How much difference does the quality of olive oil make to the flavor of your food? A lot, according to Olive This Olive That co-owners and founders Janell Pekkain and Mary Kucel. In the summer of 2012, Pekkain opened an olive oil tasting bar in San Francisco to give people an opportunity to taste a wide variety of extra virgin olive oils and discover the difference in taste for themselves.
“Our business gets people really excited and knowledgeable about extra virgin olive oils, balsamic vinegars, pairings, and uses.” Pekkain explained. She finds the looks on people’s faces as they experience the tasting for the first time almost as rewarding as the sales that result.
Olive This Olive That is a boutique retailer with three part time employees that sells extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, hand-crafted pasta, and other fresh, food products. Pekkain prides herself on the customer service provided in her shop as well as the quality foodstuffs.
Pekkain’s background wasn’t in retail or food preparation, so starting a retail food business has provided her a seemingly never ending series of learning opportunities, from the importance of comfortable shoes to the challenges of managing staff and communicating with a partner.
Luckily, Pekkain wasn’t alone; she had the help of SCORE counselors and workshop teachers to guide her. Recommended by a friend, Pekkain began attending workshops ranging in topic from financial to marketing, and her partner, Kucel, took the six-week starting a business series. Mary also consulted with a business counselor who provided free one-on-one guidance. “Writing a business plan with the SCORE templates was challenging but fantastic. It's clear and logical. The financial reports are also very helpful. Although we ended up not needing a business plan for loan purposes, the process was very useful,” said Pekkain.
In addition, Pekkain availed herself of some of SCORE’s online learning tools, such as a social media webinar.
Pekkain also took advantage of another SBA sponsored resource, Small Business Development Centers (SBDC). She attended a payroll workshop and consulted with food specialist, Anni Manuzzi.
Building up a customer base is a challenge for any new business, regardless of industry. Pekkain and Mary came up with fun and creative ways to boost sales and word of mouth. Olive This Olive That hosts a regular BYOB (Bring Your Own Bread) event. The tongue-in-cheek event name came from Pekkain’s policy that “We don't usually offer bread when tasting during the week because we feel that bread distracts and detracts from noticing the nuances of the oils.” At the event, Pekkain prepares food featuring products and recipes and partner with other local businesses to create a theme for the night. In just over a year, the event has already built up a faithful following. The space also hosts book club meetings, private tastings, chef events, and industry events.
Still in the early phases of growth, Pekkain is optimistic about the future of her business. She hopes that a forthcoming website will help spread the word inside and outside of San Francisco. She’d love to see Olive This Olive That become a turnkey business with multiple locations.
Olive This Olive That is proud to be a 100% woman-owned general partnership. Like any good team, both members bring different skills to the partnership. Pekkain sums up the relationship nicely, “My partner is a true entrepreneur: she doesn't take no for an answer and relentlessly finds a way to make things work. If our business and relationship was a bicycle, I'm the front wheel driving sales, marketing, training, product and she's the back wheel, protecting quality and managing finances. You need both wheels to make the bike move forward.”
Jaimi Ellison was playing basketball for Smith College in Massachusetts when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). After receiving reconstructive surgery, she transferred to UC Santa Cruz to be closer to home. Not two weeks after she entered the fitness industry, Jaimi was hit by a car on her bike, which she was riding in an effort to rehab her knee from surgery. “It was this accident and the events that followed which inspired me to get into the fitness industry as a business owner,” Jaimi recalls.
Jaimi has been a personal trainer since the age of 23 and was just 27 when she had her grand opening in April of 2009. Now thirty-one years old, Jaimi is the owner of Santa Cruz Core Fitness + Rehab, an integrative wellness center offering personal training, massage, chiropractic and acupuncture services, nutrition counseling, and various health and fitness classes.
Jaimi also worked with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in her area and was able to get a loan through their network to start her business. SBDCs provide a wide array of technical assistance to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs supporting business performance and sustainability and enhancing the creation of new business entities. The SBDCs are made up of a unique collaboration of SBA, state and local government, and private sector funding.
In June 2009 during the economic downturn, Ellison was conducting 80 sessions a month for her clients. She knew she needed help scaling up her business and she turned to her local SCORE chapter, which she had found through a Santa Cruz Chamber Mixer. SCORE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. Because their work is supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and a network of volunteers, they are able to deliver their services little to no cost.
