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TheStreet Open House

Janska's Erickson Breaks Mold for Older Entrepreneurs

How were you able to bridge the gap between your ideas and building a successful retail business?

Erickson: One of the things we were very fortunate about is people started showing up around us that knew the business. I wasn't embarrassed to ask questions, because I knew I didn't really know about it, and it seemed like we were creating something outside the box.

For example, by using Polartec fleece -- something that's normally used for outerwear and sportswear -- we were using a fabric that had fantastic properties. When you put it into a garment that's more stylish than just a zipper jacket, people loved the garment. And we were also able to come across people who had designed in fleece in the general fashion world who loved our universal design concept and stepped right into helping us create more along those lines.

What about the business side of things? You and your husband had little retail experience.

Erickson: When we started the small business, we took courses that are offered in any community. My husband took them with me and we did it together. We were researching a lot, thinking certainly there must be somebody else out there doing this. One of the things I learned early on was to not be afraid to ask for help or to ask for advice. We did a lot of that. And SCORE helped us tremendously. I also have a business coach that's helped me along the way.

We kind of think like we've had an on-the-ground business degree. You're in the real world figuring it out and there is a lot of help out there.

Janska has been so far been successful, but surely there must be some growth challenges at this level. What are they?

Erickson: The last year or two, because the growth has been so exponential. We also purchased a manufacturing part to do some of the manufacturing ourselves. We didn't really know about that business either, we had been outsourcing, so we're learning about how do you run an efficient sewing factory and how do you run a manufacturing leg?

Four or five years ago there were just a few of us running the company. As we've grown, we're hiring more and more people, learning how to delegate and how to get people to be doing what they're doing and communicating between the teams. So the whole structure of the organization is changing.

What are some specific challenges for those starting a business at an older age?

Erickson: The doubting of whether maybe they should go forward. That dream that I had was so strong it had a force of its own: "Make that jacket." It was just so persistent. I think if people have a dream or a thought or idea that's consuming them, to follow one's gut.

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