jennifer ward header

Jennifer Ward

What is your official title?

Owner and manager of The Station.

 

What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

I get up, walk the dog for about an hour, send the kids off to school, check email, try to get a couple of things done at home and then it just depends on what day it is. I may spend a couple of hours in the shop, I may do some work in the studios; once a month I volunteer at St. Luke’s Thrift Shop — when 3:00pm hits I’m running around getting kids where they need to be, trying to feed them something healthy, etc. Usually in the evening, I pop into work at least one more time and then call it a day. A couple of times a week I take a Pilates class, too — at The Station, of course..

 

Tell us about The Station.

There are two pieces to the business. We opened up the hourly studio rental business 2.5 years ago. We have two studios that can be rented by individuals or groups — people have used them for fitness classes, dance classes, rehearsals, a pop-up photography studio; the back studio can also be rented for small events like bridal showers, birthday parties, small family gatherings, or business meetings…

A little over a year ago we opened up our dancewear shop where we sell all of the basics a dancer would need. We’ve done something a little different in that we are trying to use as many vendors as possible that make their products in fair trade manufacturing environments — U.S.A., Canada, the UK, etc. We figured out that 95% of our leotards, character shoes, pointe shoes, and tights are from fair trade manufacturers. . I’m really pleased that we were able to do that. We can really stand behind the character of those products and we have direct relationships with the manufacturers, so if something does go wrong it can be taken care of right away. I love both ends of the business; it’s been really great.

 

Can you tell us about your background?

I had several part-time jobs through school. I got my undergraduate degree from Penn State and my MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. I spent seven years in retail, mostly athletic wear and sporting goods. I worked in marketing research as a project manager for seven years. Once we started our family I took a break from paid employment
for awhile.

When I thought of a business that offered shared studio space, it was an idea that just wouldn’t go away. I was working with someone who wanted to find a place to rent to teach classes and it was a real struggle because she wanted to be downtown, she didn’t have a lot of money to spend on rent and she only needed space for certain times of the day. The places that she could afford were not places where people would want to come to take a class. It was a cycle of — how do you grow a business out of a location that’s not viable? I also talked with others who had the same problem and the idea of sharing space with other instructors cropped up a lot, but if you don’t have ground rules or a mediator then it can become a battle of who gets the signage, who gets the best studio hours? It’s more challenging to make it work. So we’ve created a shared space that has actually worked really well. We average about 35 classes a week by six different instructor groups. People don’t necessarily have to get along with each other, they just have to make sure that they leave the space on time, the same way they found it.

Everyone can have a space that is attractive to grow their business. Each instructor runs their business independently, using our studio as their location. Of course, we always want them to stay as long as they want, but it’s also great if they grow so much that they can afford their own space. For a lot of instructors, the dream is to have their own space, but they can start with us at a very low risk proposition and work out all of the pricing and policy issues in a safe financial environment before they go full out.

 

How does someone rent the space or become part of that rotation of instructors?

They just call me. I would just work with them on the current schedule to see what’s available and how that might work for them. Our peak times are weekday evenings so that’s pretty full, but there are still some regular spots available. There is some advantage to seniority; if a spot opens up then it’s offered to people who have been there a while and if they don’t want it, then it passes on to the next. So far, we have been able to fit everyone in.

 

What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

I like that, particularly the downtown environment, is open to just about anything. It’s a place where if you come in with a solid business plan people aren’t going to say, “That isn’t going to work here”. If it would work any place it would probably work here. It’s made the shopping and the restaurants very interesting. Right now I think there is an upsurge in interest for being downtown and that’s going to continue.

 

What do you think can be improved about Kalamazoo?

I wish there was an end to the “downtown is not approachable because of parking” perception. No matter where you go you’re going to pay for parking one way or the other. Most of the people that come to The Station get over the fact that they will spend just a couple of minutes looking for parking.

I also think the time has come for people to get over the perception that downtown is dangerous. They’re missing out on some really great opportunities by being afraid.

 

How do you take your coffee?…or do you?

I don’t drink coffee. I drink English Breakfast tea with sugar and milk in the morning and then in the afternoon I might change it up and have some Earl Grey or a custom chai tea blend that Tudor House Tea and Spice made for me.

