Starting an Accessories Business

Interview with Barbara Hranilovich, Founder of BARBCO and Hranilovich Illustration

Inspiration can strike at the strangest times. Barbara Hranilovich woke up with the idea for product that would carry your coffee easily. Her many years of self-employment experience gave her a leg up on transitioning from great idea to start-up business. In this interview, she shares some of that experience.

Read more about how Barbara Hranilovich turned a great idea into a great product.

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

Under the Hranilovich Illustration banner, I'm a commercial illustrator and fine artist, creating work for clients in publishing, advertising and editorial, as well as toy development. At BARBCO, I sell my own invention, the beverage CADDi.

When did you start the business?

I've been self-employed since 1976. BARBCO was started in 2005.

How did you come up with your business idea?

I woke up with the idea for the CADDi. Within 15 minutes I'd made the prototype and it has not changed from that first one, but it still took about a year to get it right from a manufacturer. I had been looking for something which could bring in a different stream of income, as my artwork is a make-one-sell-one sort of business. Getting the occasional royalty for work got me thinking about other things I could do. I'm still in outgo mode, but gradually feeling things come in. We've dug, planted, watered and fertilized and I'm starting to see shoots.

Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers ...? Would you suggest others do the same?

This is the entrepreneur's dilemma - to try to do everything yourself or hire out. Money is always a factor, so the temptation is to be all things to the business, but we're not all good at all things. I hired a lawyer for my patent application and use an accountant for taxes. I'd love to hire a sales person but know I won't for at least awhile. I'm still working out issues that I want totally resolved before I bring in anyone else. Also, experiences working with partners of various definitions over the years have left me inclined to continue to try to do it myself - does not play well with others? (smile)

Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?

I operate from my home because then all of my activities are in one place. I save on overhead. I have spaces dedicated to work, so that the work life stays separate from the personal. I still get up and go to work every day and leave at the end of the workday. Because I love what I do, and wear a lot of business hats, it's hard for me not to work all the time. Working from home lets me jump when an idea hits and, cliché for sure, work in my PJs. I try to balance that with down time.

Temporary labor can be a great asset to an entrepreneur. Have you ever hired temps or contractors?

I'm currently working with a team of interns from the local university here in Lansing. I'm still learning how to work with them, as I've never had employees, but what I do know is that, by being accountable to them, I have to stay on task and thing about what we'll discuss or do from week to week. It's been nice to have their fresh energy come after being on my own with the CADDi for 5 years...revitalizing.

How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?

Everything has taken much longer than I'd have thought, from manufacture, to patent, to getting the word out. I'm at 5 years, which was my initial goal for making it go. I've learned that 5 years isn't much. I've been surprised to find out that, though I sometimes feel like I'm in over my head, I also like that I have to be on my toes all the time, challenge myself and learn new things. This has been a very vitalizing process - also taxing, frustrating and scary. I've had to push myself in ways which have given me confidence to keep pushing myself. Pretty cool, really. While I occasionally ask myself why I didn't take that start-up money and simply put it in my IRA instead, I know that what I've gotten out of this whole experience is worth much more than money. I've meet wonderful people, traveled, taken chances and felt alive. I'm ready for that initially-desired stream of income to start coming - any day, now, right?

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?

Do your research. Be honest with yourself and what you want out of the venture.

Great advice, Barbara. Thanks so much for talking with us.

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