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Winds of change for baby business.

Walk into Gracewinds, an inviting storefront in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, and you immediately feel at ease. It's a warm, old-shoe kind of place, with comfortable couches, murals and paintings on the walls, oriental carpets, and brightly colored woodwork.

The hodgepodge of interconnecting spaces reflects the variety of services for expectant and new parents provided by Gracewinds Perinatal Services: classrooms for childbirth education; studios for yoga and fitness classes; treatment rooms for massage and acupuncture; and rooms for lactation consultants.

It also includes a retail shop, The Peapod Book and Birth Store, which specializes in baby items. Next door is The Velveteen Child, a bookstore for mostly used children's books. In the back, The China Cat Cafe sells lattes and snacks.

The mood mirrors the down-to-earth friendliness of Christine Wallace, Gracewinds chief executive and founder. "I didn't want it to have a medical clinic feel," Wallace said. "I wanted it to feel like you could come here and take your shoes off."

A childbirth educator, certified labor doula, mother of five and new grandmother, Wallace started Gracewinds in 2002 when she saw that expectant couples and new parents had to look all over town for services.

"It was crazy," she said. "I thought, why not put them all together?"

She started with five contract practitioners operating out of a former tavern. She and her husband, Jeff Carson, self-financed the business with a few thousand dollars. Jeff did carpentry and remodeling in ex change for a few months' rent on the building. Christine made use of her art background by painting murals.

The business started taking off, adding practitioners and clients--so much so that two and a half years later, "we were growing ourselves out of business" Wallace said.

"We were so successful at getting clients and referrals that I couldn't keep up with the number of brochures people were asking for" she said. "More people in class es meant more books and materials were needed. And we were running out of space."

That's when she went to the Washington Small Business Development Center for help. Michael Franz, a certified business adviser for the WSBDC, guided her in clarifying her vision, defining it in a plan, establishing financial systems and managing cash flow.

The WSBDC is part of a network of such centers across the country that, in partnership with the Small Business Administration, offer free consulting and low-cost training to entrepreneurs.

Franz's help enabled Wallace to obtain a $35,000 loan especially for woman- or minority-owned businesses from the Cascadia Revolving Fund. It allowed her to take over adjoining space, doubling the size of the business, and open the Peapod store.

Now Gracewinds has 3,200 square feet, nearly 40 practitioners and scores of classes and workshops offered seven days a week. The practitioners include midwives, nurses, doulas, lactation consultants, childbirth educators, acupuncturists and massage therapists. They pay a fee to Gracewinds, for which they receive marketing and Web site exposure, space use and office support.

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The shop now generates a third of total revenue. More than 3,000 families have used the services of Gracewinds. Wallace and Gracewinds have won a number of national, state and local business awards, and she was the 2007 state and regional SBA Women in Business Champion.

The slowdown in the economy in late 2007 meant Gracewinds didn't quite make its projected $300,000 revenue, but it should easily exceed that for 2008, said Carson, chief financial officer. Still, revenue in 2007 was 36 percent above 2006, and 2006 revenue was 50 percent higher than in 2005.

"The Gracewinds story is an inspiration," said Franz. "There are some qualifies in business that are intangible. Christine Wallace is very magnetic. She has a vision with clarity, and she's driven to achieve her vision. One thing that distinguishes Christine from a lot of entrepreneurs is that she aims very high. She's not afraid to tackle big dreams."

Her big dreams are still evolving. She's working on a new-fathers program that will become the first of its type certified by the national Childbirth and Postpartum Professionals Association. She started her own publishing company, Braxton-Hicks, to publish her labor guide for doulas, which now has international distribution. She set up Grace-winds Global Breast Milk Initiative, a non-profit focused on promoting and supporting breastfeeding in third-world countries. She holds monthly meetings for women business owners, focusing on entrepreneurship.

And she continues to consult with Franz about taking Gracewinds to the next step. She hopes to open one or two branches in Seattle in the next year or so, "and after that, it's wide open," she said. She insists on maintaining the same intimate feeling that she believes is key to Gracewinds' SUCCESS.

Wallace believes many new parents don't have support systems or family members nearby. Gracewinds fills a void. "What we're providing here is age-old and timeless--a community of support under one roof."

WALLACE'S BEST BUSINESS DECISION?

"Bringing in the talent pool of consultants we needed from the very beginning--like our attorney. That way, as we grew we didn't have to go back and redo things, because they were done right from the very beginning."

A GRACEWINDS GROWING PAIN?

"Managing explosive growth. As a novice, you think growth is a good thing. But it can actually be a very hard thing for a business."

Gracewinds Perinatal Services * 1421 N.W. 70th St., Seattle, Wash. 98117 * (206) 781-9871 * www.gracewindsperinatal.com Founded 2002 * 1 full-time employee, excluding Wallace and her husband * 2007 revenue: Just under $300,000
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Title Annotation:FROM BEGINNERS TO BIGSHOTS
Author:Brahm, Jane Meyer
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Geographic Code:1U3IN
Date:Apr 1, 2008
Words:918
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