This is a story from 2007 and in case you think such ventures are short-lived, think again. I just checked their website and they are still going and have added a couple of products. One more example of the Joyfully Jobless life we’re exploring in the weekends mentioned to the right. Don’t live in NC? There are other locations – go to JoyfullyJoblessWeekend.com to see all of the future dates and locations.
The next time you have one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments, come back to this story. I found this on a Google search for creative businesses a few months ago. The product is called a “Fortamajig” and it is the invention of two college friends, now moms, in New England. Armed with a bright idea and a lot of ambition, Katherine Huck and Kristen Stocking brought this fun product to market very successfully last year.
They watched their kids trying to build a play fort out of bed sheets and couch cushions and decided to design a portable, flexible version that would allow small creative imaginations to make a variety of forts. They both have backgrounds in sales and marketing so they brought some expertise to the process, but their example of seeing a need and finding a solution is a classic. Go to their web-site at www.thehappykidcompany.com to see their product and read their story (Information excerpted from the Sudbury, MA Town Crier, Feb. 14, 2007)
Manufacturing a product is not an easy process but like any other endeavor, it requires a good idea, a plan, financing and hard work. If you have a great idea, don’t let it languish until someone else does it. Get to work on it now! Go to http://www.soyouwanna.com/site/syws/patent/patent.html to get some basic information on the process of patenting and manufacturing a product.
A long time ago a young woman I know thought it would be great to make and sell personalized hot coffee cup cozies as an alternative to the paper cuffs the coffee shops offer. She hesitated, and less than a year later I saw her product being offered on Etsy. Got an idea – do it now!
I ordered my coffee and pastry and sat down anxious for John to arrive for our appointment. It was exactly one year since we had met in a class for wannabe book authors and he was bringing me the galley print version of his book. I had seen parts and pieces of it throughout the year via email, but I couldn’t wait to see the actual finished product!
John retired after 27 years in the banking industry as a respected, successful CEO who had built a solid, customer oriented string of banks in the midwest. As he said to me in our first interview, “I wanted to go out at the top of my game and at a time when I could leave my company in excellent shape.”
John is a handsome, smiling optimist who is a very spiritual man determined to take time to assess his priorities in life and to find new ways to express his values. He is a devoted family man and his first move was to buy a condo on the island of Boca Grande in Florida so he and his wife could finally relax together and leave the business world behind. Next, they fulfilled a long-time dream to build a summer home on the shore of a lake in NY state and that’s where I encountered this remarkable man during their first summer there.
Unlike many male retirees, John had actually given a lot of thought to his life after the bank and had taken courses in Gestalt psychology and the Hudson Institute’s Life Launch curriculum. A first step was to revive his love of photography and he embarked on a mission to record the beauty and history of Boca Grande in photos.
When I met him in the class, he had pulled together a collection of pictures and had a basic concept for a coffee table sort of book about his new island home. He made an eloquent statement in our class about the importance of exploring his own future as he was also exploring the beautifully inspirational place he had found to live.
As a hard-working businessman, husband and father, a life-long hobby of photography had been pushed into the background. He had looked forward to a time when he could nurture his creativity as well as work to understand and strengthen his spirituality.
He knew how to take photos. He did not know anything about the publishing of a photographic collection in a book. But he sought expert help on the technical issues and asked the advice of a handful of friends and acquaintances who could each contribute something. Most of all, he kept plugging away at it.
The beautiful book he set down on the table in front of me was the culmination of two long years of effort, learning and devotion to a dream. What a thrill to see the beautiful photos, classic literary excerpts, poetry and John’s own words combined together into a beautiful coffee table treasure.
Cooperative agreements with the Boca Grande Historical Society and Chamber of Commerce allowed him to create his project without having to be responsible for the ensuing sales and inventory. Dream come true…..on to the next one!
FIrst published in 2009, this small biz story is a great example of what you can do from scratch….In honor of the Joyfully Jobless Weekends – see ad at the right.
As you pull up into the parking lot in front, you see this cute little garden abode with the flower boxes, rustic red barn wood siding and the quaint sign announcing The Yarn Cottage. It’s part of The Red Brick Farm in Mayville, NY and actually used to be the milk house for the farm.
Susan Newman, the proprietor, told me that she knew she loved it the moment she found it and I know why. It is small, cozy and yet open and bright at once. I remember the first time I visited. I entered the front door into a knitter’s haven filled with baskets of brightly colored balls, shelves of textured skeins, and displays of beautiful hand-knit sweaters, hats, shawls, mittens and booties everywhere I looked. There are also a variety of shabby chic rockers and comfy chairs to sink into and a resident dog to cuddle at your feet.
