The great thing about talking with other entrepreneurs is that they can teach you so much.
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Liz Stewart is one such entrepreneur. This interview is full of some great tips for new entrepreneurs.
Liz, why don't we start by having you tell us about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Lush Beads is a retail shop that sells beads and supplies to jewelry designers and crafters. I teach beading classes, do jewelry repairs, and design custom jewelry for special occasions. I am also a jewelry designer and create finished pieces to sell in my shop.
When did you start the business?
Lush Beads opened its doors in May 2004.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
This is my second business. My first business was a very small jewelry design business called Lizzie's Things that I started in 2002, and I merged it with Lush Beads once the retail shop opened.
I went to college (WPI) and earned a Bachelor's in Computer Science. The next 8-9 years were spent working as a UNIX Systems Administrator at various companies – a government contractor, a university, a telecommunications company, a startup Internet consulting firm, and a startup healthcare software company.
I loved being a systems administrator, however I got burned out from overwork. When I was laid off from my last tech job, I was actually relieved. At that point giving up tech was easy…giving up my lifestyle was what was difficult. It took me some time and thinking to come to terms with the lifestyle change.
Once I was comfortable with the lifestyle change, it was through a random series of events that I ended up taking part-time jobs at 2 different bead shops. It was suggested to me that I either buy one of those businesses, or start my own. When the former did not pan out I opted for the latter, and I have never looked back.
Where did you get the startup money?
I had previously sold my home and I used money from that sale to start my business. It was important to me not to have to borrow money to start my business. If I failed, I did not want to owe thousands of dollars in loans.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
My main competitors are other local bead shops, and the online arena.
Every bead store has different offerings, and there are so many product types that it is not difficult to offer something that nobody else sells. I also make sure to offer superior customer service, so my customers have another reason to come to my shop instead of shopping online. It is almost impossible for me to compete price-wise with online shops, so I try to give a personal touch that my customers appreciate.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
Running a business is not at all what I expected it to be. I assumed I would be able to sit and craft with beads all day, and occasionally ring a register. How naïve! Instead, I spend most of my time focusing on business related issues – inventory, advertising, marketing, accounting, etc. – and very little time making finished jewelry to sell.
I also did not expect it to take so much time! When you have the freedom to make your own work schedule, you think you will work a minimum number of hours and have all sorts of free time to do other things. This is completely untrue.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish (and still wish) that I were better at focusing on the big picture rather than all the details.
It serves me well most of the time, but it is hard to direct a business when you are focused on the day-to-day all the time.
I also wish I had done more research into shop locations. When people say "location, location, location!" they are not kidding around. It can make or break your retail business!
I agree completely. Sometimes it's very hard to work on your business instead of in your business. On a related note, what have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
I keep an email list and I reward my email list customers by providing coupons exclusively for them.
I also give out discount cards for my customers to give to friends – every card that is turned in gets a discount for my customer, and for the friend who received it.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a retail business?
Here are some things I think are important for new entrepreneurs who want to start a business of their own.
First, work in your chosen industry. I cannot stress that enough. There's nothing worse than opening your own retail shop and realizing that you don't like being there! Before I opened my shop, I worked part-time at two different bead stores. Not only did that make me realize that I liked working in a bead shop, it also gave me 2 very different perspectives into how to run a retail shop. It really allowed me to think about how I would run my own shop – the things I would and would not do.
Second, attend marketing and accounting classes. You may think you know what you are getting yourself into, but you really have no idea. It is far easier to do things correctly from the beginning than to try to fix it later on.
Third and finally, love your craft. I have met a few bead storeowners who don't really have a love for the craft, and it shows in their ability to discuss the craft with their customers. I love that my customers are enthusiastic and have tons of questions and want to know everything there is to know about beads! My enthusiasm for the craft shines through in everything I share, and my customers appreciate that.
That's great advice for any would-be entrepreneur. OK, thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. Readers, if you find yourself in need of beads or beading supplies and you're near Lowell, Massachusetts, we definitely recommend you pay Liz and Lush Beads a visit. The address is Lush Beads, 122 Western Avenue, Studio A-313, Lowell, MA 01851