Women who mean business share office space downtown

jbeaudoin@lsjournal.comJanuary 29, 2014 

A photographer, interior designer and videographer sit in a room, discussing business, downtown Lee’s Summit and a myriad of other topics.

While their personalities are as diverse as their business plans, each brings an art, craft and plethora of ideas to the space now known as The 318, located at 318 SE Douglas St.

The 318 concept started more than a year ago. And in those 12 months, Kim Berwald-Viar, Kelly Lankford and Cathryn Farley have transitioned their in-home businesses to an artsy storefront near the heart of downtown Lee’s Summit.

And while one would think the interior designer of the group – in this case, Lankford – would have free reign over the office plan, all three say transitioning the former cupcake bakery into an incubator space for three businesses was truly a group effort.

“It took us a year to find the right spot,” said Berwald-Viar, owner of Celebrating Personal Treasures, a company that specializes in videos, gifts, books and websites for occasions such as graduations, retirements, new arrivals and baptisms. She also offers a unique service she calls “life story writing" for those that want to share their history with family and friends.

“I’ve had some involvement with downtown Lee’s Summit prior to this and really enjoyed the events down here.”

Lankford said the "women’s business co-op" started when all three met through the networking group BNI.

“From the start, it’s been about downtown,” said Lankford, owner of KHL Design Studio. “Initially, we were looking upstairs, but then we started looking at retail locations.”

As an expert in space, lighting and design, Lankford helped lead the way for the office blueprint.

“Kelly definitely had the best idea in mind of what she wanted and how it would work,” Berwald-Viar said.

A commercial photographer that markets to companies looking to promote their products, Farley said the key to the early success of The 318 has been each owner’s ability to “respect and celebrate the differences among us.”

Farley, owner of Cathryn Farley Commercial Photography, said she helps companies brand their image through headshots and still photography of anything from architecture to food and fashion.

Farley has done shoots for numerous companies, including Zen Zone Yoga and Bodies Personal Training.

Farley, Lankford and Berwald-Viar each branched out on their own to follow their career passions. Farley started her photo work in 2009; Berwald-Viar began her personalized business 10 years ago when a close friend lost her son; Lankford, with a degree in the field, founded her company in 2007.

Lankford touts projects like the Chartroose Caboose in Lee’s Summit and the Kansas City Bier Company in Waldo among her successes.

The location in downtown Lee’s Summit was just as important as proximity in the Kansas City area, Lankford said.

“I have a niche I serve,’ she said. “Downtown Lee’s Summit is a great springboard for me as I have clients all over the city. I really wanted to work where I live.”

The three owners have individual work spaces at The 318 and share common space and conference areas.

And as much range as the office space provides, Farley said she gets a good deal of positive energy from having others around her.

“Having Kim and Kelly to bounce ideas off of, that’s what made sense,” she said. “For me this space was about showcasing art and pieces I can sell; utilizing the space as a gallery so it doesn’t look like a traditional studio.”

Indeed the shared space, which opened Nov. 13, 2013, does have the look of very different business ideas.

“It wasn’t easy at first,” Berwald-Viar said. “But we put lots of elbow grease into this space, and so did our husbands.”

All three owners also said the daily interaction in downtown will help to transition into more of a retail space as their companies grow.

Berwald-Viar said that even with the variety of businesses in place, there is a common thread among the three.

“Celebrating Personal Treasures tells life stories, KHL designs life spaces and Cathryn Farley Photography captures life images,” she said.

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