Grace Kang may be a relatively new Arkansan, but she's no stranger to the small biz retail scene. Over the past 15 years, she's cultivated four locations of her popular Pink Olive gift shop — the latest in Little Rock's South Main neighborhood — nurturing a love of "the little things" and redefining success along the way.
We caught up with Kang for the latest installment of our Small Business Talk series highlighting and demystifying the world of women in small business.
Elevator pitch time. Tell us about Pink Olive.
GK: Pink Olive is a beautifully curated one-stop gift shop and cafe located in the heart of SoMa and NYC. We make the gifting experience fun, easy and attainable for little ones to loved ones. You are loved.
Did you have a lightbulb moment when you knew this was what you were supposed to do?
GK: I’ve been a stationery lover (and gift giver) for as long as I can remember. I spent my toddler years in Korea, which is notorious for its paper goods and little stationery shops. Finding and collecting perfect stationery with my little allowance was something I always looked forward to every weekend and planted a seed in me.
I always knew I’d have a store of my own, so after I graduated from college I was determined to learn as much as possible. After a decade of working as a buyer for companies such as Bloomingdales, Saks.com and Barney’s, I decided it was time to open my own retail business.
Right around this time, I also became an auntie to my adorable niece Katie. I felt overwhelmed going into a mass children’s store and wanted to walk into a safe place where I felt inspired to give and find something unique and creative for my niece … and maybe find something for myself.
I opened my first brick-and-mortar store in the East Village in 2007 and West Village in 2016, followed by Cold Spring in upstate New York in March 2017, and opened in SoMa, Little Rock in April 2022. Each boutique caters to the stylish aunties of the world, paper lovers, foodies and all creative types, with an aesthetic emphasis on whimsy and great design.
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What is it like to juggle multiple locations long distance?
GK: Having multiple locations is a juggling act, but it also gives me the freedom to test out different types of products in different markets. To this day, I look forward to looking at the selling reports for the East Village vs. West Village vs. Cold Spring and now Little Rock to see where there are similarities and differences.
That being said, there are some challenges with having a store long distance since you can't be in two places at once. The decision to have multiple stores has propelled me to let go of the things that I can't control and create systems for our team to succeed. It's an ever-changing act — training, mentoring and working with the team members to fine-tune our craft.
What is something you wish you'd done differently when you launched?
GK: Delegate and hire a good CPA. As an independent small business, every profit was re-invested into the business year after year. However, it wasn’t until year three that we came into a rhythm of managing and delegating more and hired a CPA that the business started to grow double digits.
Every year, you need to look at your business with a fine lens to see what works and what doesn’t work, and be nimble. While you can’t be all things to all people, it will help fine-tune what the brand stands for and how you’re servicing your ideal customer base.
Since then, what was a moment that felt huge to you, but might not look that way to others?
GK: Three is my favorite number, and I have three best moments that stand out so far.
1) Reaching the 10-year benchmark
2) Opening my dream upstate location in Cold Spring (I'm a small-town gal!) in the same year and our first out-of-state shop in SoMa (most similar to Cold Spring) five years later
3) Being featured on the "Today" show for the #ShopSmall segment
As for the worst…
1) Realizing that I had just started my business right before the economic crisis in 2008; and
2) Closing our two locations in Brooklyn. It’s never easy to close a chapter, but it was time to move on and focus on the other store locations.
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How have your goals evolved since you first started?
GK: It's been a wild ride, especially in the last couple of years, but our mission still remains the same: to inspire and celebrate the little things — one person, one gift, one neighborhood at a time. I still treat each of my store openings as if it was my first.
What are the best and hardest parts about working for yourself?
GK: My favorite part of being my own boss is being able to make a difference and inspire people, even in the smallest of ways. As customers often share with us, Pink Olive is their "happy place." I also love to share my journey on Instagram and give people a glimpse into my world. I wouldn't say I have the least favorite part of my job, however, the hardest part is finding the right people for your team. It's ever-changing, and you have to be constantly looking for those "gems" who truly get what you do.
Does being a woman affect how you do business or the way people do business with Pink Olive? If so, how?
GK: We're an all-female team, and being a woman is very much in alignment with our mission behind Pink Olive — to inspire and empower the next generation of girls for the better good. For me, it’s doing small things to benefit our future, especially for young girls. We love carrying products like the Rebel Girls and partnering with organizations like Step Up to give girls the knowledge to speak up and fight for equality, empowering them, but most importantly, giving us all hope for a better future. I feel blessed to be a female founder and to lead a group of talented and amazing ladies who make it happen on a daily basis.
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What do you wish people knew about small business founders/owners?
GK: One of the most common misconceptions is that small business owners can do it all or need investors to succeed. "Success" is highly subjective, and it's not always financially driven. As entrepreneurs, it’s so easy to compare ourselves to others, but success means different things to different people. For some, it’s the amount of money they make. For others, it’s the amount of time they can spend with loved ones. And still others, it’s something more personal — overcoming a fear of making a childhood dream come true. Once you define what real success means to you, you can stop comparing yourself to others and enjoy the little things that matter. The rest will follow.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
GK: Running a small business is not always easy. You have to constantly wear many hats and make sure everything is running smoothly with or without you. It requires a lot of hard work, long hours and gumption, but I can't imagine my life any other way. Be truthful with yourself and ask yourself why you're doing what you're doing, and have faith. This inner compass will be your guiding light and driving force, not only when things are good, but when things are tough.
Also, be a sponge and learn from people who are two steps ahead of you, and never burn bridges. You never know when your lives might cross paths one day!
Learn more about Pink Olive on the shop's website and follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.