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PostHeaderIcon Business Milestones

PostHeaderIcon Tutus: A Hip Chick's Passion and Business

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Inspiration strikes unexpectedly, ask any artist.  In May, inspiration struck me in the form of a bright red tutu.  At first, I was drawn to it by the color, it looked a bit like a Spanish dancer in motion. But when I put it on I fell in love with what it did for me.

It made me beautiful.  Young.  Free.  Happy.  All for only $12, what a bargain.  Since that day I have had a tutu obsession, and I am wildly and passionately in love with them.  I take my tutus everywhere: beaches, parks and parties. And I put them on everyone: me, friends, family, you name it.  One thing is certain, tutus transform the ordinary into extraordinary. Put one on, twirl around and Shazam! the world is a happy place.  Now tutus have become the symbol for my business, Hip Chick Designs in Benicia, because they represent precisely the image and feeling I want to promote: one of fun, spontaneity and freedom. 

Here’s how it all began:
My daughter Abby, who is 14, and I take a mother-daughter road trip once a year to our family cabin in Bass Lake, Calif.  I am so blessed that my teen daughter actually wants to go on trips with me, and on this trip we had an especially good time, thanks to the red tutu. 

On the drive to Bass Lake there is a small town called Oakhurst, which has some fun thrift shops we always check out.  We really lucked out to see the red tutu hanging outside like a beacon calling to us. And we both agreed it had to come home with us.  At the time, we just liked its’ color and flair, thinking nothing else.  We threw it in the back of the car and drove off. 

Later that day we were talking about what we’d like to do and we thought we would take a drive to the other side of the lake, and take pictures.  I am an avid photographer, always on the ready with my camera, seeking inspiration and a good shot. 

We arrived at the beach and remembered the fun red tutu in the back. I told my daughter to put it on and I’d take her picture.  It was just before sunset and the lighting was ideal as my daughter twirled around in the red tutu, giggling and laughing.  Abby is adorable and a dancer so seeing her dance in the red tutu against the blue water and sunset sky was perfection. 

Then I decided I wanted a turn. Never one to pass up a good time, I put the tutu on over my torn jeans and twirled about laughing and feeling light as a feather.  This tutu had magic in it.  I felt like I was a little girl, like I hadn’t a care in the world and the pictures captured this.  They were gorgeous, every shot better than the next.  I knew this red tutu was special right away, I had no idea where it would lead but I knew it would be good.  After the trip I continued to take the tutu places and take pictures of people wearing it, usually me at first, then anyone who wanted to and I posted these on my blog, http://hipchickdesigns.blogspot.com/.

Recently a friend had a fiftieth birthday and she asked me if I would bring my many tutus to her party. They were the highlight of the evening.  Almost everyone at the party put the tutus on and twirled around to the dance music and let their spirits soar.  There were more than a few men who bravely donned them and even they smiled and danced about. The tutu knows no gender. 

Tutus have become Hip Chick’s symbol of creating a beautiful life with color, play and passion.  They are such fun and this hip chick is all about fun. It really is the motivation behind my business, Hip Chick Designs. My dream was always to have a place of my own to create, away from home, so I could ‘escape’ and explore my creativity.  I found it easily, quickly and affordably in Benicia's arsenal district and rented a studio to reactivate my painting passion. I used the studio for painting with acrylics and oils, and to enjoy having a space of my very own to do whatever I wanted.  I had the space as solely a studio until last December, and then I was offered more square footage so I decided to combine my two loves:, art and antiques at a storestudio. It was exciting to paint the floors, decorate the space and hunt for treasures to furnish the shop.  

Hip Chick Designs had a grand opening in January and it was a blast with dancing, food, and fun.  Since then, the business has continued to grow. Merchandise is ever changing and my art is flowing and growing.   If it’s old and quirky, and doesn’t break the bank, then I buy it.  Generally my prices are very reasonable -- even my customers have said how inexpensive the prices are.  I love a good deal so I figure you will too.  Half the fun of buying something is feeling like you got a good deal and I aim to please in the deal department.  

