Every morning, Robin Cunningham is at the computer studying Euro exchange rates. She’s a small business owner, not an international economist, but the fluctuation of the Euro has a direct impact on the French soaps and lotions she makes in France and imports to the U.S.
Cunningham, the owner of La Lavande Fine French Soaps in Richmond, has used the services of the Contra Costa SBDC for over 10 years. When she owned a retail store in Walnut Creek, an SBDC consultant counseled her on lease costs. Another SBDC consultant worked with Cunningham on business ratios, inventory, marketing, HR and the importance of reading useful business books. When the constant work of running a retail store and a wholesale firm proved to be overwhelming, SBDC consultant Randy Shores advised Cunningham to concentrate on the wholesale side and recommended a strong web presence to attract a variety of customers. He also suggested systems to track inventory and shipping orders, and how to set goals. At her office and warehouse in Richmond, computers show real-time data instantly.
“You can’t guess as a business owner and hope for the best,” says Cunningham. “You need to use the right tools and have accurate data. You also have to realize that your business is your main source of income. This isn’t a hobby. You have to know what you’re doing.”
Today, Cunningham focuses on her imported products and their sale to special gift stores across the nation. Every year, she attends key gift shows in Atlanta, New York and San Francisco and has contractors represent her business at smaller events. From the design, shape and scent of the soap and even the display box, Cunningham, who has a degree in art from UC Santa Cruz, is involved every step of the way. But she also knows where to get help when it’s needed.
“I think it’s difficult for small business owners to afford private business consultants,” says Cunningham. “That’s the important thing about the SBDC program. The business consultants are real professionals, and the service is free. There’s a wealth of help out there and small businesses need to take advantage of that.”