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BeauCo Kids — 9 years old and growing

Kayla Ballance never considered herself to be a girly-girl. She grew up on a hog farm in the southern Pitt County town of Grifton and loved to be outside playing sports, riding 4-wheelers and generally getting dirty. After they stop laughing, her friends from back then can’t believe she owns a children’s clothing store.

The 28-year-old has gone from making crafty gifts for family and friends, to selling online from her house, to one storefront that is soon to be two, all in the span of eight years.

Ballance, nee Overstreet, graduated from Ayden-Grifton High School, then started the radiology program at Pitt Community College. She soon realized it was not for her, so she took a job with a Greenville manufacturing company, working the swing shift. On top of that, she became a mom.

“It was about three in the morning on the night shift, and it hit me that I should be home with my daughter,” Ballance said. “My parents and grandparents were very supportive and helped me with the baby and bills, but I needed to get something started. My family and friends kept encouraging me to start a business, and I was in Belk one day and saw an outfit for my daughter and thought I can make that, so I did.”

The company began as The Backwoods Barbie, which focused on sewing and embroidery then changed to BeauCo when Ballance met her husband, Chase, who grew up in Hyde County. The couple moved to Washington in 2016 and set up shop in their home while branching out into mass production of kids and women’s clothing and accessories.

“I knew bows weren’t going to pay the bills, so I expanded and learned to design,” Balance said. “I bought a commercial embroidery machine, set up my website and hit social media hard. We built a big shed behind our house to store inventory and had UPS, DHL and FedEx trucks coming up the street all the time. We had orders stacked up on the dining room table, and my husband told me we couldn’t keep buying bigger houses, so I started looking for a storefront.”

Ballance wanted to be on Main Street in downtown Washington but couldn’t find suitable space. That led her around the corner to her current location on Market Street.

“I signed the lease in January, then COVID hit one of my overseas manufacturers, and they had to close,” she said. “They reopened in March, and we were ready to go and, of course, COVID hit here. I had all my merchandise on display and the store looked great, then we had to wait until May. Everything was normal with my online business, so thank goodness for that.”

Long-time online customers lined up on opening day in mid-May to meet Ballance in person. She said business was strong and hasn’t let up.

“People seem to love our designs and word of mouth plus social media has worked really well,” Ballance explained. “I’m actually meeting the kids who I’ve been fitting online for years, and that’s really cool. It’s much better for my customers to actually see, feel and try on the things they see online.”

Ballance said the streetscape project that has kept Main Street closed all summer has helped drive traffic to the Market Street corridor. Conventional thinking would also hold that six months in is too soon to expand — not so in this case. When the space that formerly housed the Missing Ink tattoo parlor on Main Street became available, she jumped on it. Renovations have taken longer than expected, but the goal is to open in mid-November.

“I’ve always sold women’s clothes online, but we just don’t have space. The Main Street location is great and twice the size. We could move everything up there, but there’s a lot of activity on this block, so we are going to make it work,” Ballance said. “When they asked me back in kindergarten what I wanted to be when I grew up, I probably said “farmer,” but here I am, and I love what I do.”