Every small business has their own story. Some are the result of lifelong dreams, others are the product of being in the right place at the right time. Some have detailed plans about expansion while others just take a chance and see how it goes. Zus & Zo European Lifestyle is a retail business that started very much in the spur of the moment, but whose owner, Marjolein VanderHulst, is quickly developing plans for.
Marjolein and her husband Mario came to the United States originally in 2001 as students, eventually working with a company in the dairy industry. Her husband's passion for owning a farm brought the couple back to the U.S., and to Sturgis, in 2005. Marjolein worked on the farm until 2015, when, as she says, she wanted to do something more "girly."
That opportunity came in the form of a small retail space in downtown and a house full of stuff. When buying a house next to their farm, it came with a lot of "nice stuff" with a lot of history that the couple did not know what to do with. At the same time, Sturgis Bank and Trust had a small retail space in the 100 block of E Chicago Road available. Using the two opportunities, Marjolein ended up taking a chance starting a retail business in the space. As she says, she was going to "…try and see how it goes, and now here we are, a store later..."
The trial run was indeed a success, and Zus & Zo has expanded, relocating to 107 W. Chicago Road in early November to gain more space. Zus & Zo's format is very much reflective of its name – "Zus and Zo" is "this and that" in Dutch - Marjolein’s native language. Zus & Zo offers clothing sourced from Europe, focusing on trendy, high-quality, and "different" items, but also features bags, jewelry, decorative items, gift items and more. Truly something for everyone.
Part of the new location is also expanding the business into new areas, including crafting classes that focus on do-it-yourself decorating and other small art projects, like wreath making. "I have a passion for creating things" says Marjolein. This will involve some collaboration, including with other downtown business owners. "We all need to work together as downtown Sturgis. If we want to make this work, we have to work together."
While Zus & Zo started by taking a chance and "shooting from the hip", it grew because of Marjolein's determination and efforts to create a positive atmosphere for her customers, even if they are not planning to buy. "...If I can give [my customers] a good feeling, if they walk out of this door and they have a good feeling, that is more important to me that than [to make] a sale. I know they will be back." Helping the customer, whether it means making a sale or not, is what Zus & Zo and Marjolein strives for. "I don’t want to sell for the selling...I want to sell because people want it, you want to look pretty, you want to look beautiful, you want to feel good in a piece of clothing."
Like many entrepreneurs, whether there is a plan in place or not, starting a small business is taking a risk – taking a chance that the business might succeed or might fail. It takes a special kind of person to take that risk, and then a lot of work after that. Marjolein sums up the attitude perfectly: