Five local female entrepreneurs share business insights

Although the United States economy continues to struggle, small businesses are leading the way to recovery.

According to the United States Small Business Administration (SBA), the most recent Census data shows continued growth, with 902,694 small businesses in operation in Georgia, representing 97.7 percent of all employers and employing 45 percent of the workforce. (SBA categorizes all businesses that have under 500 employees as small businesses).

In addition, women are making great strides in small business ownership, with growth rates doubling those of men – 7.8 million, which is a 44 percent increase from 1997 to 2007.

Griffin is a prime example of that trend, with a number of local women-owned small businesses opening downtown over the past two years.

Stacey Hallman, owner of Birds of a Feather, is just one example of a woman who is working to bring new life to town.

“My hope is that my business, being so big, can help revitalize a small downtown that is growing and begin to thrive again. I’m so excited to see the way it’s coming back to life,” she said. “So much has changed in the last year. I love the downtown area! Griffin is a great place to live and I’m happy that I can do something to help make it thrive, at least that what I hope I’m doing.”

Griffin Downtown Development Authority Director Adam Causey works closely with many of these small business owners, and says their value is not confined to economic development.

“They’re the life of our economy here, as far as I’m concerned. Not only do they bring in money essentially to the local economy with they business by employing people and generating revenue, but because small business owners also tend to be the ones involved here, whether it’s church functions or civic activities,” he said. “It’s impressive to me that they own a small business and they have families, but they also realize they need to be a bigger part of the community. They take extra time out to be involved in the civic arena. It’s equally impressive to owning a business.”

According to Causey, this high level of community involvement is crucial not only to maintaining their own businesses, but also to the area’s future development.

“Development doesn’t just happen because people in government sit in their offices and take phone calls. It happens because the people who live here and have business here are very helpful,” he said. “They know that for their businesses to thrive, they can’t just sit in their shops. They also have to be a proponent of our city.”

The Roundtable Group:

Melanie Toland, co-owner of ‘stache studio and The Makers’ Market, is no novice at small business ownership, as she has founded five businesses over the last 10 years, three of which are still in operation. She now gives others an outlet to express their own creativity at ‘stache, and others an opportunity to sale their unique wares at TMM. ‘stache studio and TMM are located at 116 S. Sixth Street.

An experienced businesswoman, Stacy Hallman and her husband have owned four businesses that they successfully sold. She has now ventured out with her fifth endeavor, Birds of a Feather, which offers local artisans an outlet to sell their goods. Along with her own success, she is using her business to teach her children the art of entrepreneurship. Birds of a Feather is located at 135 S. Hill Street.

Kay Landham is finally living her lifelong dream as the owner of Shop at 11th. Business is her passion, and she’s known from the age of two that she would one day be a shopkeeper. Her love of Griffin makes her work harder yet to bring revitalization to the area. Shop@11th is located at 212 S. 11th Street.

Michelle Bethune, the owner of Bliss Junky, knows firsthand the life-changing benefit yoga can bring about. Having experienced its effects, she was determined to share that with others. She now strives to pass on her knowledge to bring peace and holistic health to others’ lives.  Blissjunky is located at 129 N. Hill Street.

Meredith Graves, co-owner of Hill Street Market, says her passion for living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle grew with the birth of her daughter, Zadee. She now provides local farmers with a place to sale their crops,while offering residents high quality foods.Hill Street Market is located at  106N. Hill Street.

Is this what you wanted to be when you were a little girl or did your education and early career take you along a different path?

Michelle – As a little girl, I wanted to be a veterinarian or horse trainer. When I was in high school, my best friend’s mother was going to massage school and told me about the energetics of the human body. It sounded like interesting stuff and I said, “If that’s what massage therapists learn, then I want to be a massage therapist.” After high school, I became interested in yoga. I picked up a book on yoga and after reading about all the benefits, i decided that this was it….I want to be a yogi too. Of course, its never that simple, but after obtaining a back injury at the age of 20, I started taking a six week yoga course and after five weeks, the pain was gone. I knew this was good stuff and wanted to keep learning more.

Kay – Yes, most definitely. I have played store since I was two! It’s all about sharing things I love with everyone else. Plus, I am a junker, collector, hoarder at heart.

How did you develop your business plan?

Stacy – A wing and a prayer. I don’t know if I necessarily went into it with a business plan. We went in with a great idea and tweaked it as we went.

Meredith – [I asked myself] is there a viable market here in the Griffin area for what I want to offer? I researched other markets in different areas. I thought of how my market could be a positive benefit to the community by offering healthy and organic food and also help the local farmers by selling their produce. I asked myself, “What will it require to get this thing started?”

Michelle – As crazy as it seems, I never actually developed a business plan. I just took a leap of faith and knew that it would work.

