Carmen Ripley Wilson approached the PCC Small Business Development Center seeking help with her new retail business. She was going through a career shift, having spent 15-years working as a naturopathic doctor. Combining her passion for small business retail with an emphasis on sustainability, Carmen came up with the idea for Beanstalk Children's Store.
In the following interview with PCC SBDC advisor Leslie Hildula, Carmen shares what she has learned from SBDC advisors and courses like the Retail Business Builders and Small Business Management programs. Carmen explains how the SBDC offered expert advising that helped her to solve common challenges for small retail business including delegating, hiring experts and the marketing skill set required for contemporary retail business. Here is Carmen's success story:
What inspired you to start your business?
I had already been working and owning my own business as a Naturopathic Physician for years. However once I had a child my medical career desire changed. I still desired to help and serve families, but in a way that would work better for my family, and without the stress and worry of another person’s medical well being.
Our children’s resale store concept was inspired by my love and belief in reducing our carbon foot print and reusing perfectly good items - especially in the context of a growing family where children grow quickly and new things are barely used. I believe in sustainability and minimizing our costs where we can.
I also wanted to create a place for folks to bring their items in to sell and trade up for high quality items. Children and families grow quickly and the items families need for a new born are very different than with a 4 month old, 9 month or a 12 month old etc. These needs change quickly and there is a lot of dollars and resources that can be saved by shopping and consigning in resale. There is very little need to buy new items for children and families and it’s important to save and minimize resources where ever we can.
Before coming to the SBDC, what challenges were you facing in your business?
I had never worked in a clothing retail environment, nor had employees or managed a business to this degree. Everything from building a strong website to working with my point of sale to marketing and having employee reviews was new and posed different challenges. In the very beginning I purchased and sourced what I could afford and along the way I needed things to be upgraded and improved, and that took finding the right folks (and cost more money). Along this journey I have done the very best I could with the resources and knowledge I have had along the way.
What types of services did you receive and/or in which programs did you participate?
I participated in two 10-week courses through SBDC. In 2013 I took Retail Small Business Management. The second 10 week course I took was in 2014 titled Advanced Small Business Management. I received a scholarship for one of these courses which was a great help and I also took part in the weekly advising program.
How have the business development programs helped you overcome your challenges?
The SBDC provided a network of folks with resources that was invaluable! I met helpful instructors that I later hired to help me with my business. Jill Critchfield who specializes in HR helped me with staffing questions and HR Oregon laws. Colleen Wright has been essential in my website rebuild and management. Sean (Harry) and Leslie (Hildula) were helpful in my early years as advisors. I met with the CPA on SBDC staff in the early year to run accounting, tax and financial questions by.
What have you done differently in your business since working with the SBDC?
I hire a lot of experts to do the facets of my business that are not my area of expertise. I use SBDC resources and networking to find the folks I need, and then hire those folks to help me build my business. I have since hired a business advisor who I have worked closely with for nearly 3 years that has been instrumental organizing, honing my business and offering perspectives that I don’t have. I recently hired a new accountant and CPA firm that have been instrumental in decreasing my daily accounting load and optimizing financial and tax decisions. And lastly I hired a lawyer to oversee all my written documents and business papers to make sure everything is compliant and up to date.
Finally, I now work on my business but I no longer work in it. I have fantastic staff that run the day to day operations and a general manager who oversees the financial goals, sales and HR.
How is your business doing now?
It continues to grow and is doing really well. I am currently in a new phase. I am able to step out of the day-to-day operations and I work the week-to-week month-to-month vision supporting my general manager and the bigger picture for the next step. This is Beanstalk’s best year ever!
What would you say to other small business owners thinking of working with the SBDC?
DO IT! The SBDC has SO many resources and instructors and advisors that you just don’t have access to otherwise at an affordable rate that is really important in those first few years when you’re getting your business off the ground. I met other business owners, which was wonderful to have other folks to talk with and bounce ideas off that were going through the same ups and downs I was going through. I found wonderful folks to teach me and guide me on how to do certain things and when I could afford it I was able to hire these folks to do big jobs for me that I simply no longer had time to do.
Are you ready to start or take your retail business to the next level? LEARN MORE HERE.