Sisters Tea Parlor & Boutique is located in Buckner, KY. Equal parts tea room and gift shop, the business is located in a prosperous suburb just 20 minutes northeast of Louisville, KY. While successful on the surface, Sisters needed SBA assistance to survive.
Connie Young founded Sisters Gift Shop in 2002. The business grew slowly but steadily, and Ms. Young moved the location twice in five years for more space as well as better parking and visibility. Ms. Young decided to add a tea room but knew that would require even more space, necessitating a fourth and final move.
Connie Young renamed the business Sisters Tea Parlor & Boutique and asked her daughter, Lori Crowe, to help manage the firm. With 12 years of experience in marketing and management, Crowe also brought with her a passion for baking. The mother/daughter team developed the tea room concept. “In our minds, this idea could only succeed. Since we were not a traditional restaurant, there wasn’t a model to follow, so we had to find our own way,” said Crowe.
The tea parlor served its first tea on Mother’s Day weekend to rave reviews. Although a large budget was devoted to traditional advertising, word of mouth was the best marketing tool. The women, however, could not ascertain the effectiveness of their marketing. “We knew word of mouth would snowball,” said Crowe, “but we thought it would happen faster. Added Young, “We had to educate the public about the tea room and reach our target market.”
The business is the only true tea room in the region and has no direct competition in its market, but that created unique challenges, and the owners had difficulty finding advisors. The 2008 recession and soaring gas prices created a severe cash flow problem, because the business was perceived as a luxury. Despite efforts to offer less expensive choices, extend business hours, decrease labor costs and increase marketing, Sisters Tea Parlor & Boutique struggled to survive.
Connie Young’s youngest daughter, Kelly Stariha, joined the team in 2011, assuming a managerial role with a focus on human resources. This new leadership team needed a business plan, so they met with Sharron Johnson, Director of the Women Business Center (WBC) of Kentucky. Ms. Johnson provided the women with SBA resources and SCORE counselors, who helped recreate the company’s marketing literature and examined the financial reports, enabling Sisters Tea Parlor & Boutique to be in the black for the first time in years. In fact, sales have increased almost 46% in slightly more than a year with assistance from the WBC and SCORE resources.
Johnson also assisted the Sisters team with creating a contract for a large off-site catering event at the nationally-acclaimed Frazier History Museum in Louisville. That event gave the business unprecedented exposure to their target market as well as revenue at a critical time. Johnson then encouraged the women to seek additional contracts opportunities.
Sisters Tea Parlor & Boutique management attended business seminars at the WBC of Kentucky as well as its Women’s Business Expo in 2012, which included motivational speakers as well as workshops on marketing and social media, allowing the women to work with experts in developing new marketing mediums. The expo also allowed the women to showcase their business and reach hundreds of attendees who were the company’s target market.
Johnson then introduced Sisters’ leadership to the local president of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and to key personnel at the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau to explore event opportunities. Most recently, Johnson connected the women to students in the MBA program at local university, where the business will receive free business assistance from students.
Through the SBA and its resource partners, the Women’s Business Center and SCORE, Sisters Tea Parlor & Boutique has received advice from counselors who have proven invaluable to the business, which is now stronger fiscally and becoming a leader in its industry. Learn more information on the loan programs, counseling services and other small business services offered by SBA from your lender, www.SBA.gov and your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), SCORE Chapter or Women’s Business Center.