A limited-run attraction in the Northland is set to offer India Wells-Carter a snapshot of what startup life could look like longterm.
“This feels safer,” Wells-Carter said, expressing a healthy mix of fear, relief, and confidence about the test run for her new venture:Fresh Factory KC, a selfie experience set to launch May 29 — and thankful for a Zona Rosa-led pop-up program that empowers small business owners to launch brick-and-mortar storefronts within the shopping center and with mitigated risk.
“When you first start out, it’s difficult and often scary to sign a long-term deal when you just haven’t had a chance to prove your concept yet,” added Natalie Bass, Zona Rosa marketing director. “Will customers come? Will my merchandise or product sell?”
“The pop-up program is for people with an idea, a solid business plan, and it gives a launching pad to try out their concept.”
Why support pop-ups?
“It’s about supporting our community, local startups and business owners who want a chance at making their dream a reality,” Natalie Bass said of the ultimate goal of the Zona Rosa pop-up program, which also aims to revitalize Zona Rosa.
“We recently announced a multi-phased, multi-million dollar redevelopment in the center to help us once again be the hub of the Northland. Pop-ups with interesting offerings drive people to our center to shop and dine and that’s what we are focused on right now.”
Click here to learn more about the Zona Rosa pop-up program.
As one of those entrepreneurs, Wells-Carter won’t have to worry about making rent payments throughout her seven-month stay in a space formerly occupied by women’s wear retailer Charlotte Russe. She’ll also benefit from reduced utility costs — a major perk, she said, noting she discovered the program by accident in the early days of her business planning.
Click here to read about Wells-Carter’s participation in entrepreneurial development programming with Entrepreneur Business Basics.
“I called and was like, ‘Hey, I see you’ve got some leasing opportunities. I don’t know what I’m getting myself into,’” she laughed, noting the selfie-inspired business came together in a matter of months amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Maybe it’s a millennial thing, but I just love the experience of being able to capture photos and have fun. It was an idea I couldn’t shake. … It was something I was thinking about night and day,” Wells-Carter said, adding the startup was inspired by visits to various selfie studios across the country; a type of attraction Kansas City has, but the Northland lacked.
Click here to learn more about the Fresh Factory KC selfie attraction and event space.
Wells-Carter also believed the experience would help her step out of her comfort zone in the nonprofit world — having formerly worked for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and currently serving as executive director of Show Me KC Schools — and further empower her in an often-male-dominated world, she explained.
“As a woman — and even as an executive director — sometimes you feel boxed in. [You think,] ‘Oh, I have to stay over here,’ or, ‘Oh, this isn’t my expertise.’ There’s so many serial entrepreneurs and so many people that are passionate about things and they just go for it,” she explained.
“So, I decided I needed to go for it,” Wells-Carter added, noting her advice to fellow entrepreneurs: “Do it scared, but do it anyway.”
When Fresh Factory opens its doors later this month, guests will be met with more than two dozen, custom-designed backdrops where they can take selfies, use as the set for TikTok videos, or even snap professional headshots, she detailed.
“All of the sets, as we call them, will be ‘fresh’ themed,” Wells-Carter explained, sharing her vision for the space and acknowledging ways she’s drawn inspiration from its name.
“In the cobalt blue room, that’s going to be our ‘Fresh Prince’ room, so just imagine the 1990s, Will Smith graffiti,” she added, gesturing toward partially constructed, boldly-painted sets that line the walls of the space.
Additional themes include the likes of “minty fresh,” “fresh out of water,” and “fresh as a daisy.”
“Fresh Factory is a selfie attraction unlike any other. Of course you’re going to get amazing selfies. Of course you’re going to capture amazing videos. But it goes beyond that. Bring a date here and you’re going to get a second date. Have a birthday party here and you’re going to be the woman or man of the week because your birthday is going to be so amazing and so fresh.”
The space also is expected to feature live, local music and such small business vendors as The Pink Dinosaur — a T-shirt shop and boutique (and fellow participant in the Zona Rosa pop-up program).
Many selfie studios are small in size, India Wells-Carter said, standing in the center of the 5,000-square-foot space Fresh Factory will soon call home.
“For me, that fresh, open concept was important. We’re on the tail-end of COVID … but there’s still COVID,” she said, noting the space will welcome guests in small groups and offer them plenty of space to social distance while reconnecting with the fun they’ve been deprived of over the past 15-months.
“I don’t want people to feel afraid or fearful entering our space. It’s going to bring a lot of fun — fun that most people, I think, are really coveting right now. Hopefully it’s something that can create lasting memories.”
“She’s quite successful,” Wells-Carter said of her retail neighbor, Elle Steadman, owner of The Pink Dinosaur.
“She’s a mother who had an online store and decided she desired to have a storefront. … They’re going to do their own design right over there,’ she said, gesturing to a large, blank space on the retail shop’s west wall.
“For me, those partnerships are critical to this work. Amplifying Kansas City artists and our art culture is important,” she said. “We’ll be featuring [local] artists and their work — and art isn’t just paint of acrylic; its vocal; its textile.”
Are you a local artist? Click here to contact Wells-Carter about partnership opportunities.
With its grand opening weeks away, Wells-Carter said she’s excited, but nervous.
“It feels good to see what’s been in my head, translated onto walls. It’s really a dream come true,” she said. “Another reason for me starting this business was to inspire people. You can do this. It’s not easy … but you can do it, it’s possible.”
If the pop-up goes according to plan, Fresh Factory could become a staple in Kansas City and Wells-Carter is ready for her close-up.
“If this is something that the community’s like, ‘We got to have it,’ we’re going to stay put. [We have] a good seven months of being able to test it out, make adjustments, meet market demand, and get customer feedback, and provide an entertainment experience that — within about 30 miles of here — you don’t have,” she said, adding community support for Fresh Factory is welcome from all corners of the metro.
“At the end of the day, you’re supporting a Kansas City mother, a Kansas City entrepreneur. You’re supporting a Black woman and a Black-owned business. If those things are valuable to you, we would appreciate the support.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development. The Foundation works to change conditions, address root causes, and break down systemic barriers so that all people – regardless of race, gender, or geography – have the opportunity to achieve economic stability, mobility, and prosperity.