By Grace Robinson-Seim, Washington Women’s Business Center
SEATTLE -- Business is going well for Karyn Gold-Reineke, founder of Pirouette, an artisan perfume and natural spa luxuries company based in Seattle.
You’ll find her exquisite line of handcrafted perfumes, soaps and lotions in a number of stores around the area, including Town and Country Markets and Whole Foods.
However, when Gold-Reineke was laid off from her comfortable, full-time job at an art museum at the height of the financial collapse in early 2009, her future was anything but certain.
Encouraged by friends and family members to expand on her soap making hobby, Gold-Reineke initially decided to make ends meet by selling the artisan soaps she had previously enjoyed giving out as Christmas gifts.
She started out with a simple Etsy shop, which she managed while working out of her 325 square-foot cottage home in the woods. When she introduced her perfume line, however, her orders began to pick up.
Gold-Reineke found herself working 12 hour days, seven days a week. While the progress was exciting, the work load was daunting. Her creative background did little to prepare her for the complexities of running a business on this scale. “I’m so much more of the artist in this,” Gold-Reineke said. “I think of myself as more of a perfumer and a scent creator. I haven’t really ever been a very business-minded person, even though I’m very entrepreneurial.”
A friend introduced her to Community Capital Development, where she got the support she needed to keep up with the demands of her rapidly expanding business.
She benefited from free counseling through the Washington Women’s Business Center on topics ranging from building a business plan to basic accounting.
The Washington Women's Business Center (WBC) offers business counseling, technical assistance, and training on a wide variety of topics. Trainings are offered as individual workshops or multi-session classes. The WBC partly receives funding thanks to a grant by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
“I wanted to have a long term plan for my business,” Gold-Reineke said. “I have been working a lot with (CCD staff), looking at my sales and profit margins for each item and doing cash flow projections. It was really enlightening for me to be able to project where I would be and plan ahead. You can see so much more clearly, and it was so simple! Even though it was kind of crazy getting all the numbers together, it was so empowering being able to understand. It was like getting a crystal ball!”
Now in her own studio space in a vintage brick building in Pioneer Square, Gold-Reineke is eager to continue on her upward trajectory.
“It has been really good for me to get some of those skills and understand what people do,” she said. “I’ve told so many people about Community Capital Development, too. It’s so great, and it’s free!”
For more information about Pirouette, visit http://www.pirouetteessentials.com.
For more information about the Washington Women’s Business Center, visit http://www.wbc.seattleccd.com.
For more information about the U.S. Small Business Administration, visit http://www.sba.gov/wa or call (206) 553-7310.
By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC
WOODINVILLE, Wash. – In the sometimes pretentious world of winemaking, Bob and Lauren Bullock are pragmatists who think good wine should be an anytime pleasure.
At Eye of the Needle winery, they buy surplus wine from premium wineries and blend, age and bottle it under their own label in an effort to create a flavorful wine for $10-$15.
"We don’t want to be the Friday or Saturday night wine,” Bob said. "We want to be the Sunday through Thursday night wine business.”
In 2009, the Bullocks’ startup sold its first 440 cases in 11 weeks. By 2012, Eye of the Needle had three part-time employees and annual sales of nearly 6,000 cases - or more than 60,000 bottles of wine. In 2012, four wines - Harvest White, The Eye, Sangiovese and Syrah - won awards at the Seattle Wine Awards and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Eye of the Needle is selling six different wines in 159 locations, mostly in the Puget Sound area but also in six other states and Canada. The tasting room in Woodinville is open two days a week.
The brand has grown quickly because it’s a great value, said Lauren, but they put a lot of effort into presentation - both the label on the bottle and the vibe of their tasting room.
"Your winery is always so much fun to visit,” a customer wrote recently. "The employees are cheerful, knowledgeable and fun, the winery is decorated beautifully for each event and the wines are always so tasty.”
Getting help to ‘do it right’
Through it all, the Bullocks have worked with Jennifer Shelton, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
The Washington SBDC provides no-cost, one-to-one advising to small business owners who want to start, grow or transition their business. The Washington SBDC network includes 28 business advisors and four international trade specialists.
It receives support from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Washington State University and other institutions of higher education and economic development.
Working with Shelton, Bob said, "is gold. Pure gold.”
"Anytime there’s a question, if I call her and she doesn’t know, she’ll find someone who does,” he said.
"If I want to send wine to China, she knows someone at the SBDC who can help. E-commerce? She has answer after answer after answer.” "We were just starting out,” Lauren said. "We knew this was something that could really fly and we wanted to do it right.”
Roundabout route to winemaking
Shelton said the Bullocks make a great team: "They are positive, generous, dedicated business owners who are fun to work with. I couldn't ask for a more rewarding experience than being a small part of their journey to success.”
In 2010, the Bullocks were able to get an SBA Patriot Express Loan through Banner Bank for equipment and working capital, and then they got a line of credit, thanks to Shelton. True, the Bullocks were new to winemaking, but they weren’t just starting out.
Eye of the Needle was born of second chances. A Vietnam War Veteran, Bob began distributing wine in western Washington in the early 1980s, which was an exciting time to be involved in Washington wine.
