Location matters in the retail world, but White Lake resident and entrepreneur Gwen Borders has proven that you can build a retail store across from a swamp and still be wildly successful.
Of course the biggest reason for Borders’ success is her vision and her wedding cakes, chocolates and other desserts. Borders is the owner of Trifles, which has two storefronts in White Lake: one at and the other at between Teggerdine and Elizabeth Lake Road. Since opening Trifles in 2001, Borders has become known around the country for her delectable works of art.
Borders, who has lived in White Lake since 1991, previously owned a catering business for several years before opening Trifles. But she always wanted to own a chocolate and cake business, and as her four children grew, Gwen had to make the decision about whether to own a business or work for others.
She decided she wanted the flexibility that comes with being an entrepreneur, even though it also comes with some challenges.
“With my own business I can lock my doors if I need to take one of our kids to the doctor’s and decide when my hours will be,” Borders said. “I am of the firm belief that as a woman I can have everything I want, but I may not be able to have it all at the same time.”
Being an entrepreneur also allowed Borders the freedom to make her own decisions.
“When you’re working for someone else, so many things are beyond your control,” she said. “I can make a decision on an item to add to our menu without having to make it a part of some big approval process.”
She felt strongly about several things when starting Trifles. One is that she wanted to have a business in the community where she lives, with the opportunity to serve her neighbors and friends. So she opened a storefront on Elizabeth Lake Road “across from a swamp” because she felt confident that she could build the reputation of her business over time through word of mouth.
The business thrived early on. By the mid-2000s, Borders was adding a number of unique items to her menu on a regular basis. But once the economy slowed in 2008, the needs of her customers changed.
They were returning to “comfort foods,” which were considered more reliable and less expensive as a way to get through the economic challenges. So suddenly Borders began making more staples like German chocolate and carrot cake than before.
“Customers did pull back and wanted the types of desserts that grandma would make,” Borders said. “Now as the economy is improving, things are getting better. There is more desire for exotic flavors and options again.”
Such exotic flavors can include everything from a green tea cake to mojito or “bit of honey” cakes. And part of Trifles’ reputation is that Borders wants to offer many choices to her clients.
One way to add more choices is to do so from a second storefront. And that’s exactly what Borders did when she opened Trifles II on Highland Road in 2009 during a time when the economy was still very sluggish. But she had confidence that it would prove to be profitable.
Certainly the quality of the dessert items Borders offers has helped to make both stores profitable. Trifles is known not just in this area but throughout the region and nationally for its cakes, chocolate and its “Road Candy,” which includes several varieties of delectable recipes involving dark, milk and white chocolate, dried Michigan cherries, marshmallows, cashews, almonds, pecans, amaretto and hazelnut flavoring, butterscotch and more.
Many of Borders’ desserts have been sold to customers in areas such as Grosse Pointe, Trenton, Macomb Township and the west side of the state. Her customers will drive one, two and three hours and her desserts have appeared in a national trade magazine.
But she has certainly worked hard to get there. Borders sold cakes and chocolate at various farmers’ markets and other events for many years, including spending nearly three years selling at Detroit’s Eastern Market every Saturday morning. The success she achieved there and at locations around the state made it clear that she could make two storefronts successful.
“There were a lot of factors that led to the two stores,” Borders said. “We had always been looking for new space.”
Borders’ four children have been involved in the success of Trifles in various ways, from helping to create the website to assisting with making the desserts. Over the next decade, Borders will consider starting a Trifles franchise or mentoring an employee who could eventually take over the business.
For now she is happy using her creativity to meet customer needs and satisfy their taste buds.