the rest of your life. Your work will still be there when you return, but you need the time to reboot.

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Viviana, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners every Thursday.

Photos from Adornment & Theory


Behind the Review, episode 35 transcript
Manifesting growth

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every week I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur … and the reviewer … about the story and business lessons behind it. 

This week I’m doing a deep dive episode with Viviana Langhoff, owner of Adornment & Theory, a jewelry shop in Chicago. Check out episode nine to learn more! But today, we’re talking about her recent expansion. We’ll dig into how she knew it was time, decisions that needed to be made along the way, and what the long term growth plan is for the new space. Let’s jump right in.

EMILY: To have you start, why don’t you give me an intro on Adornment and Theory for people who haven’t heard our first episode together.

VIVIANA: My name is Viviana Langhoff. I am the proud owner and fine jewelry designer of Adornment and Theory. Adornment and Theory is an independent jewelry store specializing in artist and designer made jewelry located in the heart of Chicago. We offer exceptional, high quality, unique jewelry that tells a story and we specialize and we seek out specifically to really highlight and represent the work of either women identified or BIPOC jewelry artists. 

EMILY: Fantastic. Can you describe for me the space and the size of the business pre-expansion? Just give me a feel of what you were working with in your brick and mortar space. 

VIVIANA: Absolutely. So before the expansion, we were working out of 750 square feet. Of that 750 square feet, 550 was retail, and the 200 was our backroom, back office, just a workshop. So every square inch of that space was utilized the most efficiently as possible. So we knew it was time to grow. 

EMILY: Talk to me about when that decision for expansion came to be. Was it that happenstance of space right next to where you’re located? Walk me through how that opportunity came across your path.

VIVANA: Right? So I have growth opportunities that I’ve been writing out and just vision casting for a number of years. And one of the manifestations of that was to actually purchase a commercial space. So I’m still on the hunt for that personally for my own personal portfolio, but at the time, there’s just not a lot of inventory out there, or what is out there was just forcing a fit. So whether that be location, price of buildings, so on and so forth, because, I have a larger vision that I want to build out. At the same time I would note myself as fiscally conservative. So although I have a very big vision for things, I want to be able to pace it out, that as a young business, that we don’t overextend ourselves, right? Especially in the middle of a world crisis. 

So, the store next to them, they moved, and then another store closed. So, the landlord had approached me. They love us in the space and would we be interested in that space as well? I was very direct with the landlord and I’m like, listen, this is what I’m looking at in terms of commercial properties. I don’t want to be made to make a call at the last minute. So if the space is available, in three months, this is the structure of the deal that I’m interested in. Then we can come back to a discussion. So yeah, I wasn’t nervous. Wasn’t biting my nails. I’m like if it works out, it works out and then I’ll just have a two-pronged attack. So it’s looking at commercial properties and then also entertaining this offer as well. And it was just the wiser move to stay in place. And it was still available three months later. 

EMILY: I really appreciate Viviana’s approach of vision casting, yet also being fiscally responsible and rooting herself in making sure she grows without overextending. It’s a balance of ambition and realistic expectations. Let’s talk about your relationship with your landlord and how you can broker those conversations and talk about this stuff with them. How have you, as a business woman been able to interact with them in a way that’s brought you to a place where they’re asking you and excited about you taking on more space?

VIVIANA: Yeah. It’s actually funny that you say that everyone has a different relationship. So I’m dealing with a company. It is an individual person who owns it, but their portfolio is well over 30 properties in the neighborhood. And there’s always a little controversy with him because words like gentrification, this and that kind of bubble up. And he’s very specific about what businesses he wants in the neighborhood, to curate it. And that’s his language, not my own that I’m adopting to say that. So businesses like mine are what he wants. So geared more towards millennials, gen Z, a little bit higher end, those things. So I’m a business that I knew that they wanted to retain.

Now I’m working with one of his property managers. I don’t get a lot of face time with the main person, but we’re working with people. So I have always built fat into that relationship over the last three years, so that when I do make a request, more than likely it can be fulfilled. So building in fat, meaning, I remember the person’s birthday. I’m friendly and pleasant in my correspondence with them, but I’m also very clear and assertive. I don’t beat around the bush. I don’t want to waste their time. They don’t want to waste mine. And I also do research on my position points before I approached them so that I already know that I’m in a reasonable range. And I feel more secure when I have the direct ask.  

