What started as a stroke of luck for Vani Kumar has turned into a successful business venture.
In April 2006, the 26-year-old recent graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising won a $286,656 jackpot at a slot machine in the Bellagio Hotel and Casino on a family trip to Las Vegas.
"We are very frugal people. We don't usually gamble," she said of her family. But on that fateful day, Kumar felt compelled to sit down with $40 at a one-dollar slot machine. A few bucks worth of arm pulls later, three wilds fell into place on the screen to the sound of bells and whistles, she said.
"My neighbor at the slots was like, 'Oh my god. Do you have any idea how long I've been sitting at this machine?'" Kumar said. "I was out of my mind. I kept pinching myself. But it was real."
Kumar knew immediately what she would do with her winnings: She'd open a discount women's suit store called the Suit Closet. In fact, she had been developing a business plan for more than a year and was looking for lenders just about the time she went to Vegas. After paying taxes on her jackpot, she was only $200 short of the amount she needed to start her business.
She quit her day job and spent the summer putting all of her attention toward the new venture.
Now open less than a year, the Suit Closet, near downtown on South Figueroa Street, is already profitable, but Kumar is putting her profits into marketing. She recently launched a Web site, for example.
"The demand is clearly there," said Kumar. "Because downtown attracts such a wide variety of people for Lakers games and because of companies' corporate offices, we get people coming in from Valencia, Orange County, San Diego, and we get alumni that come to the USC football games."
She already plans to expand and is shopping for investors to open a store in Orange County. She dreams of going national.
Kumar originally studied biology at the University of California at Irvine with the plan to go into dental medicine.
"Everyone in my family is from medicine or a related industry. I thought the correct thing to do was to follow in their footsteps," said Kumar.
But fashion was always her interest. She switched majors and started a student organization at the school called Fashionistas, which connects students to the L.A. fashion scene through guest speakers and organizes volunteer opportunities in the industry.
She came up with the idea to go into women's suits when she was doing her post-graduate work at FIDM.
"It was almost an epiphany. I wanted to do something with women," she said. "I love retail and business. And there is really nothing for suits out there for women equivalent to Men's Wearhouse."
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