FUN STUFF in Birmingham goes from retail lark to local business

You could say that Denise Kulak and her new Birmingham business were raised in a barn.

And it wouldn't be an insult.

FUN STUFF, a small, eclectic boutique that sells affordable jewelry, art, locally-made treats and more, was started, funnily enough, on a lark Up North one recent summer as her husband, sculptor Gary Kulak, set up his business for the summer.

"He was doing his sign for Gary Kulak Sculpture, I said, 'What about me?'  He said, 'What do you want to be?' I said, 'I want to be …and other fun stuff.' Thats how it all started…

The business, if it could be called that at the time, was set up "in my pole barn up north, just to do if for the summer,"

"I literally just threw out a sandwich board sign that said FUN STUFF. I still use it here at the store in Birmingham."

She used her connections from a 25-plus year career in retail to buy the goods she would sell.

"It just worked," she says.

She decided to try it closer to their year-round home in Birmingham. FUN STUFF, which keeps prices low but sells "quality things that I would be proud to give as a gift," opened Oct. 11 in the Adams Square Shopping Center. It's a short walk from the Kulak's home, the sort of commute Kulak has dreamed of for years.

"It's going really well. I've got a lot of traffic. I've seen a lot of people from the neighborhood. I wanted to be community-based and be near my home. I wanted to re-create the whole experience from Up North and do it in my neighborhood" says Kulak, who also sells her husband's signature chair sculptures. His work can be seen throughout Michigan and in other states.

Oddly enough the 200-square-foot store in the Adams Square Shopping Center is even smaller than the 500-square foot pole barn where FUN STUFF was born.

Kulak, who's been laid off from high-level retail jobs three times in 10 years and is a fourth generation retailer, is excited about getting back to what she loves - selling goods - but she's more driven to make the shop a place for socializing and getting to know locals.

Kulak is a master's degree candidate from Walsh College and is also a beneficiary of a business start-up program offered by the Walsh College Wayne State University Blackstone Launchpad, which is funded by the Blackstone Charitable Trust Foundation and is a partnership with the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan, Automation Alley and the University of Miami.

Launchpad gave Kulak - and other entrepreneurs enrolled at Walsh and Wayne State - advice and assistance in starting the business, including feasibility studies, business plans and more.

Kulak is grateful, but again, this is a business she wants based on relationships, friendships with some salesemanship thrown in.

"I want this to be a place where every product has a story and every customer shares one…It's not just about selling stuff….It's about the woman who comes in here 2,3 times a week, tells a joke, a story or shares something important to her."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Denise Kulak, owner, FUN STUFF
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