Oh My! A Retailer With a Heart of Gold and the Disposition to Match

Carla Ruppert is decidedly cut from the entrepreneurial cloth and has been since creating her first business enterprise 21 years ago in 1997. That was shortly after her first son was born. Starting truly small, she literally carved out a small space to rent inside of an established business on Phoenix Street in South Haven. Her “rent” included working in exchange for the opportunity to post a selection of her toys, scrapbook supplies, and a clothing line that she dyed and embellished in her spare time inside that other business.

Six years later, in 2003, she got the opportunity to move into her own spot next to Clementines restaurant, ingeniously pressing the name “Oh My Darlings” into the local lexicon. Carla and her three children have enjoyed working and playing at the shop over the years, but she really blossomed three years ago when she was able to head back to her “roots.” It was in 2015 that Carla had the opportunity to open a second Oh My Darlings store in downtown St.  Joseph.

Having grown up in Berrien County and attended Michigan Lutheran High School, she was excited to head back “home.”  That St. Joseph location, on State Street in the city’s central business district is very similar to the South Haven shop bearing the same name.

As Carla’s youngest daughter turned 17, she realized that she had outgrown “toys and such,” so Carla developed a business model specializing in men’s and women’s accessories. Earlier this year, in the spring of 2018, she established her new Bells-n-Whistles opened shop in downtown South Haven and Carla’s daughter helps her run that operation.

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As the owner of three small, local business enterprises with a combined staff of some 13 full and part time employees, Carla Ruppert earned the respect of her nominator and the selection committee of the Fifteen Under 15 for three core reasons: She goes above & beyond for her community in both her workplace and the community of Michigan’s Great Southwest combined…she has excelled, and continues to do so in her industry by growing from one store to three in 21 years of service…and she unfailingly contributes to each of her community’s events and festivals, countless charities & business groups and all without blinking an eye. Why? “Because Carla understands the meaning of every dollar being spent locally.”

The blueprints for Oh My Darlings shops in both South Haven and St  Joe are similar. The shops offer unique baby, toddler, and child offerings. Meanwhile, her Bells -n-Whistles shop is an upscale store with adult offerings. Importantly to the local community, while the bulk of the profits are enjoyed during the summer tourist season, all of her businesses remain open year-round to ensure uninterrupted employment for her team, and her desire to cater to local customers as well.

Oh My Darlings is a great children’s store with unique offerings for kids and those who are kids-at-heart. Carla specializes in baby and toddler attire that begs for “Kodak moments.” The wooden toys, crafts, and retro games offered frequently take customers well back to yesteryear. Her third store, in South Haven, offers a fun selection of men’s and women’s accessories for ladies and gents.

Much to the delight of those who know the stores, there is a definite emphasis on teamwork at all of her retail locations. Her nominator contends, “Nobody will ever hear Carla say that someone works for her…people work ‘with’ Carla to provide a fun and safe shopping experience for children, adults, and employees alike.” They add, “The fact that many moms and grandmas have made Oh My Darlings a tradition for many years proves that.” Additionally, having many workers on staff with 10 or more years under their belt and even a few original workers at St. Joseph since day one corroborates that fact.

The nomination application suggests that Carla Ruppert aligns her company values with her own core values about life itself:

  • Belief in God first
  • Family comes fundamentally second
  • Honesty and trust are major factors
  • Dependability and reliability among all team members is prudent as well

Having started her journey in 1997, 21 years with a successful business model is quite an achievement alone. However, “the fact that she and her team still love their job after all these years isn’t too shabby either,” according to her nominator. Over the years Carla has received recognition from various organizations and festivals for donated monies, sponsorships, and volunteer time served. Her favorite awards are those that come from “the people” through Readers Choice victories over the years.

When it comes to challenges faced in business, Carla’s earliest hurdle was simply parenthood. As her nominator suggests, “Three children and various ‘furry friends’ over the years definitely tests your patience when trying to maintain a healthy work environment for fellow employees and customers, however, many of Carla’s current workers and workers through the years have been moms and grandmas so there’s a dynamic there that becomes intertwined with one’s career.” Keep in mind, too, that the economic meltdown in 1999 didn’t help business, but it did teach the company how to buckle down and make it work.

For Carla Ruppert’s team, by offering a relaxed and flexible work schedule, all employees have the time needed to make an impact in their community and with their families. The company feels that more employees are better.  More employees to work as a team with less hours rather than fewer employees working an over abundance of time.  Freeing up the time of the associates allows moms and grandmas to parent better and volunteer within the community. Likewise, high school age employees become involved in all aspects of high school, including clubs and extracurricular activities, and avoid sacrificing them for a job that keeps them tied up for too long.

When it comes to making a difference in the community, all of Carla’s stores make a point to advertise and promote any and all festivals and events in the region through social media, word of mouth, and monetarily. The company involves themselves in any way offered or made available.  Examples include but are not limited to:

  • The annual Hospice wine tasting event
  • All festivals in South Haven
  • All festivals in St. Joseph
  • Chamber of Commerce membership in South Haven
  • Membership in St. Joseph Today
  • Visitors Bureau sponsor in South Haven
  • Chili Cook Off participant in St. Joseph
  • Live Mannequin event participant in St. Joseph
  • Kitchenaid Senior PGA Championship promo participant in St. Joseph
  • Light Up the Lake Fireworks sponsor in South Haven

In a day and age when brick and mortar retail shops are ever threatened, Carla Ruppert keeps it real for customers, employees and the community alike, working to provide a pleasant retail experience and value-added support for the communities that she calls home.

To learn more, feel free to call 269-637-7900 or click this link right now: http://www.ohmydarlings.com.

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