Written By: Heather Lee Gordy | Photography by: Jonathan C. Ward
When I first met Danielle Boisse and Jean-Pierre Saintard (JP) I was amazed by their radiant passion. It’snot often you meet people truly dedicated and grounded in what they love, so much so that it’s the very thing that pushed them to face and survive troubles head on, and is still what continues to keep them reaching toward their dreams. Seeing their commitment to their goals, their clients, and each other, and hearing each’s journey to the present, was so unexpectedly inspiring that I left feeling more driven and connected to my own passions as well.
Danielle found her passion when she was 13 years old after watching Trading Spaces, a television program that aired on TLC. The show featured two sets of homeowners who, with the help of a professional designer and carpenter, would race to redecorate a room in each other’s homes.
“When the neighbors came back to their homes, they were always crying tears of joy and jumping up and
down, smiling ear to ear,” said Danielle, “and I had never seen that before.”
Danielle described herself as a permanent runaway kid. She kept a suitcase packed under her bed everyday of the year, waiting for an opportunity to escape.
“I didn’t understand how people could be so happy about their home because I didn’t have that,” said Danielle. “I think I was really intrigued by the concept… and that’s when I said I’m going to be an interior designer.”
Once it was time to apply for colleges, Danielle applied to only one school, which happened to be the best interior design school at the time—Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, not far from where she grew up.
Danielle received her Bachelors of Science in Interior Design, and on graduation day she headed straight to Wilmington with only $900 and what she could fit in her car.
Barely making it, Danielle arrived into her apartment complex just seconds before her car broke down.
“Literally it was fate,” Danielle said. “I made it here and I wasn’t going to move anywhere else… I felt free. It was the start of my life… I was safe, I was happy… I could start my career, and I started in a career that I went to school for which not everyone gets to do.”
Danielle found a job with a company traveling and doing custom design work. After 3 ½ years when she maxed out her growth in the company, she began working for a local startup design firm to help build their business. Once she achieved that, she decided to open her own company and left to pursue her dream of opening Port City Design Group (PCDG).
Danielle was able to open PCDG in October of 2014. Just two weeks after opening she fought through a lawsuit for starting her own business. Although she was able to remain strong, she lost everything in the process and it was one of the toughest situations she’s gone through, but once the lawsuit dropped, she fought back even harder working with over 100 clients in her first year.
PCDG opened a second location in Southport the following year. Danielle has grown her clientele to over 400 customers in which she has custom designed residential and commercial interiors. Currently she is working on designing the interior for Southland Companies, Coastal Massage & Bodywork, and for Pierpan Family Dentistry. At the end of this month, her Wilmington location will relocate to the historic Quonset hut building off 16th street.
In the mix of Danielle opening and running PCDG, she met JP at a business-networking group about 4
years ago. She admits she thought he was cute, but was too nervous to talk to him, so she kept her distance at first. Then Danielle decided she needed a trainer and with JP being a personal trainer and seeing how passionate he was towards fitness, she chose to join his group fitness classes.
“I hated him at first,” said Danielle. “I thought he was annoying and obnoxious, but he said one day you’re going to like me and here we are 2 ½ years later. We both agreed we’d never met anyone else with so much passion.”
JP moved to Wilmington from Chile after majoring in physical education and discovering he wanted to become a full time personal trainer. Even though he couldn’t speak English, he took a risk and moved here with only $1500.
“Money will come and go, but your experiences and what you learn,” said JP, “even from failure or from success, is going to stay with you always, so that was my mindset.”
JP moved here wanting an environment that would force him to learn English. His first job was at the
Henrietta as a busboy. He worked there until somebody from the boat got him an interview as a personal trainer with a friend who managed a corporate gym. Not long after, he went on to work at a smaller individually owned gym, but didn’t have luck there either. He was underpaid, not reaching enough clients, and struggling to feel confident in his decision.
“I was losing hope,” said JP. “I realized the language barrier was real and I needed to learn quicker.”
He then got an interview with the Wilmington Athletic Club (WAC) and was hired under the condition that
he shadow trainers and keep taking English classes. He shadowed for two months with no pay, and went to the Cape Fear Literacy Council twice a day to learn English, until he began building up his client base. JP worked for the WAC for 5 years and was thankful they were willing to help push him along.
From there, he moved to a small fitness studio downtown with another trainer. After two years there, he realized he needed a place where he had more control, which pushed him to open RipXFit in 2013. As of this past March, RipXFit relocated to a new location at 5739 Oleander Drive, encompassing 3 times the former space.
“Danielle helped me to get out of that comfort zone,” said JP. “Being on
Oleander was such a huge goal and she helped me take the jump.”
Danielle and JP now each own thriving businesses, but Danielle said shedoesn’t want people to think they are successful just yet. They came here facing different challenges, some together, and others alone, with just their passion. Danielle said they still have to work hard every single day to keep their businesses and relationship buoyant, but they are each committed to building something they know will be worth it. This December, after years of hard work, they will enjoy a well-earned first vacation together to Patagonia, Chile.