South Charlotte

She knows how to start a business and help others

Reinvention isn't a scary term for Ballantyne entrepreneur Holly Bretschneider.

In fact, shifting focus and adapting has proven to be a successful business strategy for this California transplant.

Bretschneider, 47, gave up her high-powered role as general counsel for a San Jose-based health-care firm 10 years ago to move east and try her hand in the world of fine stationery and gifts.

She also learned how to take calculated risks, how economic downturns can refocus attention on the bottom line, and the satisfaction that comes from dedicating part of her profits to social causes.

Bretschneider and her husband became enamored with North Carolina, having visited on a furniture-shopping excursion early in 2000.

"Both of us had pretty demanding jobs," Bretschneider said. "With small children, we were looking for less stress and a quality of life that we couldn't necessarily find out West."

The family moved to Chapel Hill that fall.

"I recall looking for a certain type of specialty stationery store and not being able to find what I wanted," Bretschneider said. "I remember thinking at the time that there was a market for the type of store I wanted to shop at, an upscale boutique with a high-quality product line and top-drawer customer service."

Though she had limited experience with retail, Bretschneider relied on the due-diligence skills she developed as an attorney. She gave her California boss six months' notice and later that year opened her first Salutations Fine Stationery and Gifts in Meadowmont Village in Chapel Hill.

Within three years, the boutique had proven so successful that Bretschneider was courted by a Charlotte-based developer to open a second store in the Queen City.

Fully committed to the expansion, Bretschneider and the family relocated to Ballantyne in 2006. Shortly after establishing her second Salutations, the economy stumbled.

"In some ways the recession was the best thing that ever happened to the business," Bretschneider said. "It really made me refocus, line by line, on expenses and operating costs that are too easy to overlook when things are going well."

Bretschneider said it has been increasingly important for her to be in a position to give back, both locally and worldwide.

"A couple of Christmases back I was reading and learning more about social entrepreneurship, and the concept of giving back resonated with me," said Bretschneider.

Her inspiration came from a presentation by the founder of Wine to Water, an international aid organization focused on providing clean water to needy people worldwide.

She felt she had to act. She decided to give a portion of profits to both Wine to Water and Room to Read, a literacy organization that works with children in developing nations.

She has recently launched the Charlotte chapter of Room to Read and is seeking supporters.