Kay – I wrote it down on a cocktail napkin at 6th Street Pier with the help of friends and encouragers. But really I have had a plan for 20 years – same plan. I just carried it out.

Melanie – For “Scoop,” I actually developed a business plan. All of my other businesses were started in a way that is more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants than crunching numbers and analyzing competition in a formal way. I definitely think about those things and rough things out on scrap paper, but in a physical plan? No.

At what point did your passion become your business? What triggered that moment when you said, “I’m gonna do it?”

Stacy – Honestly, a lot of support from my husband. He had such a strong belief in me as a businesswoman. This isn’t our first business. We’ve had others before and they were successful – we sold them. They were in the trade industry, though, and he wanted me to do something I loved, and this fell into place.

Meredith – My daughter, Zadee, led me to become involved in finding out everything I could about eating good food, farming and what it takes to ward of allergies by changing your diet and eating good food. She has allergies to wheat and dairy, and even some fruits and vegetables. After all the research to help her, I became passionate.

Michelle – The massage business has shown me miracles and introduced me to many interesting people. Being in this business for myself has allowed me the freedom to experience these things in a more enriching way than if I worked for someone else. Because yoga had such a huge influence on the way I felt about myself and others, I naturally wanted to somehow combine the two. After I started school to further my yoga education at Peachtree Yoga Center in Sandy Springs, a friend of mine gave me a book called “Think and Grow Rich.” It was this book, and the advice taken from the book “The Secret,” that my inspiration to get out and make it happen came from.

Kay – Business is my passion. I knew I was going to do it, just didn’t know when. I knew when a girlfriend of mine said you can’t just step into it…you have jump with both feet!

Melanie – I’m passionate about anything that allows me to be creative and promises to offer new experiences. The only reason I was able to pick a major in college was because I knew in mass communications/journalism, I wouldn’t get bored. In that field, you’re always hearing new stories, meeting new people, crafting text that tells stories or producing photographs that add beauty and depth to stories. But working for someone else has always been hard for me. Even as a kid, I had a really difficult time with someone trying to control my schedule, my activities, my interactions with others. I bet every kid has that to a certain extent, but I think I had it worse than most. I guess that’s what has drawn me to entrepreneurship; it allows me freedom and control. I’ve never been scared to do it. I’m impulsive and creative and curious. I’m a hopeless dreamer. And I don’t worry about making a fool out of myself. I’m just doing what I want to do and living in my own world. That looks like crazy to some people, I know. So, I guess my point is, I’m passionate about creativity and infinite potential, and I didn’t decide to do it, I just did it.

What obstacles did you face in making your dream a reality?

Meredith – Early on, I had partners that pulled out before the grand opening. Worrying about the financial end of things is always an obstacle. What would I do with Zadee when both me and my husband worked?

Michelle – There were two main obstacles that kept getting in the way when I was ready to set out on this venture: the lack of money, and the people who believed it couldn’t be accomplished due to lack of money. It was hard not to listen to them. After all, they were only looking out for my best interest. I had some money I had saved up for this, and thought it might be enough to get it started, but I honestly had no idea.

Melanie – People are naysayers. Some of them are trying to protect you from failure and some of them don’t want to see you succeed. So, people that are close to you are often your biggest obstacles. And there’s always money, I guess. I’ve never had money and I’ve never let the lack thereof stop me. If you read entrepreneurial magazines and books and treat them as gospel, you won’t ever start a business because chances are you won’t secure loans, find venture capitalists, raise money from family and friends, etc. It just isn’t going to happen. How about just sticking your neck on the line, being resourceful and scrounging pennies all at the same time until you’ve got something that resembles a business? I’m not saying that you should go off half-cocked – you should look professional in everything you do and know your stuff – but you don’t absolutely need a lump sum of money, I promise. For instance, you don’t have to hire a graphic designer to make your logo, but you DO need branding, so learn all you can about good design and the skills to create it. Take your time.

What was the time frame?

Stacy – It was whirlwind, if you want to be honest. We signed our lease in August last year, and the Saturday after Thanksgiving was our grand opening. We’re getting ready to celebrate our first anniversary, and we’ve already expanded twice. The third building opened about nine months after the first one, so we just pushed hard and grew fast because i’d rather struggle and get the business going because I feel like sacrifice and hard work, in the end, pays off.

Meredith – About two months – no joke. Opened up on Aug. 14, 2012.

Michelle – From the time I thought this was what I wanted to do to the date I opened was approximately five months. I started looking at spaces in November of last year, signed the lease in January and opened in March. It was all very impulsive but I just rolled with it.

Kay – I said I think I am going to do it! That was in September and I opened in November. I was ready.

What type of encouragement did you get along the way?

