PASSING THE TORCH: From Father to Daughter, Local Biz Talks Transition
succession planning key to future for Eau Claire’s Bed, Bath & Drapery Shop
On Sunday, Jan. 1, just as smoothly, quietly, and effortlessly as the automated, motorized window coverings he sells, Larry Kleist – owner for the past 28 years of The Bed, Bath & Drapery Shop, 3475 E. Hamilton Ave. – turned over the keys of the store to its new owner. He didn’t need to go far. In fact, he handed them across the kitchen table to his daughter Susie Kleist, adding the store now to the list of woman-owned businesses in the Chippewa Valley.
For entrepreneurs, starting a business – whether family-owned or not – is risky. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more. A business succession plan ensures that a family-owned business, whether large or small, will continue to run successfully once the owner, founder, or leaders leave for whatever reason.
“I was looking to retire or semi-retire and was looking for someone to sell the business to,” shared Larry via email. “Susie and I had not talked about succession planning in recent years until the end of year 2021 into 2022. Susie’s retail career had taken off, and she was enjoying what she was doing.”
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more.
“COVID changed a lot for me,” shared Susie via email. “Although I loved working for Ulta Beauty corporate, at the time I left, I was working mainly from home as our corporate offices had only just returned to a hybrid-model in April 2022, and I was on back-to-back video calls from 8 to 5 daily.
“I knew I needed a change from corporate life,” she continued. “Since moving back to Eau Claire in July 2022, I’ve enjoyed working with customers directly again. Family has always been important to me, so it is great being near them again. And I’m enjoying rediscovering the Chippewa Valley as the area has changed a lot in the 20 years since I lived here.”
The Bed, Bath & Drapery Shop is a locally owned and operated, full-service decorating store that provides free in-home or business consultations for custom window treatments. The store is unique because it is the only store in the area with custom window treatments as its main product line.
According to both father and daughter, with the transition, “customer service will remain our No. 1 priority. Our goal is to offer a quality product at a fair price with professional installation and service before, during, and after the sale that is above the competition. We have a great team, which prides itself on knowledge and expertise and helping our customers find the perfect solutions for their window treatment needs, so no changes there.”
One could say that working in retail is in the Kleist family’s blood. Both father and daughter rose through the ranks and gained their experience in other retail businesses.
Larry, a baby boomer and Blugold, graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1972 as a high school social studies teacher, and although he student taught, he was offered a management training position at Prange Way in Eau Claire. He spent the next 22 years rising through the ranks gaining experience in the corporate buying office, then managing stores in Madison and Chippewa Falls, before opening the new Prange Way store at London Square Mall in Eau Claire in 1988, which he managed until 1994.
In May 1994, Larry bought The Bed, Bath & Drapery Shop from its previous owner who was looking to sell and retire. The shop was then at 1402 S. Hastings Way.
“At that time, ready-made bedding (bedspreads and comforter ensembles) and ready-made window treatments were our primary sales followed by custom window treatments,” he shared. “This has shifted over the years, and now the biggest portion of our business comes from custom window treatments.”
“My dad has done a great job of building a successful store in our community,” shared Susie. “I plan to keep the overall business model the same. I’m sure there will be small changes as the business environment evolves, yet our customers should continue to expect the same great product and service level they have had for the last 28-plus years.” –Susie Kleist
Larry will stay involved to ensure a seamless transition by sharing his experience and expertise. “I am most proud of the relationships I’ve built, both professionally and with my customers, that have been maintained through my 28 years,” he shared. “I look forward to maintaining these relationships moving forward in my reduced role.”
Susie, a millennial/Gen Yer and a Badger, graduated from UW-Madison in 2006 with a degree in Consumer Science-Retailing. She started her retail career at the family business. “I would come in and hang out with my dad and fold towels or do other small tasks,” she shared. “I officially started working nights and weekends in high school. In 2003, my final summer working there, the store relocated to its current location, and I did the purchasing of the in-store goods to fill it.”
Throughout college, Susie worked at Boston Store in Madison and did a management training program there. After graduation, she was promoted to a sales manager at Younkers in Appleton, then became a store manager for Ann Taylor LOFT in Madison. She was general manager at Ulta Beauty in Madison and Pleasant Prairie, then was transferred into a corporate role where she traveled nationwide opening new Ulta Beauty stores. From there she was promoted to a project manager role at Ulta Beauty headquarters in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and then again promoted to a corporate supply chain manager role. Overall, she worked eight years at Ulta Beauty, four of them in corporate positions.
“My dad has done a great job of building a successful store in our community,” shared Susie. “I plan to keep the overall business model the same. I’m sure there will be small changes as the business environment evolves, yet our customers should continue to expect the same great product and service level they have had for the last 28-plus years. I have very big shoes to fill and am honored to be able to continue my dad Larry’s legacy and keep the business family-owned and now woman-owned, too.”