Curzon Hill Antiques Seeks SCORE Mentor
Three times a week, Sarah Hill opens the door of her antiques store and welcomes visitors into a world of delicately crafted porcelain, linens and glassware. Such a career is appropriate for Hill, for her journey to becoming an entrepreneur is as colorful as the tales behind the exotic treasures that occupy her store.
When Sarah received her degree from Mt. Holyoke College in 1993, she faced a dilemma common to many liberal arts majors—finding a job in a world dominated by high-tech industries. She eventually joined a computer consulting firm, but found that things weren't all bad. The job was based in Lisbon, Portugal. "I think I enjoyed being in Europe more than having the job," she confesses. "For 18 months, I was able to do a lot of traveling and pursue my personal interests."
One of those interests was a love of antiques and old houses. Sarah used every opportunity to visit countries and locations that had fascinated her as long as she could remember. When her employer’s project ended, Sarah returned home to Alexandria, VA, and began looking for ways to capitalize on her experiences and education. A specialty antique store in the city’s historic Old Town district seemed like a perfect idea. But with so many established stores there already, how could a newcomer survive?
After Sarah opened Curzon Hill Antiques in November 1996, word spread quickly about her unique offerings and eagerness in helping customers locate hard-to-find items. Her success was so impressive, SCORE’s Washington, DC, chapter named her the Client of the Year less than a year later. A feature story on Hill in the Alexandria newspaper was soon followed by a high-profile article in the The Washington Post’s Home Section, in which she discussed the care and preservation of antique linen. The resulting publicity led her to launch a side business that specializes in the care and washing of treasured handbags, tablecloths, linens, and blankets. "It’s amazing what some publicity can do," Hills says. "I’ve received orders from across the United State and Europe. I’m also preparing to launch an Internet site."
Sarah’s grandfather, who had owned a successful advertising and printing business in Omaha, suggested that she contact the local chapter of SCORE. After attending seminars on start-ups and developing business plans, Sarah began working with Volunteer Mentor Eugene Rosen, a former small business coordinator for NASA. Rosen helped Sarah understand the nuances of cash flow, advertising, and expenses, as well as preparing and analyzing financial reports.
Another benefit of Rosen’s experience came when Sarah began evaluating potential retail locations for her store. “One site that seemed very promising had been vacant for two years,” Sarah recalls. “Mr. Rosen sensed that something was wrong and suggested that I first find out why it had been on the market so long. It turned out that the landlord didn’t have a good reputation. I found a much better location near the heart of Old Town while that other space has stayed unoccupied.”
As Hill’s business has grown, so too has the value of SCORE’s expertise. Along with Rosen, Hill now works with Volunteer Mentor Herb Robinson, who formerly owned five dress shops in the metropolitan Washington area. "Mr. Robinson has brought some great insights into specialty retail markets," Sarah says. "Both he and Mr. Rosen have been wonderful about staying in touch and taking a personal interest in my business. Now, I’m doing something that I’d always dreamed about, but wasn’t always sure could really happen. I’m really having the time of my life."