Shannen Knight started her first business in 1996 in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Right now I actually have two businesses! A Sight for Sport Eyes specializes in sports specific eyewear, sunglasses and goggles including prescription and vision training products to increase performance, reaction time, etc. Chameleon Salon & Day Spa is a full service hair salon and day spa.
How did you come up with your business idea?
I was working for an eye doctor in college and was reading trade magazines and saw this as an emerging niche in the industry. I decided to do this as a college project in my entrepreneur class. My professor told me he would give me the money to make it happen!
For the Salon, my cousin was graduating from business school, and I was looking for another business to start so I partnered with her to start a salon.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
Yes, as my college project I had to write a business plan. The plan was effective in that my professor told me to make it happen and he'd back me. My parents ended up giving me the money, but originally I was going to be a lawyer so this turned my life course in a different direction. For the salon, I had the experience already so I wrote the business plan again. It was useful for my cousin to see what our goals would be and outline our specific duties as a partner in the business.
Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers
Initially, I didn't hire anyone. However, later I hired a lawyer to trademark name. If you come up with something unique and creative, I suggest you do this immediately. I did it too late and this caused some legal issues regarding my business name. I used online tools to file LLC and S-corp statuses for the businesses which is a great, inexpensive way to do this.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
Yes, at one point for A Sight for Sport Eyes was operated from my home. I opened a store originally, started to sell more online so moved it to my home. Then I discovered that so many people locally wanted to be able to see and touch the product so it was beneficial to open a physical store location as well. I was at home for about 1 year and I worked too much because I was always there. I opted for low rent but in still a high retail area so customers feel a sense of professionalism and that we just aren't an online store. In my industry, I think it is important to establish a sense of professionalism.
Did you have a partner when you started your business? How did you select a partner?
For A Sight for Sport Eyes, my parents were silent partners with me at first, probably because it was their money and they wanted the write off. As soon as the business started to make money, they didn't want to take part anymore. For Chameleon, yes, I started it with my cousin as she was graduating beauty school.
Have you hired additional staff?
Yes, I've hired part-time students mostly. The hardest part is that there is a lot of technical stuff to learn so there is a long learning curve. For Chameleon, staff is my biggest problem. Too many women in one room create huge problems. Gossiping, backstabbing, etc. Finding people who will just come in and do their job and be a team player is difficult when you have an industry full of women who love to gab!
Do you own a business with family members? What do you think are the benefits and challenges to running a family owned business?
I own Chameleon with my cousin and I would never go into business with family again! It is really too hard to separate the business from the family relationship. It causes hurt feelings and problems for other family members who take sides.
For women entrepreneurs, what specific advice would you have for young women who would like to become an entrepreneur? Are there specific advantages, disadvantages to being a women business owner?
You have to have a thick skin and not let stuff affect you. There are advantages in that there are government contracts, etc. that will give you an edge if you are a woman owned business but finding respect is sometimes hard. I don't know how often someone walks into the store and asks if they can speak to the owner. They never assume it is me even though I'm the only one here most of the time and sitting at the big desk. Men especially are surprised that I'm the owner. Maybe because I'm in the sports industry which skews male.
Green business is all the rage right now. Has it really been practical for you as an entrepreneur to incorporate green business practices?
At Chameleon Salon we've really taken steps to become green. We are located in a very "green" area so our customers respect us for being green. We recycle hair that is used to create mats to clean up the waterways after oil spills. We refill shampoo and conditioners so customers don't have to throw their bottle in a land fill (it is also cheaper for them). We let nail customers keep their files and ask that they bring them back for their next service, again so we aren't filling the land fills with them. We try hard to be green because the customers are demanding it.
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
Think about cutting out expensive phone lines and changing to VOIP. With all the things VOIP can do, it allows you to look like a big company too without having to pay for expensive phone systems. Cutting even $20 to $30 a month makes a big difference. Also, turn down the thermostat 5 degrees and wear a blanket or dress warmer. Again, a few dollars on that electric bill makes a difference. Pay bills online to save a stamp.
Have you outsourced any portion of your business? Has that worked for your business?
I tried to outsource my online product catalog data entry but my product line is so complicated that it didn't work out. You have to really understand the product unfortunately to make it work and it just didn't work. I am outsourcing some picture image stuff now.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
Yes, we post last minute deals on Twitter and Facebook and get customers taking advantage of that. We also use blogs to answer frequently asked questions which has cut down on the phone calls and email questions we normally get asked.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
At A Sight for Sport Eyes, I started when the internet was in its infancy so the internet saved my business. If I didn't sell start selling online, I didn't have the local traffic to stay in business. So e-commerce has what has helped my business the most. For Chameleon, local marketing like ½ price gift certificates with the local radio/TV stations and Groupon has really helped get people in the doors. They don't necessarily cost anything up front. But it "costs" in that we lose half our normal profits. But we are getting people through the door that we wouldn't otherwise have that we hope to convert to long time customers.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
I thought I would have more free time but as an owner you work more. I'm the first one in, last one to leave. I haven't had a vacation in over 3 years.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Make sure you research the industry and your location and identify multiple sources of revenue streams. Niche markets can be hard if not properly researched or if you don't know if there are enough buyers out there.
Sounds like you are a very busy person, Shannen. Thanks for taking the time to share your business experiences with the readers at Gaebler.com.