My new goal for my business is to create a body of tutu paintings, acquire tutus to sell at the shop and have a big show to celebrate wearing a tutu. To date, I have collected 5 tutus in various colors, but I am looking to build my collection and have one in every color.

Hip Chick Designs is located at 946 D Tyler St. Benicia, Calif. 94510
Hours are: Wednesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more info: call at the store at 707-747-5543 or email Carrie at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Come down to the store and put on a tutu and it will post on Hip Chick’s Facebook page.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 23 March 2011 00:00)


PostHeaderIcon Cheers to Concord Toastmasters Club

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The Toastmasters Concord Breakfast Club has an odd quandary. People join to improve their communication, speaking, and leadership skills. With weekly practice, they become adept at speaking, leading, and coaching. Eventually, their employers take notice and offer them promotions and new positions. More responsibility in the workplace can mean less time for extracurricular activities.

That’s when members tend to leave the club.

Ken Smith, a member since 1997, says he noticed the trend of losing members to promotions from his earliest days in the club. One member worked in an entry-level job for a restaurant, joined Toastmasters, and was soon promoted to manager.

"I liken Toastmasters to belonging to a gym," Smith says. "When you come to the meetings every week, you get fit – I call it ‘communications fitness.’"

Another member, who had a part-time job as a receptionist, used her newfound-communications skills to land a full-time position with the same organization.

Some members have even become keynote speakers, and must leave to make time for their professional speaking engagements. Others have received promotions that require them to travel nationally and internationally.

Founded in 1924 at the YMCA in Santa Ana, Calif, Toastmasters International has nearly 260,000 members in roughly 12,500 clubs in more than 100 countries. While each club has a different vibe and meeting schedule, the Toastmasters’ goal is to improve speaking and leadership skills.

At each meeting, members are given roles that range from leading the meeting to selecting the word of the day to giving prepared and impromptu speeches. For example, each week, a member serves as grammarian and selects a word of the day, which impromptu speakers must use during the "Table Topics" portion of the meeting. The goal is to increase members' vocabulary, but it also creates an additional challenge for Table Topics speakers, who must find a way to use the word in their extemporaneous, one- to two-minute speech.

Members are asked to listen carefully and critique each prepared speech and offer encouragement, suggestions, and of course, applause. Over time, members gain confidence and learn how to organize their thoughts and their words, whether they are giving a speech or evaluating performance.

Naturally, good communication and leadership skills open doors and bring new opportunities. While it’s disappointing to lose new members, the club encourages personal and professional growth and the success that follows. Often, former members come back, Smith says. They leave to devote more time to their work or their families, but soon realize communication skills need regular maintenance.

At $10 a month, Concord Breakfast Toastmasters is accessible and affordable to many. To learn more about Concord Breakfast Toastmasters, visit http://www.tm2056.org/.

Gina Gotsill is a San Francisco Bay Area writer and editor. She recently co-authored Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus: Capturing Knowledge for Gen X and Y. Look for a feature on her book on allnewsnoblues.com next month.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 13 July 2011 02:42)


PostHeaderIcon 7 Lessons Family Business Owners Need To Know

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This post comes to us courtesy of Anisha Vikram Shah of Weber Shandwick, the global public relations firm. 

It's old news that small businesses are facing plenty of challenges, but imagine owning a small business and you need to discuss a problem employee ... and it's your little brother.

More than 70 percent of all U.S. businesses are family-owned, and their proprietors often say that success means being one part entrepreneur and one part family psychologist.  To gain deeper insight into what it takes to successfully manage a family-owned business, MassMutual has conducted a study, FamilyPreneurship: What Every Entrepreneur Should Know Before Starting a Business with a Family Member.  After speaking to over 500 family businesses around the country, MassMutual identified seven lessons that family business owners need to know:

It all starts with the intangibles.  Passion for the business and trust between family members and advisers were cited as the two most important critical success factors by current family business owners.  You have to be 100 percent confident your partners are going to be with you through thick and thin, and that your advisers are knowledgeable and steadfast.