After reading all the counselor profiles online, Jaimi found a match that worked for her and her business. Over the last two years, SCORE Counselor Jack Zahorsky has met with Jaimi over 50 times. Ellison is now up to 1,200 sessions per month. She employs four people full time and has 20 contractors.
“While her determination and drive helped Jaimi get started, it was her curiosity and passion that led her to ask and listen to SCORE advice when needed,” said Zahorsky.
In addition to running a successful business, Ellison gives back to the Santa Cruz community. She’s raised money for the Second Harvest Food Bank, sponsored a number of athletic competitions in the local area, and serves on five chambers of commerce in Santa Cruz County. Santa Cruz Core Fitness + Rehab sponsors the Santa Cruz Triathlon Association (SCTA), a nonprofit supporting local triathletes — runners, swimmers, and cyclists.
Zahorsky nominated Ellison for the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship’s (USASBE) 2013 Woman or Minority Entrepreneur of the Year award, which she subsequently won. This award recognizes an individual woman whose actions and achievements, within an entrepreneurial environment, exemplifies true entrepreneurship and serves as a model to others.
Jaimi is no stranger to awards. She was also the recipient of numerous awards, including “Best Personal Trainer” by the Santa Cruz Weekly and the Santa Cruz Goodtimes; Best Aerobics Instructor; Best New Business (2010 and 2011); and Best Women’s Gym.
“The SBA, SCORE and SBDC have been such an incredible help to my business. I have gone to business planning workshops, seminars and countless hours of 1 on 1 counseling,” said Jaimi. “The SBA, SCORE and SBDC are about the little guy especially when the odds are against us in a world that is turning less local and more corporate.”
Todd Cooper and his business partner Ejyo Remington were developing a product that would use a petroleum jelly-like substance as a base, but they did not want to use petroleum-based ingredients. So, they sought an alternative. After conducting extensive market research, they found that there was a need for a natural alternative to petroleum jelly. Many body care products in America use ingredients derived from crude oil, and Todd and Ejyo believe that can lead to a number of harmful side effects. The idea behind Waxelene was born.
Waxelene contains only natural and organic ingredients made of beeswax and natural and organic oils. Waxelene can be used for everything from soothing and moisturizing chapped skin to removing make-up and styling hair.
Todd had used the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as a resource to start his first business in Oregon. So, when he decided to start a business in San Francisco he contacted the SBA and was referred to SCORE. SCORE is a nonprofit dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. Because they are a network of volunteers and their work is supported by the SBA, they are able to deliver their services at no charge or at very low cost.
At SCORE, Todd met with John Gellert whose background in the cosmetics industry made him an ideal match for Todd’s burgeoning business. Once John had helped Todd with the business plan, he referred him to Don Weil.
“I took a few business courses in college like BA 101 and accounting 101, but I don't have a degree in business. So I went to the SBA and got the free informational packets,” said co-owner Todd Cooper. “It was much easier than getting an MBA, I just asked people with MBAs. Even today, we make sure that Waxelene has a great advisory board.”
Waxelene got an SBA loan for $10,000 through the SBA Express program. Under this program, a borrower can get a loan of up to $350,000 from a participating lender, similar to the 7(a) Guaranty Loan Program. Waxelene benefited in particular from the provision that lenders are not required to take collateral for loans up to $25,000 in this program.
With Don’s honest and straightforward help, Waxelene has also raised over $300,000 from investors. “You must listen to what people tell you, even if it is not what you want to hear,” Todd recalls. Today the business has five full time employees, and sees one of its biggest challenges as managing growth at its San Rafael factory.
Waxelene has been in Whole Foods since June of 2011. “Waxelene will be in every pocket in America. It works much better than anything else for chapped lips and dry skin, even eczema.” Waxelene’s squeeze tube is exclusive in Whole Foods for 2013, thanks to their Local Producer Loan Program, which offers low interest loans to local producers who sell in the store.
Todd and Ejyo are in talks with international distributors, but their products can already be found in other national distributors and retail companies such as United Natural Foods, CVS pharmacy, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Pharmaca, Natural Grocers, and Urban Outfitters for Anthropologie.com.