Leslie Keys had always wanted to start her own clothing boutique and even had the name chosen long before the dream became a reality – Audie Mescal, after her grandmother. Leslie was working at the University of North Alabama when she started actively researching the clothing industry in her spare time. She contacted the Small Business Development Center at UNA and started working with the Center in researching the venture and getting her plan on paper. Leslie utilized the Center’s library resources and obtained assistance in preparing her business plan and projections and at looking at funding for the venture.
Leslie had a definite vision of what she wanted for Audie Mescal – providing unique women’s clothing lines that are not readily available in other stores in the Shoals area. She finalized her business plan, detailing every aspect of the business and putting much emphasis on determining funds needed to adequately furnish, stock and operate the store. Much detail was also taken in developing projections and researching the local market in order to have realistic projections to determine that the venture would be financially feasible and to provide lenders with plan and research to support her plan.
Leslie met with many banks in the area to request funding for the venture, but was unable to obtain the funds needed from the banks, primarily because it was felt to be too much of a risk for a start-up—especially a clothing store. About this same time, Harvey Robbins had started renovating downtown Tuscumbia. Mr. Robbins encouraged Leslie to pursue her dream and he co-signed a loan for the business and renovated the building, enabling the business to open in 2002. As a result of Mr. Robbins’ revitalization of downtown Tuscumbia, the business was featured on NBC’s The Today Show, included in New York Times article about the revitalization and numerous magazines and publications (American Airlines In-Flight magazine, Inc. magazine, Southern Living, etc.) during its first year in business. The business has been very successful in the downtown Tuscumbia location at 101 N. Main Street.
After the first year in business, Leslie came back to the SBDC for assistance in updating the projections for the second year of operation. Projections for the first year of operation were right on mark – actually slightly exceeding sales projected. The SBDC assisted her in preparing projections/budget for the second year and provided spreadsheet that she could use in future planning. The business has now been an important part of downtown Tuscumbia for 13 years.
While Leslie has not required in-depth assistance from the SBDC in recent years, she has referred (and continues to refer) many individuals to the Small Business Development Center at UNA for assistance in researching, planning and financing their small business ventures. She says, “Using the SBDC was the best, most beneficial tool. I would not have been able to write a business plan without their help. I don’t know how a business could open without the help of the SBDC.”
Ms. Keys is very active in the community and is a member of the Tuscumbia Downtown Redevelopment Authority (TDRA), which was formed to provide consistent support and promotion of the city’s development projects, create easier avenues for private developers to build and remodel in the downtown and business districts and advocate projects to foster Tuscumbia tourism. She is the Chair of the Friends of Spring Park Foundation, participates in the numerous festivals /community events and is a great supporter of UNA.