Divorce-proof the business.  Regardless of whether the business is owned by a husband and wife team or not - a partner's divorce from a spouse uninvolved in the business can still have disastrous consequences.  Of the 15 percent of respondents whose business had experienced divorce, fully 44 percent had a negative experience.  More than a third have never given the possibility of divorce and its impact on the business a thought.

Who's next?  Most family business owners have inadequate or inflexible succession plans.  While most are worried about how a death would affect the business, and nearly half are worried about how a disability would affect it, many either have no succession plan in place or have one they consider inflexible.

Don't lose it all to Uncle Sam.  More than a third of respondents have no plan in place to deal with estate taxes, which can hurt a family's ability to continue the business and can also erode inheritances.

Communication is the key.  Respondents said that communication is one of the top elements to success because it helps maintain good relationships with family both in and out of the workplace and leads to more effective decision making.

Decide who's the boss and how to make decisions.  Clear definition of roles and responsibilities is critical, enabling the business to run efficiently and ensuring that it avoids paralysis due to confusion over leadership.  Each person has to do what they are best at.  Decision making and disagreement resolution process is also critical to avoid arguments that can stymie the business and hurt morale.  Some businesses adopt a majority rule process.  Others assign decision making responsibility for particular areas to each partner.  And others advocate for a negotiation process.

Strike a balance.  It's easy to get consumed by work demands and to let them invade family life.  Most family business owners discuss work at home and home issues at work, but most say they don't consider this to be a big problem.

These seven lessons are good to remember in this troubled economy.  With America's small businesses having created 65 percent of all new jobs in the last 15 years, the impact of the future of family owned business is more important than ever.

For more information on this and other surveys, contact Anisha Vikram Shah at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated (Sunday, 04 July 2010 18:15)


PostHeaderIcon ClubSport San Ramon Celebrates Twenty Years of Sweat

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At ClubSport in San Ramon, you can take one of dozens of classes, watch NFL Ticket, have a brew, enjoy wine tasting, eat sushi, drink Starbucks, lift some weights and then get a massage to work out the kinks.

Celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, ClubSport has stuck to their mission: to enhance and enrich the lives of our members.

Membership at the 80,000 square foot athletic club includes use of the fitness facilities, nine privately-lit tennis courts, year-round heated pool, basketball court and indoor racquetball and squash courts. Plus, there are dozens of classes to get your heart pumping, including Zumba, cycling, yoga, boot camp, kick boxing, NIA (Neuromuscular Integrative Action using grounded movement for whole body conditioning), ballet tone, water aerobics and Pilates.

The health and fitness industry as a whole has seen a lot of changes in the past 20 years. Stacy Spell, Project Manager for ClubSport San Ramon and Oakwood Athletic Club (in Lafayette) says, "The best part of the change has been the fact that our industry is now attracting top notch, successful young people with great new, innovative ideas, and who embrace change! The industry certainly has become much more professional and focused. We are focused on the individuals and what they need and want, not just on a concept for the masses like 'losing weight.' We are more conscious of offering lifestyle changes. Of course, the mind-body experience has become a part of what we offer as well- such as the introduction of such disciplines like yoga, Pilates, Tai-Chi, etc. The industry is not just 'lifting weights and running on a treadmill anymore!' "

Staying in touch with what's new coupled with providing unparalleled customer service helps keep ClubSport amongst the highest rated fitness facilities in the area. General Manager Andrea Scott says, "I believe one of our biggest challenges is consistent customer service. With a club of over 150 employees, it is a challenge to keep everyone on the same page when it comes to customer service.  We need to always remember that without our members, we wouldn’t exist. To overcome this challenge, we pride ourselves on the excellent customer service trainings that each employee is required to do immediately before or upon beginning employment. This helps us in facilitating our Customer Service Standards with the highest degree of professionalism to provide our members with a great ClubSport San Ramon experience.”

