After 25 years of working as a retail executive for the May Department Store, Macy’s, and G. Fox & Company, Beth Bolton decided it was time to launch a second career. She had always dreamed about owning a bakery/coffee shop, but the truth was that her knowledge of the industry was limited and she needed to learn more about the full range of bakery products before undertaking such an endeavor.
Could she do it? Her impetus came from her children who supported and encouraged her to follow her dream so that later in her life she wouldn’t have to ask herself, “what if”?
With her support system in place, she challenged herself to fully understand the full range of bakery products as well as the nuts and bolts of owning and operating a bakery. Beth enrolled in the Connecticut Culinary Institute and got a job working at a bakery in Simsbury which gave her the confidence and experience to bring her dream to fruition. And after noticing an empty storefront on Park Road in West Hartford many times, she decided that this was the perfect location for her business.
Beth opened her bakery in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession but nevertheless managed to build a customer base. She also reached out for help with payroll, state and employment taxes, variables she couldn’t control. Then after two years in business, disaster struck when Hurricane Irene paid a visit in 2011 and the bakery was without power for nine days just three weeks before the busy Thanksgiving holiday. Luckily, an SBA disaster team was sent to Connecticut in response to the hurricane and Beth received an SBA disaster loan to help maintain operations.
At about the same time, Beth called SBA Lender Relations Specialist Bill Tierney to discuss cash flow issues. Bill put her in touch with HEDCO, a Connecticut-based SBA micro lender, that not only assisted with technical questions but ultimately lent the business $113,000 to purchase equipment for the bakery.
Despite all the adversity “A Little Something Bakery” continues to operate because of its high quality products and the fact that it offers “a little something” in addition to excellent baked goods to each of its customers.
Another strength is that Beth is committed to training her nine employees on every facet of the business like counting money, excellent customer service, daily goals, creating new products , resourcefulness and avoiding waste. The cost of supplies has risen almost 100% since she opened the doors so that she wants her employees to be diligent about production costs.
Beth believes in asking for help and in addition to HEDCO, has been counseled by the West Hartford SCORE Chapter and the Women’s Business Center where she is in the process of rewriting her business plan. She recently joined the Park Road Business Association to increase networking opportunities.
A Little Something Bakery is an all-American bakery that offers cupcakes, pies, brownies and muffins. Her long-term goals are to purchase the building the business now rents and to provide outdoor seating for her customers.
Chris Runyan relocated to Stamford, Connecticut from Bentonville, Arkansas in 2009. He’d considered opening a GameXChange franchise in Arkansas before moving but discovered that there were no franchise territories available in Arkansas. Chris pursued his passion for gaming and this particular franchise and prior to the relocation, researched job and business opportunities and discovered that while there were no GameXChange franchise opportunities in Arkansas where the franchise was founded, there were territories available in Connecticut.
GameXChange is a franchise retail store that sells, purchases and trades new and pre-owned video games and related hardware, software and accessories.
After living in Connecticut for just one week, Chris contacted the SCORE chapter in Norwalk and developed a business plan and set up meetings with commercial lenders with their help. After being rejected by eight banks, Chris contacted the Connecticut Community Investment Corporation, an SBA micro lender, where he was approved for a $35,000 loan to open his first store in Orange, Connecticut in March 2010.
Chris was profitable in his very first year and decided to expand to another location. Once again, he sought out technical assistance from CTCIC and got a second SBA micro loan followed by two more locations and two more loans.
Not only has Chris launched five GameXChange franchise locations, but his first store in Orange was ranked sixth out of more than 50 GameXChange stores in revenues for 2012, just its third year in operation. And, he created over 40 new jobs along the way!
Moving across country and opening a new retail concept was never going to be easy but because of a solid business model, thorough business plan and help from the SBA, SCORE and CTCIC, as well as lots of persistence, Chris has been able to achieve impressive results in a short period of time. And by the way, did I mention that Chris just opened his sixth location in Connecticut?
Susan Nolte has always been a very health conscious woman, one that is looking to make the world a healthier place, one cookie at a time. In 2008 she founded the May Cookie Co., an effort that came out of a vision that consisted of creating a world of healthy people who eat well, live well and smile a lot. Her next question was can this be a viable business? Originally, Susan wanted to bake and deliver delicious, wholesome cookies that had healthier ingredients than those traditionally found in stores at the time. Over time, the concept evolved into a healthy cookie mix, which allowed her to take advantage of broader consumer appeal, wider geographic reach and a longer product shelf-life.
Susan began by taking her vision to the Hartford Women Business Center in 2008 to align her with some business basics that would guide her through the challenging maze of entrepreneurship. With guidance from the business coaches at the WBC she perfected her business plan, learned marketing strategies and gained appreciation for cash flow management. Her first big challenge was to identify the right manufacturer for the three product offerings she initially developed. They are: Triple Chocolate Chip Oatmeal, Dairy-free and Egg-free Rich and Chewy Chocolate Chocolate Chip, and Hearty and Wholesome Oatmeal Cranberry cookie mixes.
Her ingredients are packaged individually which is a unique departure from how most baking mixes are put together. This allows bakers to “Make a Good Cookie,” meaning, achieve homemade results with healthier ingredients. About 6 months after taking the Entrepreneurial Center class, Susan was in production, with consumer sales generated through networking contacts and low-cost high impact public relations activities using social media that leveraged relationships she had built over time. By attending her first big national trade show in September of 2009, Susan was introduced to an up-and-coming unique, “healthier-product ” on-line marketplace (www.abesmarketplace.com) that catered to her particular target audience. Also at that trade show, she was able to secure her first big retail account, a national home furnishings store. This helped her continue to build some steady cash flow while pursuing regional distribution in Whole Foods and some other strategic distribution outlets that would bolster the brand’s credibility and link May Cookie Company with a healthier lifestyle. At this point things were moving quickly for Susan, she partnered with her daughter Marissa and together sought the much needed access to capital so that they could fulfill their orders.
She was put in contact with an SBA lender specialist at the Connecticut Bank & Trust who proceeded to give Susan a jump start on her working capital. In 2009 she secured a $75,000 SBA 7(a) loan with CBT to help her with her start-up costs and the purchasing of fixtures to get her baked goods out on the market. Susan and her daughter Marissa now have a thriving business that includes both wholesale and consumer based cookie dough and pre-made cookies in many flavors. Their unique business model of offering gluten-free, vegan, whole grain, and high protein choices all with the taste and texture of homemade are what has made this mother/daughter team a sweet success.