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Christie Walton, Christy Higgins, Kristi O’Keefe and Leslie Slaughter: Friendship, Trust and Respect

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It took three ladies with the same name—although spelled in other ways—and another with an entirely different moniker to build an extremely successful small retail business in Leawood, Kansas. Christie Walton, Christy Higgins, Kristi O’Keefe and Leslie Slaughter already shared solid friendships through their children, but the draw to do something more drove the four women to explore other ideas. In 2015, they founded Spruce Home, offering furnishings and finishings for homes in the metro.

Located in the historic Leawood Shops, at 2515 Somerset, Spruce Home is a small shop, coming in at 850 square feet, but it boasts a rapidly turning inventory, allowing it to look fresh and new each time a shopper steps through
the door.

Friendships founded on the playground through their children and in educational settings pulled the four together in a unique way. Playdates and school meetings enabled those bonds to grow strong over the years. “Our children grew up together attending school at Corinth Elementary School. The four of us organized and spent many years planning fundraisers and school events for the PTA and realized how well we worked together,” Christie Walton recalled. “We all have an interest in home décor and realized there was a need for options in Northern Johnson County. We are so thankful to live in a community that supports local businesses.”

“Our friendship evolved from raising our children together into a wonderful local business that feels more like getting to chat with everyone in the neighborhood versus work,” stated Christy Higgins. “The four of us volunteered together for years, and we knew we were a strong team. As our kids got older, we thought, ‘Let’s try the next adventure,’ and here we are six years later still loving our time together as business owners but, most importantly, as friends.”

Growing a Business
Even though the ladies knew they wanted to further their friendship and grow entrepreneurial connections, they understood that a solid foundation must be built to ensure success. Each person continues to be dedicated to that initial business mission, rooted in offering inventory that allows customers to carry their unique personal style throughout their homes. To achieve that goal, Spruce Home limits the number of pieces in each style to just a few, but this allows the store to carry an impressive variety so that shoppers can find that special piece for them.

“The mission of Spruce Home is to provide a unique selection of quality home décor and gift items at a reasonable price point and offer the highest level of customer service,” noted Leslie Slaughter. “We want to help people love their space and our goal is to offer items and input to help them achieve this.”

“Another key component of Spruce Home is hospitality; we work hard to be the place where you can grab a great hostess or special occasion gift,” shared Higgins. “From the beginning, our mission has been to create a warm, welcoming store that celebrates the importance of home, family and friendship.”

What Makes Spruce Home  Exceptional
Co-owner Kristi O-Keefe describes the offerings at Spruce Home as varied and comfortable with so many things to make a house a home. “We have a large selection of home décor items, including lamps, wall hangings, decorative objects and small furniture pieces. We also love to change things up with holiday décor and unique pieces from local artists,” she shared. “We keep a strong focus on gift items, including candles, locally made jewelry, MerSea apparel and entertaining accessories.”

Spruce Home also features personalized design advice and suggestions to help integrate its offerings into homes across the Kansas City metro. All of the businesswomen noted that the Pickwick & Co. candle selection at Spruce Home is outstanding; in fact, the ladies describe it as a “must-buy” item when you visit their store. “Pickwick candles are one of our most popular items and our signature scent, Spruce Home, is available only at our shop. It’s a fresh, light mix of balsam and cedar and cassius fig, chosen by the four of us,” said Slaughter. “Since many people purchase candles as a gift, the Spruce Home scent is a popular choice. More recently, the most popular Pickwick has been the Home Sweet Mahomes scent.”

Small, but Content
The store is enjoying tremendous success and the owners are very happy with the business foundation they have built over the years and the ability to help shoppers find the perfect gift or that impeccable accessory for a particular room. These leaders are content with their ability to meet the needs of many customers in the community.

“Since our space is small, the question has come up over the years about expanding. But we’ve talked through it and all agree that we love the dynamic of our current space,” revealed O’Keefe. “Our size allows us to bring new and fresh offerings to our customers that we can turn over on a regular basis, and our plan is to continue with that business model.”

“At Spruce Home we are planning to continue to bring quality home décor items and gifts to our community,” commented Walton. “We are constantly searching for new lines and unique items at reasonable prices. We love to host trunk shows and events to support local artists.”

Making it Work
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, small businesses fail at an alarming rate. Data shows that approximately 20 percent of new businesses go under during the first two years of being open, 45 percent during the first five years and 65 percent during the first ten years. However, Spruce Home is defying these odds, poised to serve the community for many more years. These four women, who were successful at building deep friendships, are also constructing an impressive business resume. They point to a variety of reasons Spruce Home has thrived, and they are open to passing to others their key learnings.

“What I think has really been our secret sauce is that we understand that owning a business is not a static thing; it’s constantly changing and you learn very quickly to roll with those changes,” remarked Higgins. “At the core of our business is our friendship and that involves trust and respect, which are key to any strong relationship. We all work hard to communicate and, a lot of times, compromise when making decisions for Spruce. If we could not do that, literally on a daily basis, I really do not think we would have lasted as a business.”

“I would say there is definitely a niche in Kansas City for local businesses. Classes are offered to help provide guidance to get started,” said Walton. “It seems overwhelming but once you break down the process into smaller steps it is definitely possible.”

“We decided to start the business in March 2015 and opened our doors that November, so it was a pretty quick turnaround. We were lucky enough to know a couple of local business owners who offered to share their knowledge and experience with us, and that information was priceless. We also enlisted the help of our trusted local bankers, accountants, graphic designers and other professionals who helped with the parts of business that were outside our skill level. So, although we definitely jumped in with both feet, a large part of our success was relying on others to put their expertise to work for us,” recalled O’Keefe. “The success of any business results from a collaborative effort. Focus on your strengths and what you can best offer and allow your partners and other professionals to do the same.”

“We all brought different strengths to the business, but mostly we knew each other’s work ethic and reliability in addition to sharing the same life stage and values,” Slaughter commented. “Being able to divide the work load among four of us allows an owner to be present in the store almost every day, with only a few exceptions. Having an owner present allows us to provide the highest level of customer service.”

Over the years, Spruce Home has sold thousands of high-quality and affordable items to homeowners throughout the area in a friendly welcoming storefront environment. The close-knit feel of the shop is an organic occurrence, based on the ability for close friends to also be successful business partners.

“Spruce Home values the concept of a female-owned small business, with a tight-knit community feel. We also love collaborating with other local artists, vendors and small businesses,” O’Keefe advised. “The success of our business relies not only on our care and respect for each other, but also for our customers and collaborators.”

“The greatest lesson I have learned from Spruce Home is that a business is an evolving, ever-changing entity, and you have to decide if you want to grow with it and that takes a certain amount of trust in the process and definitely in your partners,” remarked Higgins. “The four of us are incredibly blessed to have each other. But ultimately it’s a conscious choice on all our parts that each day we decide to work together to create this special space we call Spruce Home.”