Angie Hill Does it All

Angie Hill leaves the big city behind, returning home to Northwest Florida to fuel her entrepreneurial spirit.

Angie Hill Does it All A nurse-turned-entrepreneur keeps her Blountstown business thriving By Ana Goni-Lessan

Angie Hill owns a Merle Norman franchise. And a boutique. And a party planning service, beauty salon and movie rental store. And all are housed in one 4,100-square-foot storefront.

But she didn’t begin her career as an entrepreneur. After graduating from nursing school in 1992, she worked at Calhoun-Liberty Hospital and met her husband, Phillip, who was an emergency medical technician there at the time.

After eight years, they decided to quit their jobs and move to Atlanta for a change of pace. There, she worked in a furniture store her father-in-law was opening.

The Hills traveled between Atlanta and Blountstown for a few years, until Angie Hill’s friends told her of an ad in the paper that said Merle Norman, a beauty supply store in Blountstown on Highway 20, was for sale.

“I’d always wanted to own one,” she said. “It was my thing. I love makeup.”

The Hills bought the store, financing it with money Phillip Hill had saved by working two paramedic jobs. They had been planning to run the store from Atlanta until plans abruptly changed two weeks after the purchase. She was pregnant.

“I didn’t want to raise little kids up there,” she explained. Large cities like Atlanta have their advantages, but living in a small town like Blountstown “is very ideal” for raising children and affords the opportunity to be close to schools, day care, doctors and hospitals, she said. So the couple decided to move back to Blountstown and to start setting up the store.

It was a mutual effort by the couple to prepare for their new business venture. She began taking classes at Chipola College’s Cosmetology Program after the birth of her second child and, for the first year, Phillip Hill ran the store.

When the salon part of the business first opened, she was the only stylist. But as business took off, she added a stylist each year for the first five years to meet the needs of her growing customer base.

Everything was going well until the end of 2009, when the business began to feel the weight of the bad economy.

“We felt like we had gotten stagnant,” Angie Hill said. So she and her husband sat down to rethink their game plan.

At the time, the Merle Norman Salon & Spa was being operated out of what used to be a family home in a stand-alone location on Highway 20. Because the popular business had outgrown its parking lot, the couple decided to move.

Looking back, Phillip Hill believes they should have made the move the year before. “We had just outgrown our building, plain and simple,” he said.

The Hills found a good deal on a location in a shopping center off Main Street alongside Harvey’s Supermarket, one of only two grocery stores in town. Traffic count studies provided by the leasing company showed the Hills that the new location would be a great place for them to work in concert with other nearby businesses.

The move has proven to be more successful than the couple first hoped. “We have had more business here because we’re networking with other businesses in the shopping center. Here they could be going to get milk and then pop in,” she said. “It was a good move.”

Now the Merle Norman Salon & Spa has more space to sell other items — Yankee Candle Company products, gourmet food and handbags are just a few lines the boutique offers. Monogramming is also available for clothing, which Angie Hill contracts out to another local business in Liberty County.

Behind the boutique and to the left of the salon is the party area. Three tables with chairs, a couch and a fireplace are set up, divided from the salon by a velvet wallpapered wall.

Last December, the business hosted more than 30 people at a party the Calhoun County Clerk of Court gave as a Christmas present for her staff. For almost five hours, Angie Hill and her stylists gave manicures, pedicures, facials and haircuts.

Staff parties aren’t her only specialty. She plans more children’s parties, evidenced by the glitter makeup and lotion bar in the boutique section of the store. “I started collecting the party dresses about seven years ago on the assumption that we would do the princess parties,” she said of the brightly colored costume dresses that hang on a rack in the back room.

But even the new, larger location still couldn’t contain all she wanted to do. After the local Movie Gallery went out of business, she wanted to open a movie rental store of her own.

To expand her space in the shopping center, she proposed a trade. Sh0e offered a neighboring business, a children’s consignment store named Pollywogs and Bullfrogs, her old store on Highway 20. In exchange, she would take over their shopping center space so the Hills wouldn’t have to worry about traveling back and forth from one business to the other.

Reel Time Movie Rentals opened in September. “We felt like Blountstown needed a large DVD rental spot and an area people could come to and get on the computer,” Angie Hill said. Besides renting movies, customers can enjoy wireless Internet, coffee and food.

An open doorway connects the two businesses between the party planning area of the salon and spa and the movie store. Movies are constantly playing on a big-screen TV, and customers are invited to watch and relax.

“And they do. They go over there to watch movies and get coffee or wait for their hair to get washed out,” she said.

Angie Hill realizes hers isn’t a typical business. She credits her success to plenty of research and her readiness to fulfill the growing needs of her community.

She urges potential business owners to think long and hard about their area and its needs. “Make sure your demographics support whatever business venture you plan on getting into,” she said.

She also believes business owners don’t have to own their storefront, and that leasing is a viable option. “When you own your own property, there are surprise expenses,” she said. “With a lease, you know what you’re going to pay and renters don’t have to worry about property taxes or insurance.”

Maintenance became an issue at the old location. Phillip Hill was in charge of the upkeep, but with his new job as interim administrator at the Calhoun-Liberty Hospital in Blountstown, he didn’t have time to maintain the store like he had in the past.

Angie Hill contends the change to leasing has benefited them greatly without a downside. “It’s a win-win situation for us,” she said.

In the first nine months, she said her business has had a more than 20 percent increase in revenue. The 2010 holiday opening brought in more money in one day than any other day in the store’s nine-year history.

The business has cut down on advertising in the newspaper by 60 percent and focuses primarily on direct mail and social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. “If you’re not on FB or tweeting, you’re out of the game,” Phillip Hill said.

Angie Hill said she doesn’t know whether to attribute the business success to the new location or to the economy, but she said something has brought about positive energy.

“I can feel it here,” she said.