But after about a decade he was looking for a change, and he ended up in the medical insurance industry in 1996. In 2001, he suffered a major stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side.
His prognosis was uncertain, Lauren Bullock said, but he surprised his doctors by walking out of the hospital just eight weeks later.
With a lot of work, he eventually was able to walk an entire marathon averaging 16-minute miles.
"I always think I can do something until I know that I can’t,” he said with a smile.
Recession opens a niche
Never one to get stuck in a rut, in 2006 Bob decided it was time for a change. He looked into a couple things, but finally decided he wanted to return to the wine business.
In 2008, he became an independent wine broker, once again working with premium Washington wineries. But the recession hit. Where others saw obstacles, the Bullocks saw an opportunity - premium wineries had surplus inventory just sitting in tanks but the market was strong for mid-range wines at an affordable price.
In late 2008, the Bullocks formed Pacific Wine Enterprises, LLC, and started doing business as Haystack Needle Winery, which later became Eye of the Needle.
As a negociant winery, Eye of the Needle buys grapes that it crushes and bottles, but more than three-fourths of its inventory is bought as finished wine from other suppliers.
By buying finished wine, the Bullocks avoid the cost of owning winemaking equipment and are able to use their capital to buy the best wine they can get. Then their artistry begins, as they begin blending tastes - and price points - to get a good wine at an excellent value.
"I tell our team to leave their egos at the door,” Bob said about the group that gathers for blending trials.
"It’s not about our palates; it’s about a specific taste profile that defines what our customers are looking for.”
For more about Eye of the Needle, go to http://www.eyeoftheneedlewinery.com.
For more information about the Washington SBDC, go to http://www.wsbdc.org.
For more information about SBA, visit www.sba.gov/wa or call (206) 553-7310.
Bryan Trussel could not believe the deal being offered his company by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Washington state Department of Commerce. The two agencies gave him a State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) grant worth $5,000 that paid for his company to travel to Spain and participate in the 2013 Mobile World Congress last February. The grant also assisted in getting contracts for his company’s mobile application Glympse. “(The STEP grant) allowed my small business to play with the big boys,” Trussel said.
Trussel is the CEO and co-founder of Glympse, a mobile service that allows GPS-enabled mobile phone users to share their location temporarily on a web-based map with anyone they choose. The company was founded in 2008 by Trussel and his friend Steve Miller. The former Microsoft employees decided to turn away from the security of a guaranteed paycheck and went to work for themselves. Having started in a basement in Redmond, the two have grown the company to 17 employees and moved to the South Lake Union district in Seattle.
They have big dreams for their company – to have “Send me a Glympse” replace “Where are you” when people call or text each other, wondering if they are stuck in traffic or going to be late for dinner or a meeting. The Glympse application is safe, as the user selects the contact to send their location, including a timer feature for the person to decide how long the other person has to see his or her location.
Trussel has had success in the United States, but its overseas where the company’s real success is happening. The most popular countries using Glympse are Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Australia and Sweden, to name a few. Companies focused on application development may not be aware that they are exporters, just by nature of clicking a few buttons in iTunes or at the Google Play store. With 96 percent of the world’s buying power outside the U.S., it just makes sense to be set up in as many places as possible, Trussel said. Exporting makes up 40 percent of Glympse’s downloads now. “It’s clicking a checkbox to have Glympse available in the Germany or British app stores,” he said. “It easily takes a developer two seconds to be exporting.”
Offering Glympse free to the app’s end user and focusing on obtaining revenues from partnerships created with car manufacturers would be the business model. Instead of ads or charging users to send Glympse notifications, the company wanted to develop partnerships with automobile companies to have Glympse be a third-party application already installed in a new vehicle. Their model has worked, as Trussel has his application natively configured into some of the vehicles sold by Ford and Mercedes-Benz. “Lots of people are doing location applications, but not like us,” Trussel said. “We were first, we have the brand recognition, and we have the partnerships.”
When Trussel and his staff found out about the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, and that BMW would be there looking for applications to put in its vehicles’ Connected Drive special equipment option for the heads up display. The Mobile World Congress consortium represents 85 of the world’s leading automobile, mobile communications and consumer electronics companies from around the world. “Having the STEP grant considerably helped us get the meeting with BMW,” Trussel said.
The STEP grant program is funded through the SBA. The program helps financially bootstrapped small businesses take advantage of key trade shows by offsetting part of their travel and registration expenses. The vouchers also cover translation services, international marketing campaigns and international product certification. “We are thrilled to be a part of this program for a second year, not only to promote our technology but also to represent the highly talented and innovative start-up community in Washington state,” Trussel said. “We’re excited to be able to showcase location sharing in automotives and discuss the technology fits into other industries as well.
Thanks to SBA and Washington state, Trussel was able to meet with BMW at the trade show, and if all goes well, will have the opportunity to have Glympse in future BMW automobiles. Just like he wants Glympse to move from being a noun to a verb like “Google”, Trussel wants his application in every vehicle on the market. “We are trying to be really strategic; we want to nail the automobile space, create those partnerships and build out the platform,” he said. “Four times we have been on thin rope and were boostrapping everything, but now we have (marketplace) momentum.”