Creating a small business is a lot like baking a cake. But instead of flour and sprinkles, this recipe relies more on perseverance and determination. And wine.
Overcoming struggles, improving the community, and rolling with the punches: these are the basic ingredients of small business success. And there’s nothing we love more than a small business success story to remind us all why we love this difficult job.
Phoenix-based business owner Tammy Fraser’s story does just that. Starting with the ‘throw-away’ business idea that became her full-time job, Tammy shares her story of being part of a small-business incubator, and learning from her mistakes.
Home economics, 101
My grandmother taught me to bake a cake without a recipe when I was 8 or 9. And thanks to my mom, I learned to cook, freeze, can foods, and sew just about anything. I also learned the math of running a household, and focused on science and economics in college.
After graduation, however, I strayed into insurance. And while I enjoyed my time there, I found that performing my job at a Fortune 100 company was becoming physically difficult due to rheumatoid arthritis. At the same time, my family was planning a move to Arizona. So my store, Gifts To Go, was born out of a geographical, career, and lifestyle change.
Incidentally, if I had a plan, it was to run a bakery. Gifts To Go was to be a ‘throw away’ home business, as I developed a list of resources and connections here and attempted to commit myself to building the bakery. Somewhere along the line, I realized Gifts To Go wasn’t just an experiment. Not only was it was fun; it let me get back to my home economic roots.
Gifts to Go
Simply put, we aim to put smiles on faces with our gifts, baskets, books and balloons, as well as shipping and delivery services.
Our baskets are usually containers of some sort, such as a serving tray or tote bag. The ‘signature’ I’m striving for when creating a gift basket is: 1) Listen to the customer; I send photos of prototypes to make sure it’s right whenever possible. 2) Include one or more durable gift items. And 3) avoid small, sample sized products. So far, our customers appreciate this because the gifts they send continue to last far beyond the day they are delivered.
We also stock books by local authors, which in my case are Arizonans, and several are even published here as well. The perfect gift for me has always been a book, so selling them was only natural, and I try to give local authors a forum to connect with readers and sell their work. When people make the effort to shop local, they want to know that the owner cares about the community as well, and I hope my promotion of local authors demonstrates my commitment to my neighborhood.
As for what’s on the horizon, our list of services will soon include operating a contract postal unit as well as expanded wrapping and shipping services.
What is this ‘business incubator’? Can I put eggs in it?
The best decision I made was to move into the retail business incubator Barnaby Street Shoppes.
In 2010 I was starting a home-based business in a place where I didn’t know anyone. I knew I needed to get out, but didn’t want to commit to a costly lease. I finally found the colorful, funky plaza in Surprise, Arizona, and I knew I wanted to start my business there. I signed a lease for 3 months on a 150-foot section. The incubator opened with 14 resident businesses, many of them run by long time small retailers. It took me some time to get my ‘land-legs’ as there were many differences of strategy regarding how things should be done, but I’ve subsequently grown very comfortable with my business concept and my goals.
Two and a half years later, I’m still very excited about Barnaby Street Shoppes. Gifts To Go has expanded three times, and we have regular customers who value local businesses and the role we play in the community’s health. We set goals, meet them, and move on to the next. We’re not making tons of money, but our foundation is strong. And we’ve been able to experiment with many things without losing our shirts because the cost of running an incubator business is so much less than a full stand-alone suite.
Overcoming roadblocks, like a boss
I did not set out to hire the most expensive web developer. But the salesperson who promised I could “build a website overnight” was wrong in my case.
Yes, I was able to get a site up and running fairly quickly, but it was far less than what I had imagined it to be. This turned into an agonizing process of studying hundreds of sites and consulting fellow business owners on what to do. Eventually though, I decided to go with a local developer who was accessible and had a proven track record of quality work. He also happened to be the most expensive solution.
What did I learn? Spending large sums of money can be intimidating, but if it is spent on quality work, it is completely worth it.
Marketing? Is that a verb?
Marketing is always a challenge, but I work every day to be involved in my community. Talking to my customers and other small business owners always energizes me. I am also an active member of Local First Arizona, local networking groups, and the Barnaby Street Shoppes, as well as the ever-evolving world of social media. Not to mention my connection to the local authors’ community!
Before rheumatoid arthritis, I thought continuous effort would solve a problem; the gift that Gifts To Go has given me is the ability to stop working even in the midst of a problem. Most times a night’s sleep or a morning’s shower will produce the elusive answer.
So where should I begin?
Just start. Write down short-term and long-term goals, and don’t worry if it’s not immediately apparent how to get from one to the next. Pay attention to opportunities and seriously evaluate each one.
I almost passed on the Barnaby Street Shoppes opportunity because I was worried about foot traffic. But my time and money spent there have been well worth it as I’ve developed my ‘go to’ list of people, committed to Gifts To Go as a business, and developed a thriving customer base. I’ve also been able to experiment with new products, services, and marketing strategies in a very safe, low-cost environment.
Look for the least expensive way to start building a customer base, and getting both your name and your company’s name in the public arena. And don’t hesitate to talk to and help other business owners.
What’s your small business success story? Share your tale in the comments below!
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