Shabana Mustafa Lives the American Dream as Young Entrepreneur in Atlanta

By JOHN BENEDICT

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — At 30, Shabana Mustafa is already an established small business owner. Most people would never guess that she has already accumulated around 11 years of experience owning and running a business.

For her, the path to becoming a successful business owner is one of patience, determination and having a willingness to learn. Her business journey began when she was 18 years old.

it's about time
Shabana Mustafa at the It’s About Time store in Johns Creek, Ga. She may own the store, but that doesn’t keep her from being constantly involved with day-to-day operations here and at the Dunwoody location. Photo by John Benedict

Her family, consisting of her father Lionel Mustafa, her mother Czarina Mustafa and her brother Jehan Mustafa, moved to the U.S. from Sri Lanka when she was 11 years old. Her father came from a watchmaking family; he was trained in Switzerland and became skilled in the craft.

Once in the U.S., Lionel Mustafa was able to get a job at Mayor’s Jewelers working on repairs. After working with the company for several years, he found employment at another store, called It’s About Time. He continued working on watch repairs, all while saving money on the side and noticing how small businesses operated.

Shortly into his new job, the original owners of It’s About Time, who had  created the company in the ‘80s, decided to sell their business to go into retirement.

“Once I learned my bosses were going to sell the company, I talked with my family, and got enough money together to buy the four stores they owned,” Lionel Mustafa said.

The timing was perfect. His kids were old enough to work with him and run the business while he could continue to focus on watch servicing and repairs.

On-the-job Training is an Understatement

The lifestyle of the Mustafa family drastically changed overnight. Shabana Mustafa and Jehan Mustafa left school to help the family with the business. Czarina Mustafa stayed at home to take care of accounting, such as payroll and tax duties.

Imagine being a college student one day, and then being owner and manager of a store the next.

“From the third day of owning it, and checking everything out, I started working there,” Shabana Mustafa said.

She immediately took the challenge on and never looked back. Shabana Mustafa explained that she learned how to run the business by being thrown into the fire.

“It was a lot of self-teaching, putting things together, and how it’s supposed to be,” she said.

“There were a lot of long conversations with the family. They weren’t physically there at the store from open to close like I was, but about what changes we need, what’s going on, what are the customers reactions to what’s happening. All of that input that I would get from the store would go into, literally [laughing as she talks] long hours of Googling, Youtubing about sales and what to do. It kind of all came together that way. I will say the older staff did teach me a lot. They taught me what to do, and what not to do, and they definitely helped in the process.”

storefront
The storefront of It’s About Time in Johns Creek, Ga. This is one location owned by Shabana Mustafa. The other location is at the Perimeter Mall in Dunwoody, Ga. Photo by John Benedict

All of the hard work has led her to where she is now. Currently, she co-owns two stores and runs them. She owns the It’s About Time store in Dunwoody and in Johns Creek. The two other stores were sold to a business partner.

She likes the situation she is in because she feels more comfortable overseeing two stores rather than four.

Running a Business is a Learning Experience

Looking back, there are things that she knows now that would have helped her if she knew then.

“I would tell my younger self not to be so nervous,” Shabana Mustafa said.

“I was feeling like, wow! We have these four stores and I got to figure this all out. At the time we had only been in the country for six or seven years. We had just moved to Georgia from New York the year prior, and I was just very uneasy and nervous. If I just relaxed a little bit more, you know, you get the same outcome, you learn the same things and you’re able to grasp it better, if you’re not afraid of yourself or nervous.”

Being a young female business owner has not been an issue for her. Luckily, she has been fortunate to work with people who, in her mind, don’t treat her any differently for being a woman.

I usually don’t notice it. I think nowadays it’s normal, it’s seen more often,” she said. “With our vendors and other business partners I don’t see it. Sometimes, I do see it with customers. They might go straight to the guys in the store, because they assume the girl is there for sales and not a repair question. They are surprised when they see the guys ask me for help afterward.”

She feels if anything, customers sometimes treat her with less respect than the guys that work for her. On a regular basis, they assume her employees run the store and she works for them, when it is the other way around.

With her experience and business knowledge, she has advice for up and coming entrepreneurs. She has three tips to becoming a successful business owner.

“Patience is a main ingredient. We want things to happen right away, but it may not be the right time, or things have to fall into place. You just have to know what you’re doing and have patience that it will happen,” she said.

Her second point focused on her employees.

“You have to know how your employees feel when working for you,” she said. “If your guys are not happy at the store then you will not be happy and it will reflect on the store as whole.”

Her last point can apply to all business owners.

“Watching trends is important too. Noticing what’s happening in the mall, the state, and even online and in magazines is very important if you want to continue to be successful.”

What the Future Holds

Currently, she is content with herself at this point in her life.

“So far I think it’s good, it’s doable, and it’s manageable,” Shabana Mustafa said. “People are happy. We’re doing something I feel is needed. There are not an overwhelming amount of businesses doing what we’re doing. I’m happy with keeping it going.”

She doesn’t rule out the possibility of trying something different, eventually. What she has learned can translate to other business sectors.

I think it opens a wide variety of possibilities in business whether it’s in customer service, in retail or in housing,” she said. “I think the sales aspect works in so many different areas, and we, as owners, think so differently once becoming one. For example, when talking to a customer you’re thinking of 50 different things at once, and you have to answer their question and solve their problem in the best possible way. It’s not easy to do.”

Current Business Facts and Trends

According to the Pew Research Center, Business is still the most common major of students. “About a fifth (20.5 percent) of the 1.79 million bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2011-12 were in business.”

  • A Gallup poll conducted in March 18-20 of 2005, found that “if given a choice of starting their own business or working for someone else, 57 percent of Americans would opt for the former, while 40 percent would choose to work for someone else.”
  • According to the Small Business Association website, in 2010 there were roughly 27.9 million small businesses. Of those 27.9 million businesses, an SBA survey found that, woman owned 9.9 million of those businesses. That translates to about 35 percent of the marketplace.

Small business owners seem to love what they do. A Constant Contact survey conducted in 2005 found that if given the choice, 84 percent of small business owners say they would do it all over again

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