WOMEN IN BUSINESS: Sue Ballantyne – Not one to toot her own alphorn

GAYLORD – Walk into Sue’s Shops, nestled in the Alpine Village, and you walk into a realm of warmth, color, light, and relaxed fun. It’s a great place to browse without feeling pressure to do anything but enjoy the beautiful selection of home accessories and gifts, and maybe eavesdrop on the happy conversations around you.

Owner Sue Ballantyne is a lot like her stores; meet her and you feel like you’re with an old friend. Going into Sue’s Shops is a little like exploring; each door leads to another room, another theme, another whole set of goodies to look at and admire.

Located at 132 W. Main Street in Gaylord, the shop offers a thoughtful selection of gift items ranging in price from two dollars to several thousand. From the colorful selection of scented candles, silk and paper flowers, skin care products, and decorating items to the framed art and Old Hickory furniture, Sue has put together a fine collection.

She’s also put together a fine staff; like Gwen Niemisto and Carolyn Jenkins, who walked in, saw how busy Sue was, and asked if they could help. “Take off your coat and start stickering,” was Sue’s reply, and now these women help train the new employees. Her daughter Kristi Schrader works full time and is responsible for the clever and colorful displays throughout the store. She also attends tradeshows with Sue, and helps select new items for the store.

“I value Kristi’s opinion,” Sue said. “She has a younger outlook, and she helps me stay ahead of trends.”

Granddaughter Kayla Newberry is helping this year, and her sweet smile makes her a perfect staff addition, even if she is only 11.

Sue started out making and selling pinecone wreaths as a hobby when her daughter was five months old. She was asked to give craft demonstrations through the Gaylord Community Education system, and as a result, had to buy craft items to use in her classes. At the time, Sue thought showing other people how to make wreaths would mean she’d never sell another one of her own. Just the opposite happened.

“I never sold so many wreaths in my life! Once people realized these crafts weren’t as easy as they looked, people came to me for more items than I could keep on hand,” she said.

Sue and her husband were running a successful Sears catalog store at the time, but it was the crafting that made her happy. She held classes in the storeroom of the Sears store, but quickly outgrew the space. She started demonstrating floral design and any craft that became popular, and was in high demand as a guest speaker at craft conventions.

She was also asked to do commercial decorating as well as to give hands-on demonstrations for resorts. Sue has worked for Treetops Sylvan Resort, Hidden Valley Resort, the Otsego Club, Boyne Mountain, and several businesses on Mackinac Island. “I’m not an interior designer, but I can sure accessorize,” Sue said.

Her ability has led to an extensive wedding accessories rental and service. She is linked online with weddingdetails.com, a nationally-known wedding planning company.

Her college degree and experience teaching business education came in handy when she learned that 10 investors were buying an old hardware store on Main Street. She offered to rent part of it, and now rents all but two shop spaces in the mini-mall layout.

Adding to her empire, she recently purchased the former Audrain Hardware store and opened Sue’s Stamps ‘N Scraps. It holds a massive inventory of scrapbooking supplies, craft and homemade paper, stickers, stamping and embossing supplies, and offers workshops and classes.

Gone are the dark walls and floors of the 122-year-old building. In their place are periwinkle and yellow walls, and a unique brick and plaster freeform sculpture that takes up an entire wall.

The original tin ceiling was exposed and painted, and little details, like a particleboard floor, add character to an already historic location.

Sue’s attention to detail, gift of gab, and long hours spent serving customers was recognized this year when she was presented with the Golden Pineapple Award. This award for outstanding customer service was well deserved, but still came as a surprise to Sue.

“I guess when you love what you do, you don’t mind the 14-hour days,” she said. “I don’t mind staying late if someone walks into my shop late. I always greet them like they’re the first customer of the day, and always try to make them feel welcome.”

Contact Sue’s Shops at 517-732-1400. BIZNEWS