Meet the Merchant: Susan Hagenkord

Meet the Merchant: Susan Hagenkord
Posted on 09/21/2018
We recently caught up with Susan Hagenkord, co-owner of Abitino Bianco. After a trial run as an occasional day cart in the Lenexa Public Market, she and business partner Ann Ernst took the next step and opened a little boutique, fulfilling a long-held dream.

"The Lenexa Public Market has been the perfect location for a pop-up shop for my boutique,” said Hagenkord. “The cool, contemporary atmosphere, along with the friendly merchants, make for an inviting space to meet friends, do some business, eat, drink and shop in a relaxing location. People love having all of this in their neighborhood, and I am so impressed with the livelihood the Market brings to Lenexa."

Read on to learn more about the unlikely inspiration for Abitino Bianco, why the owners value giving back to the community, and what’s in the works next.

Q. Describe your business concept. 
A. Abitino Bianco aims to provide beautiful clothing collections, fashion and home accessories, and gifts that appeal to both mother and daughter. Bringing something fresh and new to Lenexa and fashion retailing, Abitino Bianco aspires to deliver what every woman needs for her wardrobe and home. From well-produced staples through limited-edition and trend-led fashion pieces, unique home and gift items, as well as “Made in Italy” treasures.

Q. How’d you come up with the idea?
A. Four years ago, we were on a hiking trip in the Amalfi Coast of Italy. The airline had lost our luggage, and we had to run into little boutiques every afternoon after our hike and find something to wear to dinner. We joked about how good we were at this, and we should open our own boutique. 

The following spring, we started Abitino Bianco as an online boutique. Its name means “little white dress” in Italian. We are both Italian girls, and Bianco is also my maiden name.

Q. What’s your name and business title/role?
A. Susan Hagenkord, co-owner. I work at our boutique at the Market full time, while co-owner Ann Ernst helps with buying and events.

Q. But what do you really do?

A. Right now, I am spending a lot of time figuring out the new social media aspect of marketing that is so critical to the way women are buying for themselves and their home.

Q. What excites you about the Lenexa Public Market?
A. I love the atmosphere of the Market and the concept of meeting friends, family or business associates in a place that is comfortable and unique. I also love that we are all local businesses with a variety of offerings.

Q. What might surprise someone to know about your business?
A. We are involved with a local charity of women-owned businesses. We are called Charitable Chicks KC. The idea is small business, big impact. We plan four events a year where we pick a Kansas City charity in need, hold an event and give proceeds to that charity. So far this year, we have helped Auntie Joe’s – A Safe Place, which is remodeling a home to make space for teen youths in foster care. We also helped WomenHeart KC during February and heart-healthy month, and we are gearing up for an event on Oct. 3, 2018, supporting Battle Boutique, a nonprofit created for cancer patients offering affordable apparel and supplies needed during treatment and recovery.

Q. What makes your business unique?
A. I think the concept that we offer fashions for both mothers and daughter, and pieces that they can share, make us unique. We also really care about our community and make giving back a big part of our business plan.

Q. What is one thing you hope customers say after they leave your restaurant/shop?
A. I want you to feel welcome. I want to make you feel happy. I want to be the best I can be, and if I can help in any way encourage you and make you feel good, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.

Q. What made you get into this business?
A. I retired from teaching, and it’s always been a dream to own a boutique. It never made sense to open a traditional brick-and-mortar store because of the overhead costs. The Lenexa Public Market is the perfect concept for a small business like ours.

Q. What is the biggest challenge for you in opening a market stall?
A. I don’t feel I’ve had many challenge, but I am hoping for more space and the eventual end of construction around the Market. 

Q. Why should people support local businesses?
A. Customers have so many choices and with the boom of internet shopping, it is still nice to have interactions, customer service, and enjoyment of actually seeing and feeing the quality of items you might buy.

Q. What’s the coolest thing you’re working on?
A. We are working on our grand opening celebration. We will be having a fashion show at the Market so our friends and customers can see all the new fall and winter fashions.

Q. Favorite lunch spot?
A. Of course the Market! On Tuesdays, I love Red Kitchen Tamales, and on Wednesdays Chewology’s veggie grain bowl and half-price bottles of wine. I’m currently obsessed with lentil soup over rice at Sohaila’s Kitchen. I try to eat clean and love that everything at the Market is homemade with fresh ingredients.

Q. Where might someone find you if you weren’t at work?
A. In front of my computer working or sitting outside on my patio with my husband and a glass of wine watching our dogs sunbathe in our yard! We are just now experiencing our empty next, as the last of our children went to college.