There was no one behind the small counter, but the sounds of laughter rang through the open door in the opposite wall and there, outside on the patio in the crisp early Spring sunshine, were three women sitting at an old-fashioned ice-cream shop tables in wire-backed chairs working on their individual projects and chatting away.
They all smiled when they saw me, and Susan invited me to pour myself a cup of cider and join them out in the sun.
Now I love yarn and all types of woven fabrics, and I’ve purchased both at lots of places, but I’ve never wanted to buy a skein and set of needles and sit right down and start in the very shop before!
The Yarn Cottage is a place where the customer is Queen and Susan bends over backwards to make everyone feel welcome and at the center of her attention. This is customer service not only with a smile, but with TLC in a warm, friendly, inclusive way that is hard to find in today’s world of chain stores and internet shopping.
Since I am always on the lookout for good stories of people who have created some way to work that feeds their soul as well as their checkbook, I started asking some questions on a subsequent visit. In response she said, “if anyone had told me 5 years ago that I would be sitting here in my own yarn shop I wouldn’t have believed them.” Well, that’s my kind of story so I made an appointment to interview her for one of my tales of transition.
Her personal story is one of those that breaks your heart, but this gutsy lady is making her own way through the second half of her life and this business is her soul’s sustenance.
As a single Mom with kids to educate she had gone to work for the first time in retail and discovered that she had a real knack for color and dealing with people. She didn’t know a thing about knitting, but she learned a lot working for someone else in a small shop. Did you get that? She learned as she went….
A couple of years later life threw her another curve ball and the eventual bailout came in the form of a loan from a friend to order some yarn. When she found the empty milk house she knew it was the perfect home for her new venture.
The first four years the business thrived and grew
. Mayville is located in a seasonal area on Lake Chautauqua in an area of Western NY that is primarily agricultural (and buried under snow) for 8 months of the year. Located about 20 miles from Erie, PA and 45 miles from Buffalo, it’s a challenge to earn a living once the summer folks go home but Susan has made it work. During the off-season, local knitters get together at the homey shop to work together and Monday Knit Night is an opportunity to learn the basics or improve skills in a fun environment.
Susan says the best part of her business is the people she meets and the fun of playing with the colorful yarns. She admits to not knowing much about running a small retail business at first but insists that it can be learned on the job.
The best perk is that she takes Thursdays off to babysit her granddaughter but, like most of us, health insurance is her biggest problem. She had hoped to start paying back the loan this year, but a troubled economy has reduced her sales and she’s brainstorming some ways to increase business over the fall and winter by doing craft shows and developing more of an internet- based business.
Update 2012: Late in the spring I received a postcard announcing the opening of The Yarn Shop Annex on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institute – a truly prestigious but challenging opportunity. It was terrifying she said, but her vendors agreed to send her inventory and delay invoicing until she could get the shop open. She drafted her sister Jill to help her manage both locations. By the time I got there about a week after the opening, the shop was beautifully stocked, a knitting class was going on in the corner, and the happy proprietor was so busy helping customers that I had to arrange to visit with her some other time.
Sometimes the scariest possibilities are the best….
This post is part of an ongoing series on small business ideas in honor of the Joyfully Jobless Weekend that Barbara Winter is presenting in the Triangle area of North Carolina – see the ad to the right…..
Do you want to travel to foreign countries? Do you want to really experience life among local people? Do you admire excellent handwork and indigenous art? Do you want to do something meaningful with your life? I’ve got an answer…
I’m talking about an importing business for all the wonderful artwork, home décor products, clothing and jewelry that is being produced by indigenous artisans in villages in Asia, Latin America and Africa and South America.
Because of a personal interest in Fair Trade, I know several folks who do this. My friend Ellen got started when her husband was traveling to Ghana for business and she tagged along. She started out one day in search of a wall hanging for her home and found a village of talented women and young girls weaving beautiful pieces. When she asked if she could buy one she discovered that they really didn’t know how to market their wares beyond the street market in neighboring cities. She spent the rest of her trip locating other artisans and returned to the states determined to find a way to help these people earn a decent wage for their efforts that would then help them support their families and villages. Her organization today supports schools and feeds children in two villages through the non-profit organization she developed from her sales and donations. You can see the result at www.pagusafrica.org .
