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Starting a Business During a Global Pandemic: The GDM Success Story

Posted by PCC Small Business Development Center on August 31, 2020

Jaime Johnston has found herself in a challenging situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was just getting ready to start her GDM Co. beard oil business when things began to shut down. Her start up marketing plan was supposed to have her travel around the state to small retailers, but the Governor's "stay at home" orders made that plan impossible. With the help of the Portland Community College Small Business Development Center she was able to adjust her plans and start her business on a solid foundation. GDM officially launched sales in the middle of August 2020. This is their story. 

Jaime Johnston on a motorcycleBusiness description of GDM Beard Oil

We are a moto-inspired skin and beard care brand that handcrafts our products with love in Portland. Our balms and face & beard oils include unique ingredients that nourish your skin, tame your beard and preserve your good looks! We take great pride in using only responsibly sourced organic, wild harvested and Oregon-made ingredients and in using environmentally conscious business practices.

What inspired you to start your business?

I had been making my own skincare products for a year or so when my partner asked for something to help with dry skin and itchy beard growth. I made him a beard oil and balm in a few different scents, and he loved them. We gave them out as gifts and soon people were asking for more.

"Building a business during the pandemic has been very lonely. The advising and the virtual meetups have been most valuable to me. Knowing that I am not alone gets me through dark moments when I am full of self-doubt and wondering what the hell I am doing."

Before coming to the SBDC, what challenges were you facing in your business?

Before coming to the SBDC, I had no idea what creating a business involved, how to identify a target audience or market my products as a solution to a problem. I was also unaware of the many resources available to support local small businesses.

GDM Beard Oil ProductsWhat types of services did you receive and/or in which programs did you participate?

I participated in the 10-week Small Business Builders program in the Fall of 2019. Later I benefited from 1:1 advising to make business decisions. The best part of the advising was the emotional support right after I lost my job and getting connected to other SBDC staff. They came with specific expertise I needed like financing, marketing, product development, and preparing my products for wholesale. Since the pandemic, I’ve also participated in several virtual SBDC meetups with other small business owners and have found a community of people experiencing similar challenges. I’ve learned a lot from other business owners who have figured out how to use social media and take their businesses online during the pandemic.

How have the services or programs helped you overcome those challenges?

My biggest challenge right now is financing. I am at the end of my resources and because I am not employed I am not an attractive risk to banks. One of the SBDC staff recently recommended I checkout Portland's Xxcelerate Fund for their peer mentorship program for womxn entrepreneurs. I applied and was accepted! One of the many things this program offers is connection to non-traditional funding resources. I am hopeful. Additionally, if I can start selling, I can reinvest to keep going.

What have you been doing to innovate  through the adverse conditions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic?

When I started working on this business idea, I had planned to travel up and down the coast to markets where I could sell my goods and interact directly with customers. Then the pandemic hit. How am I going to get my name out there if I can’t meet people?! Since then, I’ve focused on building an online store and trying to tell an interesting and authentic story on Instagram around my brand. My intention is to build brand recognition online and get into virtual markets, retail stores, and wholesale sites where we can be discovered.

GDM Co. Headquarters in Portland, OregonWhat are your plans moving forward as the state of Oregon prepares to reopen?

I’m focused on getting onto wholesale websites, approaching retailers to carry my line, and building my brand on Instagram’s visual platform with pictures, text, colors, ideas, and videos in a cohesive way. I’m also focused on building community. Otherwise, this experience is very lonely.   

Portland has a very strong network of neighborhood and business associations, business owners and others who are deeply invested in maintaining a strong and vibrant small business community. It is powerful to see businesses supporting each other and people sharing what and who they know without hesitation to help someone out. It’s also powerful to see many businesses speaking up and taking action against racism to support the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s inspiring to see people taking risks and doing better.

What would you say to other small business owners thinking of working with the SBDC?

I highly recommend taking small business classes at the SBDC because of the staff expertise and additional hours of no-cost 1:1 advising from experienced business owners. SBDC staff will connect you to other resources to help you build and grow your business.

Building a business during the pandemic has been very lonely at times. The advising and the virtual meetups have been most valuable to me. I’ve been able to connect with other people in similar situations and build community. Knowing that I am not alone gets me through dark moments when I am full of self-doubt and wondering what the hell I am doing.

 The Oregon Small Business Development Center Portland Community College has  helped thousands of businesses over the past 30 years. We combine one-on-one  advising with programs taught by business experts, giving our clients the  resources they need to grow their businesses. We’ve celebrated many successes  with our clients. We'd love to celebrate your success. pcc-climb-sbdc-orientation

SBA logoBusiness-Oregon-logoPrograms and services are provided to the public on a non-discriminatory basis. Language assistance service are available for limited English proficient individuals. Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities will be made if requested at least two weeks in advance. Please contact us at 971-722-5080 or sbdc@pcc.edu, to request accommodations. Oregon Small Business Development Centers are funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the Oregon Business Development Department.

Topics: Small Business, Business Profiles, coronavirus, Covid-19, Resilience

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