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Success Story: Paula Mielke, Owner of Grahn's Upholstery & Furniture Restoration

WomenVenture Entrepreneur of the Month for August

Paula Mielke has always enjoyed working on her own. As a public relations freelancer for 17 years, she was comfortable and familiar with managing projects. She loved reading about others' career path changes and decided she wanted a career change herself through starting or buying a business. But in 2009, Paula was diagnosed with cancer. When Paula was recovering from chemotherapy and feeling better, she did some freelance work again. But going through cancer changed her career desires. "I really just wanted to be part of something," she said. 

In 2013, Paula started exploring options for a new career path. She took a WomenVenture franchising class, researched media, read entrepreneur stories, talked with people and used an assessment tool to get a better idea of the direction she wanted to go. The unknowns about franchising didn't feel right, so Paula knew that was not the best direction for her. 

That summer, Paula saw a business listing that piqued her interest. When the business was still for sale at a lesser price in early 2014, she seriously considered buying it. She met with a WomenVenture consultant, an accountant, brokers and attorneys to go over financials and what kinds of questions she needed to ask. She was financing the purchase herself and immediately began researching the ins and outs of the upholstery business.  

Grahn's Upholstery and Furniture Restoration has been around for 40 years as a full-service custom upholstery shop providing furniture repair and restoration. In March of 2014, Paula bought the business. "I love that it is tied to the neighborhood," Paula said.

Purchasing a business comes with rewards and challenges that are drastically different than launching your own. "Parts of the transition didn't go as smoothly as I would have liked," Paula said. There have also been financial and legal surprises and hidden costs of running a business that Paula didn't foresee. "Negotiating with the previous owners and the disarray of records was challenging," she said. 

As a new owner, Paula took on the history of the shop as well as a key employee. She also hired more people, had a new website and logo created, and renovated the front lobby. "I love a space that is clean, organized and has a great energy with beautiful pieces to work on," she said. The level of professionalism Paula has established keeps customers coming back, and word of mouth attracts new people to the shop. She has even been able to win some designers back. 

"When working with individuals, they often have sentimental value towards the piece they are leaving with us. Many are family heirlooms and have great stories. Meeting people and hearing their stories is an unexpected reward," Paula said.

Grahn's Upholstery and Furniture Restoration has a great referral base, and Paula is working on perfecting efficiency and profitability. Everyone in the shop has a hand in the process of making something beautiful again. "I am really proud of big projects we take on that everyone can be involved in. It's a wonderful feeling," she said.

Paula cites WomenVenture as a great resource. "I was forced to think of things I probably wouldn't have. The class I took really helped me learn a lot about what I wanted in a business," she said. "I would do it all over again. I can't wait to get to work each day."

To learn more about Grahn's Upholstery & Furniture Restoration, visit www.GrahnsUpholstery.com

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