Local Entrepreneurs - Business owners born and raised in the area
Author: Courtney Hillis | Photographer: Photography by anne
Emily Burden and Anna Hewet, Owners of Gigi’s Boutique
We all like to support local businesses, and it is especially meaningful in a small town where the sense of community is omnipresent. When local entrepreneurs are people who were born and raised in the area, it takes supporting local businesses to another level. Whether they have stayed in the area their entire lives or left and come back, a surprising number of local entrepreneurs were born and raised on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton. How savvy it is of these locals to create their own opportunities in a place where there are fewer career prospects available than in a larger town or city. Local entrepreneurs, such as the owners of Gigi’s Boutique in Bluffton, Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar on Hilton Head Island, and Larsen’s Heating and Air knew they wanted to live in the beautiful Lowcountry, took the chance, produced their own opportunities and made their entrepreneurial dreams come true.
It is common to want to experience something different from where one has grown up. Many people from small towns want to experience a big city and vice versa. However, very often as people age, mature and start families of their own, they are drawn back towards their roots. Most people work their entire lives to be able to move to Hilton Head Island or Bluffton and retire, and this fact is not lost on these locals. Whether they have lived elsewhere and moved back or stayed their entire lives, these local entrepreneurs have an appreciation for the area.
Although sisters Emily Burden and Anna Hewett, co-owners of Gigi’s Boutique in Old Town Bluffton, have both lived in different places, each of them knew that they wanted to move back to Bluffton at some point in their lives. When Hewett graduated from the College of Charleston, she and Burden decided to open the fashion boutique that now anchors Old Town Bluffton. Burden was living in Colorado at the time and helped run the business from afar for the first three to four years before moving back to Bluffton. It was not far-fetched for the sisters to start their own business, as both of their parents are entrepreneurs. Their dad started his own law firm, and their mom was one of the original founders of the school, May River Montessori, in downtown Bluffton.
Clayton Rollison, Co-Owner and executive chef of Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar
Clayton Rollison, co-owner of and executive chef at Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar, has lived all over the country, studying culinary arts while learning to prepare delicious dishes and run his own kitchen. A born entrepreneur with ownership in his blood (his uncle is a partner in Crazy Crab, his mom owns The Porcupine in the Village at Wexford), Rollison knew he wanted to open his own restaurant when he moved back to Hilton Head Island. In fact, he says he always knew he was meant to be his own boss.
Brian Larsen, Owner of Larsen’s Heating & Air
Brian Larsen, owner of Larsen’s Heating and Air, has lived in the area his whole life, and with his love of fishing and desire to be close to the coast, he has always known Bluffton was the place for him.
All of these local entrepreneurs have a deep appreciation for the community and the home it continues to be for them. Growing up in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island was very different from the developed and emerging metropolises we see today. For instance, there was no Cross Island Parkway, and there were very few shopping venues and restaurants. Bluffton did not have the Historic Old Town shopping and dining it has now; nor was there a Promenade. There was a Piggly Wiggly, and that was pretty much it according to Hewett. Larsen pointed out that on Hilton Head, “there was the hospital, the mall and the school, and that was about it.”
Seeing the area develop and change over the years definitely provided benefits for these local business owners. They knew what the area was missing, what the area needed, and what the people wanted. Rollison says he filled a niche market and void that Hilton Head lacked at the time. Being a native, he understood the market and “did it differently.”
When sister duo Burden and Hewett decided to open Gigi’s Boutique, they felt that Bluffton was lacking a specialty clothing store and acknowledged that the outlets were basically the only shopping choices for women in Bluffton.
After working with another local heating and air company for six to seven years, Larsen had enough side work to start his own company and decided to take the venture.
The small town vibe is evident as Hewett jokes that Gigi’s Boutique “is like Steel Magnolias.” The sisters know almost everyone and even buy the store’s merchandise with specific customers and upcoming parties in mind. Knowing Bluffton and what people are looking for has helped them create a thriving business that caters not only to the townspeople and tourists, but also to the younger and older demographics. “We wanted a place where we could shop with our mom,” Burden said. Their “no pressure” boutique environment caters to Bluffton’s laid-back appeal.
Rollison agrees that growing up on Hilton Head Island provided benefits in starting his restaurant. He knew the right people to make it happen. He opened his restaurant via word of mouth and knew 90 percent of the first customers through the doors, a clientele which has increased tremendously as the restaurant’s reputation has grown.
Being a native to the area has “without a doubt” helped Larsen establish a successful business. Larsen’s Heating and Air has never had to advertise; he works via word of mouth and referrals. Additionally, he does business with people he grew up with who are also business owners or builders.
As each of these local entrepreneurs pointed out separately, the fact is that, as Rollison states, “there is no place to work, so you have to create your own.” As many people who grew up in the area move back, they find that Hilton Head Island and Bluffton lack the corporate opportunities available in cities, but they know this is where they want to live. So, many of them create their own opportunities. What is amazing about our small community is how it is quick to support local businesses and loves to see them thrive. This concept goes both ways; all of these businesses, Gigi’s, Lucky Rooster and Larsen’s Heating and Air, support the community and local causes and charities.
Some people are born entrepreneurs. Other business owners may have simply created opportunity where it lacked. Either way, there is a different dynamic to starting a company in a small town versus in a large city, and even more so when the business owner was born and raised in the small town. From being more familiar with the demographics and niches, to knowing the right people to help get the business up and running and getting the word out, being a native to the area definitely has its advantages. Creating opportunity for one’s self in a place he/she loves and helping build the local economy is what it is all about…the American Dream.