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Grand Opening!

Follow two Country Clutter franchisees through their first day in business.

Their store was scheduled to open on November 16, a week before Thanksgiving, but permit problems pushed back the grand opening of Tirzah Hancock and Karen Richardson's Country Clutter one week. Calls have been made, plans have been changed, anxiety and optimism have battled it out, and finally opening day is here.

Hancock and Richardson arrive at their Elk Grove, California, store at 8:45 to prepare for a 10 a.m. opening. Within an hour, a line has already formed outside, so the partners decide to unveil their store 10 minutes early. Customers stream in with discount cards Hancock and Richardson mailed out. A live broadcast by a local radio station also brings people to Country Clutter.

"The warmth from the community, the positive feedback, people thanking us for opening the store and welcoming us [surprised me]," says Richardson. "Those were some of the best things we could have heard all day."

The franchisees, former co-workers at a cable company, man the store all opening day, while their eight employees each work a shift.

As the day wears on, Hancock and Richardson, both 37, get visits, calls and even flowers from family and friends wishing them well.

The steady flow of customers leaves the Country Clutter team little time to rest. People in the community are already familiar with the franchise, which sells candles, stuffed bears, pictures and other country gifts. The nearest store is about 30 minutes away, in Gilroy. "These customers are thankful they don't have to do the drive [anymore]," Richardson says.

Hancock and Richardson also like having the store nearby. "[Karen and I] walked into the store in Gilroy, and it just seemed fun. The employees and the owners were having fun," Hancock says. "And all the stuff was fun and neat; we wanted one of everything. So we decided to open a store and have everything."

The customers seem to want everything, too. Hancock, Richardson and their staff are still learning how to use the registers, but the customers understand and, luckily, are patient. "We had a few computer problems," Hancock says. "We're still on a learning curve."

The Country Clutter crew discovered another challenge during the first day. "The fun thing is trying to figure out what fits in what bag, because we have several different bags," Hancock says.

The store is supposed to close at 7, but Hancock and Richardson stay open until 8. Closing up will take about an hour, then it's home to bed. "The night before, [I slept] roughly 10 hours and then after about 10 hours," Richardson says. "Even though you're pretty wound up and excited from the successful day, you're also really tired."

During their first week in business, Hancock and Richardson hire another employee and stay open late to meet holiday demand. They're also working to get the business running as smoothly as possible. "We're still trying to figure out some of the kinks, and we're not as organized as either one of us would like to be," Hancock says. "We're both very organized people and you can't get organized in a week, but we're plugging along."

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