EMILY: Awesome. Okay, so let’s go back to the point when we know we’re expanding. We’re going to open the new space. Talk to me about how you budgeted, how you started picking contractors and people to help with all that. Where did you begin? Did you outsource that work? Did you do it yourself? How did you get yourself prepared to start moving forward and taking action? 

VIVIANA: Yeah. I was actually in Istanbul for six to seven weeks while I started all of this negotiation. So from closing on the lease and everything I was doing this overseas, I don’t recommend that unless you have a pretty high stress tolerance. And for myself, the way I started was I asked them for all of the measurements and layout. And then I designed every square inch of the space before I even approached one contractor. For retail, it’s a little bit different, but also other forms of business, I would encourage them to do the same. The way I do design, even though I always joke, like if all this fails and I’m not a jewelry designer, I would be an interior designer.

But with retail, you have to divide the space by square footage and know how much you’re getting out of each piece of square footage. So if we’re taking on X amount of cases, each case needs to produce 10 times the amount of number. So every fixture, every lighting, none of it is arbitrary. So that’s how I went ahead and did that.

And then I had several contractors come in. I had one of my employees let them in and I would do videos, zoom calls with them as they did a walkthrough of the space. And before they came in, I would have already emailed them the layout, the renderings, and everything per number.  I already knew the HVAC systems. I already knew all the things. So that was really helpful. My brother owns a construction company in Florida, large commercial build outs, but I was also able to check the numbers against his, just to make sure that things were fair. And then obviously going by reputation. 

The contractor selected was fantastic—Chicago Common Constructors. So I will shout out their name, that they did a fantastic job, but they were not the cheapest. I would say that they were probably 15% more than the average, but they came in on time, everything was professional, and their word was golden, which for 15-20% more is worth it. It was worth it.

EMILY: That’s great. We’re going to fast forward a little bit to the mini grand opening slash grand opening. Talk to me about how that went, how you got the word out, what your goals were for that event. Just take me through that whole phase. 

VIVANA: The soft opening, reopening went really, really well. Praise God. I was so, so happy, so relieved. It was like just looking at it and seeing faces that are just resilient. Like it’s our family, it’s our community, it’s our clients. And everybody, there was just a lot of really loving energy in the room, because it’s like most people haven’t even been to an event since everything has happened. So people were ready to party and ready to enjoy themselves and get dressed up. So that was really fun. 

Soft opening was good. Kind of a business owner thing, I was waiting for a jewelry case to be flown in from Istanbul and it was delayed by a month. So in my mind’s eye, the space is not complete until this case is there, but nobody is none the wiser. You know, I wasn’t going to not open this space all based on this. I’m like we will decorate. We will set it up. Nobody knows it’s quote incomplete, except for me the designer. 

But yeah, we were met with a really great reception. I think it’s something for people in the neighborhood. It gives people a sense of hope and just joy. It’s like oh, one of our favorite businesses is growing, you know, a minority women owned business is expanding. And so we got a lot of love from people and the numbers have been steady. They’ve been growing. So my projections and my predictions for this expansion are coming to pass, which is great. You know, that’s always what we want to see. And yeah, so we keep on going. 

EMILY: Before we started recording you shared with me how obviously a big project like this kind of offsets the rest of your life, right? This project was taking up a lot of time, a lot of brain space, a lot of your staff’s time. To close us out, can you share more of what that impact was and how you’re trying to reshift or refine balance? 

VIVIANA: With everything, it’s a tight rope that I walk all the time. I think a lot of people relate to it and it’s the idea of having a growth mindset and being ambitious. While also having deep rest and feeling recharged and feeling present in all of those moments.

And for myself, I have been a bit imbalanced in the season just because this expansion, as well as my custom clients, required a lot of me. As well as my personal time. I have friends and family and everything else that I need to devote attention to. There’s an old joke, if you find a woman who’s thin, rich, tan, having sex, all this, then I’ll show you a unicorn. It just doesn’t exist. So my trade-off was to gain some of my COVID pounds again and leave some house projects in the alerts that I’m attending back to. 

But I think most important for me is really cultivating the practice of Sabbath. I’m a Christian. You know it’s a biblical practice but really learning to just power down, shut down for one full day, and really trust that the Lord has it. The world’s not going to fall apart. And if I’m “behind,” I need to learn to let my body settle into that and trust so that I have more myself to give when I come back. 

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