Marketing Representative Sarah Hoffman adds that with so many families in the membership, ClubSport is especially kid friendly. The club offers a variety of kid’s classes for ages 3 to 12, such as gymnastics, dance, karate and soccer. Parents can work out two and a half hours per day while their child (6 weeks – 12 years) is cared for in the supervised facility. There are also kids’ pizza nights and even parent’s night out opportunities for parents to drop their children off so they can enjoy a night on the town.

Older kids are encouraged to take part in the JuniorFit program. Kids from 11 to 17 can take tennis, squash and cycle lessons and participate in junior basketball leagues.

For members wanting to improve their skills, there’s a masters swimming program, basketball and squash leagues and a new running club in the works.

Hoffman says that ClubSport values member feedback and takes suggestions seriously. Suggestion boxes are placed throughout the club and if you make a suggestion, you’ll always receive a follow up phone call from a staff member.

“Member feedback helped the club revamp café offerings to include fresh, healthy options like sushi, wraps, fresh fruit and salads,” she explains.

Hoffman says the ClubSport team is always looking at the latest and greatest in cardio and strength training equipment to bring to the club. They recently added the TRX regimen – used by Navy Seals, professional and everyday athletes for complete body strength training.

ClubSport even has onsite physical therapy and spa services. Get a facial, have your hair done or book a therapeutic or relaxing massage from one of the ClubSport certified massage therapists. You don't have to be a member to take advantage of ClubSport's spa services. Everyone is welcome.

Trying to help members stay healthy in a difficult economic environment has been a priority. The club has been running enrollment promotions, and has developed a terrific incentive for rejoining members. To see their current month’s special, click here.

Research has shown that cardio vascular workouts, strength training and eating healthy can greatly reduce stress and increase happiness. And in these tough times, who couldn’t use a little more happiness and well-being? -JF

ClubSport San Ramon is located at 350 Bollinger Canyon Lane. For more information, visit www.clubsportsr.com. To get the latest information on health and fitness, please visit the ClubSport Blog at http://clubsportsanramon.blogspot.com.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 05 January 2010 02:22)


PostHeaderIcon Windrush School is One of Four Schools Nationwide to Earn Highest Green Building Award

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With skylights, plenty of bike racks and plumbing that is saving 140,000 gallons of water annually, Windrush School in El Cerrito has been named one of the nation’s greenest schools.

Windrush School’s new classroom wing recently earned the highest rating available from the U.S. Green Building Council: The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Platinum designation. Windrush, which includes kindergarten to eighth grades, is one of only four schools in the nation to earn the award given to buildings that have highly energy-efficient structural designs. 

“We started the design and construction process using LEED as a tool to keep us honest in our quest for a healthy new building,” said Bonnie Whitler, Windrush School’s director of finance and operations.  “As we progressed, we realized we could exceed our goal of a silver rating, set our sights on LEED Gold, and, ultimately, were thrilled to achieve LEED Platinum.”

Taking advantage of Windrush’s bayside location in El Cerrito, the architectural firm Ratcliff in Emeryville designed the new classroom wing with an insulated concrete building shell, naturally ventilated and cooled classrooms with radiant floor heat, and photovoltaic panels. 

These energy-efficient designs create projected annual energy savings and reduced carbon dioxide emissions of 50 percent over a comparable structure.  In addition, 90 percent of construction waste from the project was diverted or recycled.

“Building green with a sense of purpose and consciousness underscores our commitment to progressive education, where students learn to become good citizens, engaged leaders, and community members who care about the planet and its people,” said Ilana Kaufman, head of Windrush School.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 13 December 2011 04:30)

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