The Rapidian

Determination and plenty of imagination lead to Diamond Street

Heather McGartland, owner of salon and retail store Imagination Creations, shares the story of how her trials, errors and deep passion for her work brought her right where she wants to be.
Underwriting support from:

Imagination Creations


Imagination Creations on Facebook

Walking into Imagination Creations, Heather McGartland’s salon/collectible and clothing store combo, seems to be a direct portal into her brain. The store, located at 337 Diamond Ave SE, is a feast for the eyes: rows of hanging vintage clothing, posed mannequins, Native American jewelry, hanging cowboy boots and a salon area with a big yellow duck chair. In her own words, Imagination Creations is “a visual explosion.”  

The store reflects McGartland's talents and her many years of work in the "school of doing."

McGartland feels she has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. At age ten, she started an ironing business in her neighborhood, going door to door offering to iron shirts for 50 cents apiece. She brought along a milk crate to appear taller to her potential customers.

At the age of 15, she emancipated from her parents and accepted a job at the women’s plus-size retailer, Lane Bryant, as a seasonal sales associate.

“That’s where my life began.” McGartland says, “I had a job.”

She moved up quickly within the company, making it her personal mission to become a district manager by the age of 25. She achieved this goal just one month shy of her 25th birthday.

“I am one of those people [that] if I want it, I will get it. But I do the work.”

This promotion brought McGartland from metro Detroit to West Michigan, where she became responsible for 14 Lane Bryant store locations. A self-described “city kid,” the adjustment to the area was initially tough, but she softened to the idea after spending time at Lake Michigan and ultimately finding her home in the Eastown neighborhood.

After five years as a district manager, McGartland lost her job with Lane Bryant due to a change of ownership and unprofitable stores. She saw this transition as a chance to focus on making and selling clothing, jewelry and hair pieces at local art shows, something she was already doing in her spare time.

McGartland does not describe herself as an artist.

“I’m a fixer. I just like to make stuff better. I fix, repair, refurbish and if somebody thinks that’s artistic, cool.”

The next big step in McGartland’s career stemmed from an embarrassing mix up. One of her friends suggested she bring her pieces to an open art show, which ended by being a “very posh” show, with sculptures selling for upwards of $1,000. She felt out of place with a table of bohemian jewelry, but this mishap ended in a fortuitous introduction. McGartland was approached by a coordinator for Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW), who suggested she should consider making her work into a full-time business.

Not long after, McGartland went to the orientation for GROW and ended up in their Mind Your Own Business program, a 26 week class where the participants draft a business plan.                            

“GROW took women in transition, lifted them up and empowered them to do for themselves; that’s what I liked. I was one of these women. GROW was the key and I am very grateful to be a part of it.”

Going through the process, McGartland quickly learned her business plan of selling art, clothing and collectibles would not be financially feasible.

Putting her plan on the backburner, she decided to pursue another passion, hair styling. She put her life on hold and attended a one year program through Chic University of Cosmetology, working her way through doing odd jobs.  

As a “nerd hair student,” she wanted to learn every aspect of hair design and soon found herself skilled in wig making and hair pieces. She got a salaried job right out of school, working for a hair and skin center that specializes in hair replacement for men. While she loved the work, she never stopped tweaking her previous business plan. “That part of me hadn’t died.”

The next challenge was putting all the parts together.

“How do I merge all these things I love to do into one thing and do it well? That’s the hard part.”

She was inspired by stories of artists in Detroit squatting in abandoned buildings, using them as studio and living space. This prompted her to contact Dwelling Place, an organization that helps revitalize neglected neighborhoods into profitable businesses. She sent them a copy of her business plan and, impassioned, sent a copy to the City Commission and even to the Mayor.

It wasn’t until a year later that she received interest in the project. Dwelling Place contacted her and asked her and several other artists to present the idea to a “group of suits,” as McGartland puts it, for what would eventually become the Avenue of the Arts district on South Division.

Six months later, in Ocotber, she was asked to come view a space at 126 South Division and fill out an application. She was approved and given a storefront. Move-in date, she was told, was December 16.

Determined despite the short time frame, she sold her house, walked away from her job, moved into the studio space of her store and brought Imagination Creations to life with just 200 dollars to spare.

“It was the hardest six years of my life, running the store on Division, but it was a gift and I am so grateful to Dwelling Place.”

In need of a larger space and busier location, McGartland moved Imagination Creations in December 2010 to her current location on Diamond between Wealthy and Cherry. Last month marks one year in their new location.

“Starting the business on Diamond was like starting all over again,” says McGartland.

While business was often slow at her Division location, McGartland now finds herself with her hands full with multiple roles as the store manager, salon manager and a hair stylist with 250 clients.

McGartland manages to find balance amid the chaos.

“As long as I’m doing something that makes me feel connected, alive and impassioned, I’m going to be okay.”

She offered the following advice for up and coming entrepreneurs:

“If you have an idea, it came from somewhere, so follow it wherever it leads you, but be smart about it. Your idea is probably right on, but it might just not be right now.”

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