In this entrepreneurial story, we are interviewing entrepreneur Alison Banholzer.
She is the Founding Partner and Director of Innovation for Midnight Oil Scrapbook Designs (MOSD).
Tell us about your current business, Alison. What are you doing exactly?
We manufacture (entirely in the USA) a line of scrapbook and paper craft products.
This includes our lines of Clearly Designed and Cover to Cover Albums, Stick-Ons, Stackers, and Expressions Build A Book custom wordbooks.
How did you come to start this business?
We started the company in 2005.
My business partner, Christy Gandara, and I met each other online at a small business message board.
Having never met in person, we formed a partnership, living on opposite sides of the country.
For the first year all business was conducted via chat. We only spoke on the phone once or twice. Believe it or not, we were in business for nearly a year before meeting face to face.
In the three years, we have been in business we have only seen each other twice.
This is not our first business. We both owned retail scrapbook sites (on-line and local retreat venues) prior to starting our current company together, so that led us naturally into this business.
Where are you both located?
I live in Huntingtown MD (just outside of D.C.) and Christy lives in Banning CA (outside of L.A.)
Where did you get the startup money for this venture?
We leveraged what we could from our two businesses in inventory and cash. In total, we started MOSD on about $4,000.
We operate on a cash basis and have been self-sufficient from the start. We have never taken out a loan to run the business.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
Our main competitors are larger scrapbook manufacturers with more money for product development and larger staff for marketing.
We compete by offering outstanding products that are produced in the USA, by skilled workers with astonishing customer service skills. Because our products are produced within the USA we have shorter turnaround times, lower minimums, and can offer our customers custom products.
We also have fast ship times and will bend over backwards for our customers. Our reputation is closely tied to how well we service our customers. Honesty, Integrity, Reliability and Creativity are not just motto's at MOSD we truly live these words and know our customers can see the difference.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
I never imagined having a partner, nor did I ever think running a business via chat would be successful. Yet we have consistently grown every year we have been in business and have double our revenues for the past two years.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I don't think we could have done anything different. However, I do wish we could have had more startup capital to be able to get to where we are now more quickly.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
We have taken the time to get to know our customers' needs, and work with them in non-traditional ways to see everyone prosper.
We recognize that as a manufacturer if our retailers go out of business because of low turns, or a tough economy then we won't have any customers. It is in our best interest to do everything we can to help our customers succeed. They in return provide us with the privilege of fill more orders for them.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
The best advice I can give is to remember that "Slow and Steady Wins the Race".
Be patient and be willing to work hard – not just in the beginning. Every phase has bumps and victories. You have to work hard to overcome the bumps and you have to work hard to win every victory.
Don't go too fast. If you grow too quickly you will lose touch with your customers and you won't be able to provide them with excellent customer service and then you won't have any customers. The internet is a powerful tool but it can also cut you down very quickly. If you are in a small industry word of mouth via the internet is very powerful – good and bad. It is better to grow slowly with a good reputation than to be a flash in the pan and go down in flames.
That's great advice. I think some businesses are so intent on growing fast that they effectively shoot themselves in the foot by compromising quality and service. Thanks so much for sharing your entrepreneurial experience with us, and good luck in the future.