Job Shadow: Kim Woodby, Willow on Water Owner

By Will Bowe

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Kim Woodby, owner, Willow on Water unboxing new inventory. ©2019 Will Bowe

Being a business owner is all about variety, especially for Kim Woodby, owner of “Willow On Water” in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Willow is a boutique design shop that sells everything from room décor to kitchen supplies. Woodby opened the business in 1998 and has been running Willow on Water, or just “Willow” ever since. Growing up in Menomonie Falls, WI, the Willow owner did not go to college and instead spent many years working as a manager for “Steins Garden and gift shop.” She decided to move to Eau Claire in the late 1980s where she became district manager and buyer for “The Wood Factory.”

For people who want to get into the design business or entrepreneurship, Woodby recommended working for other people in the business first. She said the only reason that her business has been successful is because of her experience learning what did and did not work in previous jobs. When discussing education and the importance of it in her industry, Woodby said there is no way to teach what she does. Some people have what it takes, some do not. She has tried hiring people from the design program at CVTC in the past. She noticed the employees were trying too hard to do everything by the book. They lacked the creativity to be able to think outside the box when creating displays or arrangements. Thus, education is not very important to her when it comes to hiring new employees.

I asked her about entrepreneurship and what to expect if I pursue running my own business in the future. “Don’t expect to make a lot of money, and make sure you open a business you love.” She said the most important thing about owning a business is knowing your customer base. Stressing that you have to love the people who you will see every day. Another piece of advice that I picked up from Woodby was to keep up with the businesses in your area. There have been times when other businesses were selling the same lines as she was. She told me a story about one business that even sent spies into her shop once to take her ideas. But having a close-knit network with other shops has also been one of the most beneficial things to her business. Giving her the ability to hold events with other businesses on Water street that help all businesses involved. Woodby plans to keep Willow running for as long as possible, and staying in Eau Claire helping other businesses after she retires. A link to the Willow on Water Facebook page is available here.

 

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