In a twist of fate, Andrea Rae discovered that her passion wasn’t flipping properties, or even for her own business, Healing Foods; it was helping other women grow their businesses. It’s why Her Company, the co-op space Rae opened a year ago at 153rd and Q streets, has grown to 40 vendors.
In fact, it was also a twist of fate that Healing Foods came to be. Rae began cooking healthy meals for herself about seven years ago, and after requests from friends and family, she began to build her own business.
“I started taking cooking classes and nutrition classes,” she said. “Then I began servicing some gyms [in Lincoln], and I was delivering to homes in Omaha.”
When she finally needed a larger kitchen to complete orders, she began looking for a space.
“I thought ‘I wonder if other women would want to share this space,’” she said. “I posted it in a women’s group and people came flocking.”
The ‘Pink Store’
Her previous career flipping properties for a Kansas City-based property management company meant that she didn’t necessarily have to look for a “move-in ready” place. With her experience, she could take any property with good bones and flip it into her vision.
What was the vision? Girly.
Specifically, baby pink walls with a black and white checkerboard floor.
“I wanted people to remember it,” she said.
She landed on a former Papa Murphy’s location at 15330 Weir St. in Omaha.
“It had pretty much everything I needed, but was dirty and ran down,” Rae said.
She went to work and on December 28, 2022, the co-op opened.
One of the most important decisions prior to opening was deciding on a payment structure for vendors. Rae wanted to ensure a fair and flexible structure that would allow women to grow at their own pace rather than be tethered to a space.
She decided that rent, rather than a contract, would provide enough flexibility for women to test their market and decide if their product is profitable and scalable.
“If you really believe in yourself and your business, it’s 30 days,” she said.
The drive to put people first almost killed the business before Rae could get started.
“I remember the bank saying I couldn’t get funding because I wasn’t requiring contracts,” Rae said. “They didn’t look at rent as income, but I felt that requiring contracts would change the business plan.”
The rent, set at $500, covers more than just access to the commercial kitchen and display space. It allows Her Company to staff the store, deploy marketing initiatives and provide customer feedback and suggestions.
Charging rent also allows vendors to take a “pause” when needed. For example, someone might be moving, or in the summertime, some women need to, or choose to, spend more time at home with their children.
While Rae encourages women to keep their business consistent for customers, the ebb and flow creates a “revolving door” that brings fresh finds to customers on a regular basis. It’s a model she believes can be replicated. In fact, she already has four bakers signed on for a Kansas City expansion, with staff lined up.
“If I find the space, and I can negotiate it and make it work, then that could start,” she said.
Other markets she’s considering in the near future include Sioux City, Iowa, or Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“Some places within a three-hour driving distance I could start with and then expand to bigger cities like Chicago,” she said.
Unfortunately, Lincolnites will not be getting their own location but may have a shorter drive as Rae is considering a Gretna location in the near future.
Part of what makes the concept so replicable is the versatility provided. From home goods to personal care items, to workout gear, to desserts and healthy meals, Her Company has an astounding variety of options. No vendor has product exclusivity, meaning multiple vendors can sell candles or cookies, etc.
“And, it comes from someone with a story,” Rae said. “You could go to Bath & Body Works and get a candle with all the toxins in it. Or, you could come here and get a really beautiful organic candle and support someone.”
Part of Rae’s job – her favorite part, in fact – is helping vendors gain exposure and grow their businesses.
“I get more excited about other people and their companies than I do about my own,” she said. “We ultimately care about their businesses. Our job is to make them money.”
Rae is quick to note, however, that the line of responsibility is clearly drawn.
“I had to learn that the education part [upfront is important],” she said. “We don’t work for you, you work for you within our space, and then we help you with specific things.”
Specific things like social media exposure and events. Her Company has over 4,000 followers on Instagram and over 7,000 followers on Facebook.
In May, Her Company hosted the second installment of the Summer Festival.
“It gives the women an extra boost in times when we’re not busy,” she said.
In addition to Her Company vendors located in the store, the festival also included 100 other women-owned businesses as well as food trucks and live music.
“If you can’t afford to be in the store, I still want you to be a part of [the community],” Rae said. “It’s only $60, and I’ve accepted every business that applied.”
Vision for Accessibility
Through conversations with women entrepreneurs, Rae learned that a large demographic of women struggle to start and scale a business due to child care expenses.
“Right now most of the women can’t come to a space outside of their home because day care is so expensive,” she said.
Ambitious and compassionate to her core, Rae is in the planning stages of how she can create a space for women entrepreneurs that includes on-site day care. In addition to on-site day care, the space would have a reception hall for events, rooms for estheticians and hair stylists, and a kitchen for cooking classes. She hopes to open it in about a year.
Again, funding is the biggest obstacle due to the rent structure.
“I can’t grow until this location becomes established,” she said. “I could help hundreds of women at such a low price [if I had the space and funding].”
Readers can support Rae’s vision by shopping at Her Company and attending events. The next Summer Festival to showcase women entrepreneurs is Sunday, June 18.
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