By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson
For The Birmingham Times
Just outside of Birmingham, in the community of Clay, sits a home with a neatly groomed lawn that is quiet on the outside but the hub of several small businesses on the inside.
The enterprise comes from the vision of Hueytown native and entrepreneur Nykki Houston, 42, a natural nail technician and jewelry maker. Although she’s about to celebrate four years at her current site, her business began in the basement of her Center Point home.
But she knew her current location, which is zoned commercial, was the place for her. She signed the lease for A Touch of Art on her birthday in August 2019.
“I knew, once I walked in the building, that I would set up here and I’d invite other friends who were business owners to join in supporting my vision and growing their own,” said Houston.
She not only sold her vision, but her offer was accepted by others. And the math is clearly working in her favor.
There are now a number of business owners who either showcase or share workspace in the five rooms at A Touch of Art including health and wellness specialists, jewelry and craft makers, natural nail technicians, a masseuse and a boutique owner.
There’s power in partnerships.
You can get your nails done, get a foot detox service, shop for clothing and jewelry while munching on some popular snacks. All of which are the products of African American female entrepreneurs.
And as Houston prepares to celebrate a total of seven years in business, her vision shifts to expanding locations and teaching other business owners in the near future.
She says her secret sauce to success and thriving in challenging times is saving for a rainy day.
One example is that Houston signed the lease on A Touch of Art just months before COVID and never missed a beat.
She is very disciplined financially and an avid saver. “As a divorcee and single mom of three children, I have to be aware of everything I spend,” said Houston. “My bills never stopped just because COVID hit.”
Meanwhile, she continues to welcome other business owners at her current location.
One is ShaQuita Pope Maxwell, 46, owner and CEO of On N’ Poppin’ Wellness who’s been in business full-time for a year.
Maxwell works out of the Clay location and offers wellness services (like the ionic foot detox and infrared sauna blanket for relaxation) and products (herbal cleansing soaps and lipo and detox pills for weight loss). Her business motto is simply, “Where Wellness Always Wins.”
Her wellness business is right in line with her former career where trained and worked for 25 years as a medical assistant.
“I always liked to help,” said Maxwell. “And although I initially wanted to work front-desk duty in a doctor’s office, I trained in back-office work assisting doctors, taking patient vitals and doing follow-up calls. And in doing so, I fell in love with patient care.”
She credits her wellness brand and motivational business motto with helping create speaking opportunities and mentorship opportunities as well. Maxwell has long hosted an online group supporting other female business owners called Jus Networking Girls with Shaquita.
She advises anyone wanting to make the leap into full-time business to “study your craft because you must have a heart for what you do. And don’t just sell a product, provide an answer in whatever you do.”
Maxwell says her biggest challenge in business is steady pay but her biggest blessing has come in the form of freedom and flexibility.
Her business was born out of a desire to create works of beauty, but she believes that she has a much weightier calling. “I want to be the entrepreneur that others say helped them figure it out,” said Young.
“I want to provide opportunities at Blue Opal Studio for other aspiring entrepreneurs and help them connect to people that can assist in their vision.”
She means business.
“It’s definitely not just a hobby for me,” said Young. “I want to be taken seriously and my sincere desire is that Blue Opal Studio becomes an umbrella for much more than just jewelry.”
Perhaps the takeaway for all aspiring entrepreneurs is, it’s not just what you create, but more importantly, the lessons and legacy of giving that you leave behind.
Paying it forward and creating strength and influence through partnership to help generations to come.
Updated at 10:24 a.m. on 1/27/23 for editing.