 

Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?

The Spirit of Kalamazoo is one of my go-to spots. Because I have kids and we are across the street, we go there for ice cream a lot.

 

What have you been jammin’ to recently?

80s and 90s alternative. I kind of got stuck there and it still works for me.

 

What is the best part about owning a business in downtown Kalamazoo?

The best thing about owning a small business for me is that I’ve created a business doing exactly what I want to do and I have it fit into my life as much as a small business can. I really like helping other small businesses get started. They’re an underdog because it’s so so hard to open a small business: tons of work, tons of energy and tons of financial risk.

Downtown is just such a vibrant environment. I always see friendly people around and it’s not hard to strike up a conversation with a random stranger about what kind of dog they have or something like that…have you seen the Pit Bull-Corgi mix? We’ve seen this dog driving by so many times. I saw it today in person so I just had to ask the owner about it. My kids and I thought it was a Pit Bull-Dachshund mix. Imagine a Pit Bull head on a weiner dog body! This dog is so unique, I just couldn’t resist talking to him about his dog.

…shout out to the Pit Bull-Corgi mix and his owner! (If you are reading this, contact us, we’d like to interview you!)

 

Do you have a background in dance?

No, none! My background is in marketing and, on the studio side, I saw a need for professional studio space.

The shop idea is more of a shout out to the busy moms. Sometimes it’s hard to find what you need for your kids’ classes and not feel stupid doing it. You just want to go into a shop and not feel like you are asking stupid questions or feel bad because you need something in two hours. Sometimes you don’t have time to order tights online when they rip; you need it today or tomorrow. It just seemed like there was a need for a local dancewear option.

Not having a background in dance certainly has it challenges, but there are some surprising advantages, too. I’ve been able to create a shop that is absolutely unique in its aesthetic and I am not tied to brands that have gotten a little stale. There are some amazing new brands coming up and we are excited to be one of the only retailers in the region to showcase their products.

 

Do you use social media?

We started with Facebook, but we aren’t just sticking with that. We are on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr — Pinterest might be next if I get to it.

 

Who would play you in a movie?

Joan Cusack is probably the celebrity that most looks like me. All of her characters are kind of awkward and clumsy, but still likable, and that is probably just about right.

 

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a Retail Buyer; I always imagined that I’d be working for myself or for a small independent business. And, I was always interested in historical buildings, which fits into The Station. Working with horses was another thing, but that didn’t make it into the equation.

 

If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Dad is right – you’re going to learn something from every crappy job you have. And, he was absolutely right. I didn’t believe it at the time, but I’ve gained something important from every job I’ve had.

 

If you could have any class in The Station, that isn’t already there, what would it be?

We haven’t had any art classes there. We had a wine and painting night for a bachelorette party, but we haven’t had a regular art class, so that would be something completely different from what we’ve done.

 

Is there anything you think you’d say no to?

I have said no to a few things. One was a photoshoot with partial nudity and guns. Someone asked if I’d be willing to rent out the back studio for a hydroponic operation, long term – said no to that. We also say no to people that want to have a really big event. We’re quite happy with our small events. That is more our thing.

 

What’s the most unique thing it’s been used for?

We have done some very small weddings. For my own son’s birthday we had a nerf gun battle. The most recent unique thing was a clothing swap for a group of ladies; that was really different!

 

How did you come up with the name The Station?

The building where we have The Station is an old Interurbanstation, so streetcars used to go through the alcove. Right now there is glass there, but it used to be completely open. The street cars used to come right through and turn on to Portage Street. I wanted to acknowledge the history of the building, and I also really liked that when you think of a train station you think of all these people passing at one time; the only thing they have in common is the space for a moment and they might travel for all sorts of different reasons. I liked that idea because that is what our space is about. There are people herefor all different reasons; they are sharing a space for a moment and then they go their separate ways.

 

What are your goals for The Station in the future?

I’d love to see some more daytime usage of the studios. We’ve had some corporate meetings, but it would be great to have more use during the day because that is our least utilized time. For the shop, just continuing to get the word out that we exist and for parents of dancers to think of us first instead of a big box store or an online option. We can definitely provide much better service and product quality.

 


Jennifer, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with Jennifer and The Station on facebook. Also, be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.