Another importer, Susan, is an interior designer who traveled to Thailand on vacation, found a village that was making beautiful silk scarves from silkworm to finished product. Again, they had little access to markets where they could sell their creations. She has helped them design new items to produce including pillows and wall hangings that are sought after in the US. She travels several times a year (a business deduction!) to meet with them to decide on new products and to help them with their business plan. In turn, she has created a business for herself that is unique and rewarding. You can see her products at www.swithaisilk.org
The third one, Grace, buys hand-knit woolen mittens, hats, purses, scarves and sweaters from villages all over the mountains of Guatemala. Again she gets to travel to her favorite part of the world, helps many women support their children and pays them a fair wage that slowly improves the life in these third world places. Her business model is simple – she buys their products at a fair wage and re-sells them at fairs, festivals and is a very successful street vendor in center city Philadelphia.
They all participate in the various Fair Trade Fairs that are commonly sponsored by churches and community groups. They are earning good incomes, traveling and helping others all at the same time.
If you have family living or working in another country, or just want a way to travel and learn about another part of the world, this is a concept that can be started small and grown in a way that fits your lifestyle.
As a build up to the Joyfully Jobless Weekend, I am going to b posting some old and new stories of successful self-bossers that I’ve met over the years. Here’s the first one….
It was one of those days when I was tired of sitting at my desk at home so I packed up my laptop and drove out early to the campus where I was to teach that evening. With a couple of hours to kill and needing a bite and a coffee to perk me up, I stopped at a nearby shopping center and settled myself in an empty Starbucks to write.
As I paused to consider a phrase, I gazed out the window and noticed a young man in an electric wheelchair making his way toward the door. Noting that he was having no difficulty maneuvering I looked back down at my screen so as not to embarrass him by seeming to stare.
He rolled over to a table in the corner by the window, placed his briefcase on the table, took out a few papers, a pen and his cell phone and arranged them neatly in front of him. The barista called a greeting to him and asked if he wanted anything. He replied that he would wait until after his clients left. Clients?
Now my curiosity was peaked. He was 30-something, neatly dressed in khakis and a blue button-down shirt with the collar open, and sported a neatly trimmed beard and dark curly hair. He was obviously here to do business of some sort. I know lots of folks work in coffee shops, but this guy had literally set up an office of sorts.
A few minutes later his cell phone rang and he began repeating directions to the store for the caller. While the next 5 minutes passed, he sorted through some other papers and made a couple of calls.
Then the door opened and a man and wife and 2 young children entered slowly – they were obviously a Latino family who looked around hesitantly. He greeted them warmly and invited them to sit across the table from him. He then proceeded to converse easily in Spanish to conduct some sort of business with them. It was only when he pulled out a notary’s seal tool that I began to understand what was happening.
They concluded the Notary process, the father handed him some cash and they left smiling. I couldn’t help myself – I had to strike up a conversation with this man!
I looked in his direction, met his eyes and smiled. He smiled back and commented on the beautiful fall weather that day.
“I don’t mean to be nosy, but I’m a small business coach and really interested in knowing about your unique business model. Do you mind explaining?”
He laughed gently, called to the barista to bring him his ‘usual’.
“Well, I’ve had to learn to make my own work. I have Muscular Dystrophy that finally landed me in this chair a few years ago. I was working for Sears at the time but rather than find a way to keep me employed, they let me go. I am on disability, but I have a wife and three children and even though she works as an LPN, I still need to earn a living.
My occupational therapist suggested several things I could do but they all involved working for someone else for set hours and on set days. I wanted to be able to work my schedule around the kids and my bad days so I chose to become a Notary.
We live right over there – he pointed to a nearby apartment complex. I can get myself over here and it’s an easy ‘office’ for people to spot but costs me nothing except a cup of coffee and a muffin each day. I cleared that with the manager first.
I sent letters to the realtors and other businesses in the area offering my services and I also have small flyers and business cards spread all around the area thanks to my older kids. My clients call to make an appointment and I meet them here.
It gets me out of the house, earns a little extra money and allows me to help other people. I polished my high school Spanish so I can help these folks who are pretty overwhelmed with all the hurdles they sometimes have to get over. “
I couldn’t help grinning. “Well, congratulations – that’s impressive. Too many people in your position would expect someone else to take care of them. “
He had begun packing up his briefcase and said, “I believe that you do what you can. If you stop, you die. Gotta’ go pick up my daughter at school over there…”
I watched him roll out the door, go to the corner, wait for the light and then cross a 4 lane busy street to get to the elementary school a couple of blocks down. About 20 minutes later I saw him come back across with an 8 yr old in tow, her backpack riding comfortably on his lap. They were both laughing about something….
What lucky children they are…they will grow up knowing how to take care of themselves. ..