STEUBENVILLE - Sheila Milic wasn't planning on a second career as a shop owner.
A registered nurse, she'd worked for years with her ophthamologist husband, Dr. Milorad Milic, at his Steubenville office. In her spare time she volunteered with the women's advisory board at a local hospital, helping buy items to sell in the hospital gift shop. Not only did she like doing the buying, she discovered she had a definite knack for it. With encouragement from her husband and her father, she did a sort of trial run: She made up a dozen gift baskets in 1988, then invited friends over to gauge their response. To say her efforts were well-received would be an understatement.
"I did 132 baskets in two weeks," she said. "At that point I knew I'd hit on something, so I went to the Atlanta gift market the next year and got some baby stuff, some home and giftware, personal items and gourmet foods. That's what I started with and it kind of snowballed from there. Eventually people started asking if they could buy the items that were in the baskets."
SPREADING CHEER — Helping spread holiday cheer at Something Special By Sheila in Steubenville are, from left, Linda Sperlazza, Barb Lease and owner Sheila Milic. In business since 1988, Milic’s shop features a range of one-of-a-kind gift items. - Linda Harris
Though she didn't know it at the time, it was the start of an entrepreneurial odyssey that would take her from home-based business to a full-fledged storefront, Something Special By Sheila located at 132 Linduff Ave. next to Target Sports.
"I've been really blessed," she said. "It's been so much fun. Everybody should wake up in the morning and be happy to go to work, and to be able to please so many people."
Milic moved into the Linduff location in 2001 and promptly set about filling it with one-of-a-kind gift items from brands like Mariposa, Cypress, Lady Primrose, PJ Harlow, PurseN, Mud Pie, Vitabath, Do Not Disturb and Cloud B, to name just a few. Displays run the gamut from holiday, home decor and everyday items to baby clothes, toys and books, pajamas and lounge wear, designer purses and gourmet foods.
"I think when I started in 1988, people were used to shopping at the Hub and the attention, the individual care, they'd always given their customers," she said. "I've strived so hard to give our customers that same personal touch. We try very hard to meet the needs of everyone we work with as an individual. Everything is customized to the individual, we work with everybody who comes in as though they are the most important person (we've met). We try to pick the brain of the individual buying the gift. We try to find out as much as we can about who they're giving it to so we can customize it."
Milic said she goes to trade shows in cities like Atlanta and Chicago regularly to keep tabs on what's new in the industry.
"It's just so important that we do," she said, adding that "people spending their hard-earned money (shouldn't) have to spend a fortune" on a nice gift, particularly in a down economy that's shrouded the area in recent years.
"A lot of people kind of leave it up to me," she said. "They'll say, 'If you like it, that's good.' We pride ourselves on giving our customers good value. Even if they're only spending $5 on something, we want it to look nice. Their gift has got to look nice and somebody has got to feel good about opening the package. I think that's the key to our success, people are happy with what we do ... it's what keeps them coming back."
Milic and her four part-time employees make sure that every package that leaves the shop is elegantly gift-wrapped. She also has a delivery service.
"We try to go the extra mile to please everybody," she added.
For information, visit Milic's website, www.somethingspecialbysheila.net or call the shop at (740) 264-2950.