Success using all resources available

Nicole Carey, owner of Birdfolk CollectiveA small business owner in Winooski may be the perfect example of the success one can achieve when using all resources available.

Nicole Carey the founder and owner of Birdfolk Collective opened her storefront on East Allen Street in 2015 and has been growing it ever since with the assistance of a few organizations throughout Vermont.

That growth and success has earned Carey the 2018 Vermont Young Entrepreneur of the Year.  

Birdfolk Collective is a gift shop selling apparel, jewelry, art, cards and other accessories made by more than 250 different independent designers.

Years before opening Birdfolk Collective, Carey worked in various small businesses. During this time Carey made clothing and accessories and sold her items online and at various are markets. The success she was experiencing made her want to open her very own store, but she wasn’t sure where to start and knew it would be more difficult than simply selling online.

She heard about Start Up, a 15-week course, offered by the Women’s Small Business Program in Burlington. She decided to enroll and there she learned about basic economics, financing options, market research and developing a business plan. The WSBP is offered through Mercy Connections, an educational values-driven non-profit organization that is supportive of women to build business knowledge and explore and create opportunities for themselves.

After completing Start Up, Carey thought the idea of opening her own store was overwhelming.

“I actually decided after Start Up I wasn’t ready financially and was too scared to take the plunge. I switched gears mid-course and instead worked on refining my own line of clothing/accessories and getting them into shops.  I had kind of written the idea off for a few years, but the idea lingered in the back of my head. One day a friend mentioned an empty space in Winooski for rent and from there it all started to fall into place,” she said.

She bootstrapped the endeavor using all of her savings and resorted to crowdfunding. Birdfolk Collective opened with a minimal amount of merchandise, but with every month of sales it was able to bring in more inventory, according to Carey.

Since opening the business, it has experienced impressive growth over the past three years, increasing sales by 75 percent annually. The growth has allowed her to open a second location. In September, Carey opened a Birdfolk Collective storefront in Waterbury Center.

“While our Winooski shoppers are mostly locals with a lot of regulars, our new Waterbury traffic seems to be heavily tourist driven,” said Carey. 

Before opening a second location she found herself in a familiar situation. Carey knew what she wanted, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. Like before she decided to seek assistance. This time she contacted Steve Densham from the Vermont Small Business Development Center, an organization partially funded by the Small Business Administration that provides counseling to Vermonters looking to start or grow their business. With Densham’s assistance, Carey was able to come up with a plan to secure an SBA 7a Loan through Opportunities Credit Union. The 7a Loan Program is SBA’s primary program for helping start-up businesses.

Today Birdfolk Collective has 8 employees between the two storefronts with plans for more expansion.

In April, Carey began a seven-month executive course for growing businesses hosted by the SBA. Emerging Leaders is a free program that connects small business owners with a network of industry experts and assists with the creation of a three-year strategic growth plan. She is taking the class with fellow SBA award winner Calley Hastings. Hastings is the co-owner of Fat Toad Farm, 2018 Vermont Family-Owned Business of the Year.

Carey said she is incredibly grateful for all the resources that have assisted her to expand Birdfolk Collective and honored to be recognized by the SBA.

“This wouldn’t be possible without all of the wonderful artists who make up the products on our shelves and the community who has been so supportive of my little endeavor,” said Carey.


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