October 18, 2017
Starting a business can be overwhelming
By Amanda Brinkman, Chief Brand and Communications Officer, Deluxe Corporation
Paulette Kirk Kasmer and Maria Smyth are two strong, independent business owners. Both are first time business owners. They started their journeys with clear visions of the type of stores they wanted to own, but little to no background in being their own boss.
The Small Business Revolution – Main Street met both women at the same time in their journeys – roughly 8-9 months after they opened. While they each owned two distinct shops, their paths are remarkably similar.
Paulette owns Polka Dot Parlor, the only women’s retail store in Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania’s Main Street area. Polka Dot Parlor provides edgy clothing and accessories with a perspective of taking risks to feel beautiful at any age or size.
Maria owns The Eclectic Shoppe, a touristy gift store in Wabash, Indiana. The Eclectic Shoppe is a haven for local artists, where Maria sells their wears and other curated gifts to eager shoppers.
Meeting them so early on in their journeys was a benefit to us and to them.
Maria’s shop is amazing, but she was essentially acting as a consignment store. Artists determined their prices and Maria marked them up slightly, but she assumed all the risk, including the rent of her shop, all the utilities and all of the retail space. Without having run a store before, she didn’t know what to charge and she didn’t know how to negotiate with the artists. Maria loves her local artists, so taking a harder negotiation stance made her uncomfortable. Yet when Robert Herjavec and I challenged her to raise her prices, she listened and got to work. If she was making only 25 percent margin on sales, she’d go out of business. It was difficult to hear, but she listened.
Paulette loves fashion of all kinds. In her store you can find an $80 dress or $2 plastic bracelets. Whatever makes you feel good, she sells. But her desire to find a wide range of styles led her down a path where she would constantly bring in new inventory. She was losing money by having too much of it and it started to clutter her merchandising real estate. She needed to cull and focus. Once Paulette edited her merchandise, she came at us with another challenge: hiring an employee. Only open a few days a week, she wanted to hire staff to work on Sundays so she could spend more time with her family. When we explained that those costs would further eat into her bottom line, she was torn. She knew she needed to be open, but she was already stretched thin. That’s when we suggested family. Her eldest daughter could help work on the weekends, so they can spend time together and she could control her costs.
The mind of a small business owner is constantly in motion. But as humans, we tend to play to our strengths at all times. Which means our weaknesses can often hold us back. The first year can quickly expose the areas of running a business that do not come naturally to us. Neither of these women started their business to focus on these operational aspects but in both cases, fixing these were vital to their success.
One year later, Maria’s profits are up over 30 percent. She is negotiating more with her artists and she is using social media and email marketing to better communicate with her customers.
Paulette’s story is still being told. During season two of Small Business Revolution – Main Street, we watch her dream unfold. She wears her passions on her sleeve and her dreams are always front and center. And as much as she believes in her vision, she also adhered our advice to make significant changes. She is well on her way.
I absolutely adore both of these women and admire their tenacity and strength. They listened to tough-to-hear advice, rose to the challenge and are pushing themselves – and their businesses – to succeed.
Starting a business is not easy and determining in the first year what’s working and what’s not working is even harder without year-to-year numbers to tell you directly. Taking a step back and looking at your weak points six months in can be a great time to change things up to ensure future success.