Have you ever been out with a group of friends for coffee or cocktails and one of them came up with a great idea for a business, a service, or even a product? I have, many times. But did those ideas go anywhere? Alas, no. Though the spark was there, the prospect of putting all the pieces together – business plan, financing, marketing and sales – all while running kids to sports practices, volunteering for the PTA, and working a regular job was just too overwhelming, and the idea ultimately fizzled.
Let’s face it, starting a new business is tough. Though many of us have the creative mojo to come up with a good idea, actually taking that idea and getting it out into the marketplace is daunting. But some Richmond moms are doing it – they’ve taken their clever concepts out of the realm of possibility and made them a reality. So, what drove them to overcome such significant obstacles? What keeps them going when it all seems like too much? What does daily life look like as a mompreneur? To find out, I spent time with some local businesswomen to get a little insight on what makes mompreneurs go.
Sweet dreams really do come true at this West End shop…
It is three thirty on a sunny Sunday afternoon and sisters Chrissy Triano and Sarah Solomon, co-owners of West Broad Village’s new urban candy emporium, Sweet Spot, are busy wiping off the long stainless steel table that occupies center stage in their brightly-colored shop. As I open the door, a group of 5-year-olds tumbles past me, clutching confetticolored bags of treats.
A birthday party has just wrapped up (one of three that will be held today), and the youngsters – complete with marshmallow fluff-smeared faces – are giddy from their hour playing games and making birthday crowns that they decorate with sweets like Swedish Fish and root beer bottle gummies. Solomon’s kids, at 4½ and 2½, would love this type of activity. But this is not just a little kid’s place. Solomon and Triano have hosted parties for kids of all ages, including a sweet 16 party. “We wanted to make this a gathering place, a place where people could hang out and play candy Bingo or vintage Candyland on Friday nights, or come for a soda tasting,” says Triano, mother of a 13-year-old and an 11-year-old.
Triano and Solomon opened their shop in November 2010, and, for the first six months they worked every hour that the store was open. (Sweet Spot is open seven days a week, though Sundays are reserved for private parties). Today, they have two employees who run the front of the store, and four part-time employees who coordinate birthday parties. Still, the sisters each put in about 60 hours a week.
The pair says they had always wanted to open a store and were inspired by their neighborhood candy store in Reston where they grew up. “We never forgot how fun it was going there,” says Triano, “and Sarah and I always said we needed to do something like that.” What was their tipping point? After seeking advice from owners of other candy stores, and deciding to finance the operation through personal investments and investments of family members, “We realized it was a thing we could really do,” says Solomon. “We had a certain amount of money to invest and we found a space we could afford. We kept saying if there is a big road block, we will stop, but there wasn’t.”
Have there been moments when it all seemed too hard and you wanted to quit? “Yes!” they answer in unison. “But what keeps us going,” explains Solomon, “is when it all starts to click and we say, okay, we made our dream come true and other people really like it!”
Meet some space planners who aren’t afraid to tackle the big job…
I pull into Lisa Shade’s driveway at her West End home around two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. Shade, and partner Lisa Martin, co-owners of space planning service, Pretty Neat, are in the middle of a planning session for tomorrow’s job – organizing a large garage and a kitchen – when I walk in. As I join them at Shade’s kitchen table, I notice that her usually bustling home is quiet. Her kids, age 8 and 6, are at day camp on this August day, and Martin’s brood, ages 11, 9 and 8, are at swim practice. And though the Shade family’s adorable 7-month-old yellow lab, Cosmo, keeps dropping a ball at Shade’s feet trying to get her to play, this is focused work-time. Day camp pick-up for the Shade kids is in less than two hours, and the Martin kids have soccer and football practice later that afternoon.
This is how Shade and Martin have organized their business – to fit into their busy family schedules. “I never wanted this to consume me,” explains Shade, “I wanted the business to fit into my already happy life.” Martin echoes this idea, and they are making it work. Since they started in October 2010, they have remained steadily busy and haven’t had to do any advertising. All of their clients come from referrals, and they keep pouring in.
“One day we said, ‘Let’s just do this,’” says Martin, who has known Shade for about six years. “As a service business, we didn’t need many of the things that make starting a business challenging – a storefront or expensive equipment.” So the pair spent $300 on business cards and supplies, and bounced ideas off the professional women they knew to help them refine their business plan. The best tip they received? “Don’t say you can do everything, be very specific about what you can do,” says Martin.
Around four, their plans for tomorrow made, the pair hustles out the door, off to pick up kids. So, how do they keep up with this hectic pace? “Half the battle is liking what you do,” says Shade. “We just want to help other moms like us take away chaos and clutter and have a better system for organizing their households.”
She’s a mom with a passion for one-of-a-kind design…
After I press video call on my Skype screen and wait for Lorraine Heinitz to answer on a recent Friday morning, I can’t help but feel this is the best place to meet the owner of Dolphin Moon Creations, an Internet-based custom jewelry business. After all, her whole business is conducted within arm’s length of a computer. It is nine in the morning, and when we connect, I can see that the mom of two boys, 15 and 18, feels at home with the technology. And she should.
In business since 2008, Heinitz sells her custom hand-stamped sterling silver jewelry to customers around the world, communicating with them over IM, email, chat, and Skype—like she does with me today. She has sold her jewelry using as many as five Internet venues since she started, but today she says the majority of her business comes from her Etsy shop, the online Mecca for handcrafted goods.
Heinitz has been working at her business full-time since last December, but it wasn’t always like this. When she started Dolphin Moon Creations in 2008, she had a full-time job and her boys were 12 and 15. Their schedules were filled with school activities including show choir, theater, and sports, so she would stay up until the early morning hours making sure her orders were filled. “In the beginning, my family thought it was just a hobby,” explains Heinitz, “but when I started turning a profit they realized it was much more.”
It took Heinitz a short 15 months to become profitable after her initial personal investment for equipment and materials. She reinvested everything she made in those first years back into the business, an approach to business growth she describes as “slow and steady.”
“My attitude has always been, ‘I’m going to make this work.’” Says Heinitz, “The most important thing in starting a new business is you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. You can’t be in it just for the money.”