Nakija Mills reflects on lessons learned from running a pop-up storefront in downtown Farmington

For the past 90 days, Nakija Mills has been operating her small business, Lekker Chócó Treats, out of a pop-up storefront in downtown Farmington, the result of a unique partnership between the Farmington Downtown Development Authority and the owners of Browndog Barlor & Restaurant. The terms of that lease ended at the end of February but Lekker Chócó Treats already has a new semi-regular home, with the owners of the Farmington Brewing Company inviting Mills to run a pop-up at the brewery three days a week, starting this week and with no set end-date.

The innovative pop-up program spearheaded by the Farmington DDA activated a dormant storefront and provided Mills the opportunity to learn on the job, so to speak, and see what it’s like to move her business from her home to a downtown storefront. Mills says that there’s exciting news on the horizon, although she’s not ready to publicize it just yet. But fans of Lekker Chócó Treats will be able to find her at the brewery until then.

[Read about Nakija Mills and the Lekker Chócó Treats story on Metromode.]

We spoke with Nakija Mills to find out what she learned about running a business from a downtown storefront, and what tips she can share with her fellow budding entrepreneurs.

Metromode: What are some of the things you learned while running the pop-up?

Nakija Mills, owner of Lekker Chócó Treats.Nakija Mills: I think I learned a lot. The most important thing I think I've taken away from this is that you need to be more organized. You need to be more organized just in how you start your day, period. From the moment you wake up, just always have a plan: What are we going to do today? If you don't have a plan, it's like you're all over the place.

When you have a brick-and-mortar location, it’s different than when you’re running a business from home. When you do the business from home, you can run out of something at any time and just go get it. But when you’ve got a brick-and-mortar, you’ve got to keep track of the inventory; what you have and what you think you're going to need; how many people you think will come in to the store; and just be cautious that you don't over-purchase, otherwise you have a loss. With me doing this mainly by myself, I couldn't just run out and get stuff. So I had to prioritize: Okay, when am I gonna go and get my supplies — you know, how much I need for the week or making sure I don't run out. 

Time management is very important. Because one minute you can have nobody in the store, and then the next minute you're running all over the place. You have to be so organized and know where everything is so that when you put stuff down, you can remember where it is so you're not flustered. Be organized, write stuff down. Because I wasn't doing that at first; I was keeping everything in my head. I was like, Okay, I'll remember when I get home. And then later I’d remember, Oh my God, I was supposed to do this. I was supposed to do that. So it's very important to write stuff down.

Another thing I learned is that the people that you think you're going to get the most support from aren’t always the ones that support you the most. It’s the people that you don't expect to support you that can be the ones that support you the most. It’s the community; just random people coming in from the street, showing love. Farmington itself, the community here, has been so amazing. I never realized how much love there was in Farmington. I've learned so much because I had people that would come in and they would say, “Well, I don't eat chocolate or I can't eat chocolate, but I want to support you. So I'm going to buy this for my granddaughter or grandson or my son.” On some days, I wouldn't have anyone coming in the store, but there were people that would walk in and just say, “Hey, it's so good to have you in the community. It's so good to have you here.” You know, just little things like that lifted my spirit so much.

Metromode: What surprised you the most?

Nakija: How people were so open to receiving a new business. Farmington, I will say, I feel like they cater more to the healthier side of things. So me coming in with my chocolates — my chocolate this and my chocolate that — you know, I felt very welcome. Another thing that surprised me the most is the support from the local businesses that came in. I had businesses that would come by, owners that would come in on a consistent basis just to show support. 

At the end of my pop-up, Farmington Brewing Company, they reached out, and they were like, We know you don't have anything lined up after this and we would love to have you over here to do your pop-up next. So just something like that speaks volumes. It just warms my heart that they're so accepting of me.

Metromode: Tell us about your new partnership with Farmington Brewing Company.

Nakija: So one of the owners, Jason, reached out and asked if I would like to have my pop-up there a few days a week. And obviously, I jumped at it. So I'll be there on Tuesdays from 6 to 9 p.m. for the runners clubs. And then Friday from 4 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 7 p.m. We didn't put any end-date on it, we’re just gonna keep it going. He knows that I'm a small business and, funding-wise, there's not a lot of funds there. So he was like, You know, you don't really need to give me anything for the space. Just use it to promote your business and promote yourself, which I thought was so cool.

Metromode: Any tips for at-home entrepreneurs looking to make the next step?

Nakija: Don't be afraid to reach out to your local leaders. Don't be afraid to reach out to the people in the downtown areas, or other businesses. I was very surprised at how open and how eager other businesses are to help small business owners and people who are just starting out.

Ask questions. If you don't know anything, ask questions. I've called the Health Department probably 100 times and they are so patient, and they help you get through the process of getting licenses, getting a permit. That, by itself, can be super stressful. So I will say don't be scared to reach out and ask for help. I used to be scared to approach businesses, other business owners, to say, “Hey, how did you get in this position? Any tips you can give me?” I used to be very nervous to do stuff like that but what I learned is that they are actually excited to say, This is what you can do. They're excited to share that extra information. So, you know, reach out, put yourself out there. Do pop-up events. Even if it's something small, you just never know who's gonna walk in your door, or who's gonna see your business. So put yourself out there. It only takes one person to believe in you to push yourself. You can do it.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.