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Knowing when to quit

Posted: May 3, 2014 8:46 p.m.
Updated: May 3, 2014 8:46 p.m.

Stephanie Bulgarino-Weier with her husband at a ribbon cutting of the Polka Dott party store on Bouquet Canyon Road in 2004.

 

An entrepreneur hasn’t been successful unless he or she has experienced at least one failure, said the owner of a former Santa Clarita-based party store.

Agua Dulce resident Stephanie Bulgarino-Weier, a self-described serial entrepreneur, recently published a somewhat fictionalized account of her business failure. She refers to it as a giant case study of jumping into a business unprepared, and a business-novel.

Before compiling the book, however, Bulgarino-Weier had to learn the hard knocks of business through filing bankruptcy and losing her home in 2008.

She also lost the Polka Dott retail store she initially had such great visions for, she said.

At one point, Bulgarino-Weier flirted with the idea of driving her car off a bridge she was so deep in debt, she said.

The resulting lessons became the basis for her book “Business Ninjas: An Entrepreneur’s Tale from Riches to Rags to Sanity.”

Today, Bulgarino-Weier and her husband have a measure of peace again after working really hard to get their credit back in shape and saving money – enough to buy a home once again in Agua Dulce in 2012. The new place, with its space for organic gardening and a little vineyard, grant her a little bit of country life, she said.

A former film editor, Bulgarino-Weier has since launched one or more companies, became a member of the 10,000 Goldman Sachs program for women entrepreneurs, and in her spare time managed to graduate from law school.

The process of writing became therapy for her and a boutique publishing company liked the book, accepting it publication.

The journey

Bulgarino-Weier first became enamored with the idea of owning the party store Polka-Dott when she saw an ad listing it for sale in 2004. But shortly after signing a five-year lease with the shopping center on Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus she was forced out of the space under the guise of a center remodeling project, she said.

Moving the store to a warehouse on Reuther Ave. in Canyon Country turned out to be a bust – she lost 40 percent of her business. So within the year, Bulgarino-Weier moved her business to downtown Newhall – just in time to find out that Main Street was going to be dug up as part of the historic shopping district’s redevelopment makeover.

By 2008, the Polka Dott store was in serious trouble and Bulgarino-Weier was close to losing her home when a producer from TV business makeover series “We Mean Business” called her. The show featured entrepreneur and host Bill Rancic.

During filming of the show, Rancic had her store redesigned, put in a point of sale system, and helped her market the business. Producers also followed Rancic to Bulgarino-Weier’s home to have a frank discussion with her and her husband about the dire financial plight they were in. Her husband had sunk $350,000 into her business.

Learning from failure

“I was in denial, I didn’t want to give up, I thought that meant failure,” she said. “But the bravest thing I ever did was shut the store down.”

Saying she has managed her entrepreneurial endeavors “by the seat of her pants and the life of hard knocks,” Bulgarino-Weier said she learned good lessons through the failure of her business.

A business owner can’t just be a maverick, she said. There has to be analysis and one needs to start a business in an industry only if they understand it and have had experience in it. Bulgarino-Weier’s background had been in the entertainment industry – not retail.

“I also learned that you have to work ‘on’ your business, not ‘in’ your business,” she said.

Describing herself as always having been a hard worker and over-achiever, Bulgarino-Weier said didn’t approach owning the Polka Dott as the person who needed to steer the business and grow it.

“I just couldn’t see beyond the day-to-day requirements.”

Bulgarino-Weier also tells business owners to seek good advisors and not try to figure everything out themselves.

“It’s a difficult legal landscape in California,” she said.

She also advises business owners to bring in the right people to help carry out your vision.

“Our job it to be the captain of the ship and hire the right people to run the day-to-day operations,” Bulgarino-Weier said.

She also advises entrepreneurs to ask a lot of questions before jumping into a business. Bulgarino-Weier said had she done that she would have learned about the shopping center makeover before signing the lease.

Perhaps the best advice – is advice she received from Rancic, she said.

“He said let go of the business that’s not helping you and focus on the one that’s growing,” she said. “You have to know when to fold them.”

Never does Bulgarino-Weier blame the Great Recession. She takes full accountability for having made the wrong decisions, but decisions that led to a whole lot of first-hand experience as to how to be successful the next time around.

Today she’s building a global brand entertainment company that offers software solutions to content creators – an industry she has long been a part of.

“In the end, everything has been a blessing,” she said. “I would not change one thing.”

Stephanie Bulgarino-Weier is scheduled to do a book signing June 17 at the Barnes & Noble on Valencia Blvd.

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