The entrepreneurial American Dream happens every day. From immigrants newly arrived, to the latest whiz kid working in his garage, starting one’s own business is capitalism at its best. Yet only 10 % of the small businesses opening today will make it past the 5 year benchmark. Seeking flexibility, independence, fulfillment and stability, female entrepreneurs start businesses at 6 times the rate of men.
So how does someone know if her great idea is going to be one of the few to make it? More significantly, how do female business owners in the local community manage to establish brick and mortar destination shops? Whether perusing long held dreams or establishing new ones, the entrepreneurs profiled here share their stories to show other would -be entrepreneurs that running one’s own business while maintaining a thriving family dynamic at home is not out of reach. Each story is different but the one truism that seems to apply to all is; luck favors the prepared.
Some have a plan but find themselves doing something else entirely. For instance, Stacy Ayash of Stacy Ayash Designs, located at 370 Avenue U in Brooklyn, began with a career as a children’s wear designer. Having studied the trade in The Parson’s School she worked full time at The Children’s Place corporate office in New Jersey. Several years, a husband and baby later she was eventually able to freelance at the firm, enabling her to continue contributing to the company while focusing on her family.
Fate intervened when a relative asked Stacy to help her decorate her house. An enthusiasm for home décor snowballed from there. Stacy says, “It tapped into the same resources, the same knowledge of fabric.” She credits Parson’s for giving her a thorough and comprehensive education enabling her to switch lanes from fashion to interiors. “That foundation put me on the path. I had no social life and it was extremely demanding,” she says of her education, but clearly it paid off.
As more and more freelance jobs came in she realized she could turn the skill into something more than a side job. When her second child was born commuting to NJ became more and more difficult as like other young moms, needed to be closer to home, school, the doctor…and whatever else might come up.
She had a concept for her own store, a place where she could bring under one roof all the elements she needed to streamline the décor process. A little over three years ago when one particularly large, lucrative décor job came along, she saw that it could finance her entire start- up. Self described as naturally shy, she realized she was a risk taker- as long as she knew she could do the job. She decided the time was right and has felt gratified ever since.
Of course being the boss comes with responsibilities like late nights, dealing with issues in the industry, and doing the books. Eventually, as the business grew her ever supportive husband took the accounting over. She describes her staff as talented and wonderful but it is still her business. She has to leave a family function to talk to a client, she has to handle an emergency, and she often works beyond a typical 8 hour day.
Yet, the experience has taught her to manage time and tasks. Coming from a mass market mind set, one of the best perks is spending time with her individual clients. One day she would love to see a décor line and fabric patterns with her name on it, but for now she enjoys posting and communicating with her clients via her website and Instagram.
Other entrepreneurs performed on the job -training their entire lives without even being aware of it. For instance Rozie Steinberg feels very grateful that she spends her days doing something that comes so naturally to her. She shares her business, Mazza & More, located at 412 Ave. M with her daughter, Eleanor Maleh, who from childhood also loves to cook. After the ten thousandth kibbe-torpedo this is no small feat. On a recent afternoon, mother and daughter expertly and rapidly formed more of the delicacy in an hour than most cooks make in a year. With a full staff fluttering around them, their store front catering business was doing a weekly inventory; Eleanor explained how they reached this point.
Close to two years ago she started discussions with some potential daily clients. Her Culinary School and internship experience had prepared her for this moment. “I learned food safety, and kitchen efficiency on a large scale, and how to get the most (wholesale) food for the money.” Soon she realized that if she was going to all the trouble to set up shop it would be a plus to bring her mother on board to share the momentum.
Meanwhile Rozie was gaining a good and steady reputation by catering a number of parties and Shabbat style Mazzas from her kitchen. Her clientele was earned exclusively by word of mouth and ever after, proved to be the pairs’ best advertising tool. They have invested in sporadic ads and the occasional text message, but they find Instagram photos give them the quickest attention and turnaround.
While many wonderful cooks muse about starting a catering business, Rozie feels that her secret ingredient is her passion for food. Traditional Syrian foods, she says, “Is our legacy.” For this reason she teaches a cooking class and lovingly jokes that it would be her pleasure to put herself out of business yet she has to acknowledge the niche she fills. She is holding off on expanding due to the fact that she wants to preserve the homey quality of her foods. Sometimes she dreams about mass packaging her product and seeing it in supermarkets, but feels that once she goes that large it would have to be machine made- and that’s not what she’s about. “It comes easy to me,” she says, and with an admission not many businesses can boast, she adds “My mother, who taught us everything sometimes comes in and lends a hand.”
But is a lifetime of lovingly cooking enough to make this business work? After all the business side can get quite technical.
Eleanor, who always shared in her mother’s passion, jokingly admits that she “slept through computer class in college,” but now finds herself doing an excel cash flow sheet every month in order to keep costs down and give accurate quotes to potential clients catering their affairs- the list of which is growing. In addition her brother has picked up the all important accounting.
Fondly, Rozie recalls her first order for five hundred chicken wontons at a SuperBowl party, and sees the collision of timing, good fortune and expertise coming together. “I was given an opportunity to produce something sellable that comes naturally to me. I could either take the ball and run -or run the other way.”
Though it is time consuming, Mother and daughter share the work load and responsibilities. Together they seem to be heading for a touchdown.
While many a small business can provide a product, the art of confidently selling that product is a skill unto itself. Michele Hakim and her sister in law, Bonnie Hakim both seem to effortlessly selling their tableware at Table Toppers located at 1704 East 4th street. Michele explains that she learned everything from buying merchandise to window dressing to selling by working with her father in his clothing store. Bonnie as well has skills stemming from her teen years when she started working. Because sales experience is so crucial to learning how to make accurate transactions both verbally and monetarily, the foundation it provided them all those years was invaluable when they were on their own.
Michele had recently moved into a new home when she was approached to help with a fund raiser for the local synagogue. They were putting together a boutique show, where the proceeds would go to the synagogue.
“I had no idea what to sell but the woman running it kept insisting that I just go out and get something.” She walked around New York looking for items and eventually asked a community member who wholesaled tablecloths if she could buy a few from him.
“He really put me in business,” she says gratefully. Her entire start up cost was a few hundred dollars for that first batch of cloths. After the show calls started coming in and she realized a need. After a few weeks Bonnie teamed up with her and became an official partner.
. They ran the business from Bonnie’s basement which was extremely convenient since she had a newborn at the time. The arrangement worked very well as Bonnie took to the books and the pair shared the work week. They continued to do boutique shows, enlisting everybody in the family to load boxes and help set up. They were all extremely supportive.
Slowly the business grew and the merchandise grew more varied. Bonnie says after a while they realized who their demographic was and how to focus on what that customer would need. Now they have a huge inventory, offer in house measuring and do custom orders.
Six years ago Table Toppers made the jump to a street front location. They rely on print ads in magazines from many neighborhoods, articles and Instagram. Using the same steady formula for expansion one day they hope to move to a larger store. There they would invest in a computerized bar code system to compete with their complete knowledge of their stock. Michele jokes, “For now, backwards and forwards, it’s all in my head.”
So clearly, owning and running a successful business is an attainable goal. When opportunities became available each and every one of these entrepreneurs (randomly picked by the way) was able to jump up and go because she was building on a skill she was already good at. They may not have realized that they were studying the market for saturation, or preparing themselves by going to school and working or interning for somebody else. But by simply doing what they loved they were actually leaving little to blind luck.
Next month we will explore the world of internet based businesses. To participate or comment me at: [email protected]