When Virginia Gegen and her two daughters, Mary Gehrer and Shelley Wewe, opened Forever Yours in northwest Wichita, none of them had retail experience.
But that didn’t stop them. The business began in 1998 after Gegen learned she had breast cancer.
“I decided to do something for fun — that life was too short,” Gegen said.
Today, she’s cancer-free. Through it, though, she learned that “good things come out of bad.”
The business began in Gegen’s home during the Christmas season of 1998. At the time, Gehrer had received a mother’s bracelet, and people were constantly complimenting her on it and asking about it.
The bracelet features the name of each child in a separate strand of beads connected to form one bracelet.
“We decided we could do that,” Gegen said. “So we made a mother’s bracelet. We went to craft shows on a card table and took orders.”
Sometimes they stayed up all night filling them. They also added additional jewelry and did home shows.
“It got more than what we could handle,” Gegen said. “We outgrew our homes.”
In 2002, they opened in 700 square feet of space near Maple and Tyler.
In 2006, they moved into their current location at 7130 Maple. A year later, they expanded into bigger space at the same location, and now carry embellished T-shirts, clothing, purses, shoes and pewter items, besides a large variety of jewelry.
They have three full-time and four part-time employees.
Gegen took time out of a busy Christmas sales day to talk about her business.
1: How has working in a family business gone?
“I have been very blessed. . . . We all seem to just kind of blend. . . . We have three generations here.”
2: What kind of expectations did you have for sales this holiday season? You mentioned that they’re about the same as last year’s.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but we went to market expecting to have a wonderful Christmas, and we did. . . . We’ve done well. We’re not complaining at all. . . . I think (sales are) the same (as last year). We haven’t figured that up yet.”
3: What was one of the hardest things about opening a retail store?
“Going to market and learning what to buy and how to buy it and how much to buy. We didn’t have anybody to confer with or talk with, so we just did it all on our own by trial and error.æ.æ.æ. It’s gotten much easier, and we know what to do now.”
4: What’s your secret of staying in business?
“We do have a lot of customer service. I think people like that. We hear a lot of compliments on that.”
5: What advice would you give someone wanting to go into business for the first time?
“You have to come in every day with a happy face. . . . We have put in a lot of hard work. It’s more hours than you would ever imagine. But it’s fun and we enjoy it. . . . They would have to stop and think about that.”