Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.

Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.

What do you do and how long have you been doing it?

We promote local, Northwest and regional artists and designers of clothing, jewelry and art. We dress women for their most memorable lifetime events. We will be 17 years doing this in May.

How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley?

I have lived in the Rogue Valley off and on for 36 years. I was born on the East Coast, but moved here as a small child, then came and went a few times after that.

What inspired you to go into this line of work?

I really want to be a conduit of creativity. Artists are not always the people best to represent their work. There was a great welcoming of that idea when we started. It's hard to be creative and a salesperson at the same time because it's so deeply personal.

What decision or action would you change if you could do it again?

When I embarked on the journey to launch the online store in August of 2006, I had no idea that it was really like starting a second business. Everyone has been asking forever for us to start an online store, but I discovered I should have assembled a clear business plan instead of just saying "That sounds like a good idea, let's do it."

What's the toughest business decision you've made?

All the toughest business decisions really had to do with what we've done in the past year. I tried to do something very vague and on a shoestring because I didn't know what I was doing. I was trying to do an online store inexpensively and ended up having to pay for it two or three times over. When you know you want to move in a direction that's good, but if you don't have the savvy to do it, you have to be careful. I would have been better off paying the higher-dollar experts to do it.

Who are your competitors?

No one is doing what we're doing, customizing dresses and giving customers the choices of color and length or providing the quality we provide. We're in a league of our own in a certain way. There is a lot of competition out there, but at the same time women have a hard time finding clothes to wear for these occasions. Some people start here and can't believe they don't have to go anywhere else. Sometimes, I will walk down the street and see all the imports and ask myself 'How are we in business? Then I realize we're not competing with them. The people here might be paying a little more but they are paying for a quality garment they'll have forever that won't go out of style.

What are your goals?

People are starting to find us on the Web. There was a woman on the East Coast that couldn't believe how she found something that fit her so perfectly. From what I've heard when people are successful on the Internet, they'll close their retail stores; I have no intention of doing that. I hope we're successful beyond our wildest dreams. We love the idea of having other Hearts & Hands in other cities across the country, possibly franchised. My goal is that the caliber of person we're looking for will find us from all over the world.

What training or education did you need?

I had three years of mixed college education, but really life experience in the store has been my education. When you're in a tourist town where the influx varies so greatly, I feel fortunate to be an independent business owner. I have always had someone who could take care of some of the more grueling aspects of the business. Right now Janice Ortega is manager and facilitator that handles those things.

What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs?

Do your homework. Don't reinvent the wheel, network with people who are doing or have done the things you're interested in. Balance out the creative impulse with research and learning the business end of the operation. Those are the things I've maybe learned the harder way.

To suggest an idea for this column, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com