Stacy – Friends and family – I have an amazing support group. My husband, my parents, my in-laws and our close friends all helped out along the way, and of course, my mentor.

Meredith – My husband, Dustin, is all about being positive and living life to its fullest! Family and friends were also very encouraging.

Michelle – The most encouraging bit about this venture was how everything just fell into place. That was my way of knowing that I was doing exactly what I was suppose to do. Every time I got discouraged, something else would happen in my favor to show me I was on the right path, along with the people in my life that would keep me moving, and still do.

Kay – Gosh, I have always gotten encouragement from friends and family – all through my life. Do it – Do it…you can do it…I can hear them now.

Melanie – In my experience, most people are not encouraging. Don’t expect anyone to light your fire for you.

How did you deal with anyone who may have tried to rain on your parade by discouraging you from following your dream?

Michelle – It was very hard to not believe the negativity that was thrown my way from time to time, but I kept remembering that if it didn’t sound crazy, then its already been done. And how can they possibly know it would never work if they’ve never done it.

Kay – I am sorry but I don’t understand that question. I don’t let people rain on my parade – I win. No one rains on my parade.

Melanie – If you really want to do the business and you feel strongly enough about it, you’ll press on. I think if you let it really get to you, then something’s off. You need absolute resolve to succeed. It shouldn’t be that easy to knock you down.

What’s your vision for the future?

Stacy – I just plan to keep growing, become more solid than we already are, and we’re pretty solid. It’s hard to say what the future holds, but we want to keep growing where we can.

Meredith – Supporting local farmers and promoting a healthy and sustainable lifestyle for my own family, as well as the community and surroundings in which I live.

Michelle – I’m hoping that Blissjunky will be the first name that comes to peoples’ minds when they think about destressing, relaxing, and personal growth and awareness in the future. Plans for expansion are in mind, with room for more instructors, massage therapist and other holistic therapist.

Kay – To keep enjoying what I am doing.

Where do you see yourself fitting into the big picture of being a business owner in the downtown area of a smaller town?

Stacy – My hope is that my business, being so big, can help revitalize a small downtown that is growing and beginning to thrive again. I’m so excited to see the way it’s coming back to life! So much has changed in the last year. I love the downtown area! Griffin is a great place to live and I’m happy that I can do something to help make it thrive, at least that what I hope I’m doing.

Meredith – I enjoy being a part of it all – watching Griffin with all it has going for it now with the new restaurants, lofts, antique shops, etc. I enjoy meeting and speaking with other shop owners, as well as all my customers. Everybody is so nice!

Michelle – As a business owner, being in the downtown area of a small town, I see myself fitting into the big picture.

Kay – I think that I am already in the big picture – I love Griffin and have always been interested in the betterment of Griffin’s business. I am not going to stop now. Griffin is going to make it.

What do your kids, especially daughters, think about mom being the boss? Do they help out around the shop?

Stacy – I only have boys, but they love it. The have their own little space. We call it the chicken coop. They really love it and seem to be proud. I love hearing them say, “My mom owns a store!” They have a lemonade stand, so I’m trying to encourage that entrepreneurial spirit. My youngest son is quite the little salesman!

Meredith – My daughter is going on three-years-old and doesn’t fully understand, but in answer to helping around the shop, she loves to arrange and rearrange. She even goes out to the sidewalk and asks the passersby, “Do you want to come into my popsicle shop?”

Michelle – I have two awesome little boys who think that it’s pretty cool that I’m my own boss. They enjoy coming to work with me so they can zoom around the yoga room floor in the rollie chair and build things out of yoga blocks. They rarely come to work with me during business hours, though, because…..well, they’re boys.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned by being in business for yourself?

Meredith – I now work lots of jobs instead of one – food preparer, dish washer, buyer, stock clerk, accountant, janitor, marketer, etc!

Kay – Really??? Nothing surprises me anymore. You think when you have heard it all, another one comes around the corner. I actually have been in business for over 30 years. Gosh, that makes me old.

Melanie – It’s really hard to put down at the end of the day. In fact, I don’t. And one thing I’ve learned…be careful about making your hobby your work. You need that thing that you enjoy to keep giving you that room to decompress. You might feel very empty when the high stakes of doing it as a business make it not so much fun anymore. Another thing, business is business. I don’t care what you see yourself doing on a day-to-day basis as a business – the paper work, the red tape, the marketing, the advertising – all those things that aren’t what you want to be getting paid to do, you have to do. For instance, if you’re a photographer, don’t be so deluded as to think that all you’ll be doing is attending glamorous events and taking beautiful pictures. You’ll find out sooner rather than later that you’ll be spending at least 80 percent of your time doing things that have nothing to do with actual photography. And if you don’t, you’ll be out of business in no time. Ω

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