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Women In Business
Owner of Poulsbo’s Sport Haus has seen business, community grow

Paulette Huisingh is the longtime owner of Sport Haus in Poulsbo.When Paulette Huisingh first launched the Sport Haus retail store in Poulsbo with her husband, Ed, nearly three decades ago, she was glad to have a male partner in business. During those days, women entrepreneurs were less commonplace, especially in the athletic retail industry.

“It’s much easier to be a woman in business today and be respected. When we got started, I was lucky to have my husband by my side,” she says.

These days, even the shopper demographics are different — more and more women are shopping in athletic stores. But there’s plenty to keep Huisingh’s energy up. Since opening in 1984, Sport Haus has steadily expanded its product lines to include things like casual wear and new specialized sports apparel, and there’s always something new to learn about.

“The community has grown and as the community grew, we had to add new areas,” Huisingh says. “You have to constantly be on your toes and be aware of changes, there’s never a let-down.”

While the choices have greatly expanded — the store has everything from workout apparel to lacrosse and soccer gear — footwear has remained a core line. Selling shoes is considered a big responsibility because employees need to know how to analyze a person’s gait and then match shoes accordingly. And there are a lot of shoes to learn about, from football and Zumba to hiking and casual.

“Employees become immersed. It’s on-the-job training but someone doesn’t get into selling shoes until they’ve been here a year,” Huisingh says. “It’s a big responsibility to get someone into the right shoe.”

Another big area of responsibility is customer service. She notes that often times in retail, people are “promoted” out of customer service and into other roles.

“We like to keep the best people with customers,” she says. Huisingh herself can be found working on the floor regularly, which keeps her in tune with customers’ needs.

She does most of the buying for the shop, both through reps and at trade shows.

“It’s about knowing the customers. Sometimes I’ll buy something knowing it’s for a specific customer,” Huisingh says.

Ed and Paulette Huisingh were both teachers — Ed taught physical education and Paulette, math. They’ve taught in different parts of the country together as well as overseas, and together decided one day to change careers. The idea for a retail shop just sort of happened after Ed saw Poulsbo Village being built.

They started out in 2,000-square-foot space closer to the other end of the shopping center, later moved to a bigger space at the current location, and expanded several times to reach the current 8,000 square-foot size.

The couple’s daughter, Mara, now works at the store full-time and does some of the buying.

“We had to learn as we went,” Huisingh says. “We read a lot of business journals, talked to company reps and scrounged for information. Customers have taught us a lot.”

Sport Haus is seeing third-generation customers and Huisingh says she does notice a difference between the generations. “There’s so much product now that the second and third generation won’t settle. They want what they want, and you have to have that specific thing for them — so you have to stay current,” she says.

Even after being in business for nearly 30 years, the Huisinghs are still involved hands-on full-time. They don’t take long vacations, but manage to sneak in three or four days in Mexico and Hawaii now and then. It’s a big change from their days of teaching, when they took extended vacations and traveled, but Huisingh doesn’t seem to mind. “When you enjoy your work, it’s not so bad (without long vacations),” she says.

For Huisingh, the best part about her work — besides seeing new generations of customers — is the feedback from those customers. “What I enjoy the most is when someone comes back and says, ‘I was in such pain and you sold me these shoes and it’s been great ever since.’ We get this a lot,” she says. “That’s the most rewarding part.”

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