Monday, July 9, 2007

Karate Kids

This former ballerina and stunt woman has turned her love of martial arts into an empire.


Entrepreneur: Dawn Barnes, 40s, founder of Dawn Barnes Karate Kids Santa Monica, California

Description: children's karate school that focuses on inspiring self-esteem in every child

Startup Costs: $15,000 in 1995

Projected 2005 sales: $2.5 million for the four studios

Pupil to teacher: In 1984, Dawn Barnes enrolled herself and her two young sons in a karate class with no idea of the adventures that awaited. By signing up, this former ballerina and stuntwoman started down the path to becoming a third-degree black belt, successful entrepreneur and well-known leader in the martial arts industry. Fascinated by the physical/spiritual balance of martial arts, Barnes trained diligently and, about 10 years later, opened the doors to her own school.

Mind, body, spirit: Described by some as the "Four Seasons of karate," Barnes' four schools are lavishly equipped with leather seating, wall murals, Olympic judo mats and colorful equipment. But the schools' true beauty can be found in the life skills emphasized during each class. Focusing on respect, patience, kindness and honesty, all 1,200 students, ages 4 to 14, finish each class with a single thought: "Every day, do something to make your mind strong, your body strong, your spirit strong."

No fear: Barnes's next step is to take the phrase she coined--"positive dialogue response," meaning motivating children with praise rather than fear--worldwide. She has written instructors manuals and produced DVDs used by teachers worldwide, she spreads her teachings by speaking at national conventions, and she has written a new children's book series--soon to be turned into a feature film--titled The Black Belt Club. Says Barnes, "If one seed of self-esteem can be planted in one child, that child is going to grow up and make a difference for other people."

Taking Sportswear to a New Level

Chic meets beach at this upscale fashion destination.


Description: High-end clothing retailer with three locations in Orange County, California
Founders: Billy Stade, 35, & Kari Stade, 25
Location: Costa Mesa, California
Projected 2005 Sales: $6 million

Snowboard Season: Billy Stade's passion for snowboarding led him to start selling snowboards out of a tiny 5-foot-by-20-foot retail space in 1993. With only enough money for first and last month's rent, Billy negotiated deals with vendors he knew to front him product. The snowboards sold well that first season, but as warmer weather approached, Billy realized he'd have to expand his product offering if he was going to stay in business during the spring and summer months. As he looked at the surf and clothing shops in his high-traffic Huntington Beach, California, location, Billy decided to get into the fashion arena. And there were other expansions: About six years ago, Billy hired Kari as an office manager, and the pair married in 2003.

Fashion Forward: Going beyond typical surf wear, The Closet sells both men's and women's fashions that echo chic international styles with the relaxed California vibe mixed in. "We always had to be forward, progressive and intelligent to compete with such big surf shops around us," recalls Billy. Today, The Closet sells only a few high-end, limited-edition snowboard products, having shifted to focus on its extremely successful fashion retail business. With an eye for the high-end sportswear and casual trends exemplified by brands like Lacoste, Modern Amusement, Stussy and Volcom, The Closet has been compared to boutiques like Henri Bendel in Los Angeles.

Failed Economics: It hasn't been all sunny days for this entrepreneurial couple, though. They recall late 2001, when The Closet launched a third location that was quickly toppled by the economic downturn after 9/11. "We just buckled down," says Billy. "We went completely bare-bones. It was just [Kari] and I working 9-to-9 shifts [to] build back up." With perseverance, they weathered the storm, and today the company again operates stores in three of Orange County's coastal locales--Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach--with plans to add two more next year.