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|Wednesday, February 01, 2006|
In the thick of it
Everyone says your life will change when you start a business. For once, everyone is right.
By Greg Netzer
If you’ve read this magazine regularly for the past 10 years, you’ve likely seen my name attached to reports on Oregon businesses, particularly small ones, whose prospects I’ve tried to gauge with something approaching precision. For much of that time I’ve also worked for the Oregon Entrepreneurs Forum, a nonprofit whose mission is to help startups succeed. All of which is to say that I’ve spent a lot of time over the past decade thinking about how companies can start, grow and prosper.
So I should have known what I was getting into when my wife and I decided to start a family business.
Do you like chocolate? Of course you do. Everyone I know does. This is good for my wife, Sarah Hart, because she’s a chocolatier. She’s so good — our daughter calls her “an artist who’s found her medium” — that in mid-2004 she decided to start an artisan confection business. Alma Chocolate LLC, named after Sarah’s grandmother and the Spanish word for “soul,” was soon testing the market with small batches of truffles, toffee and molded figures she gilds with edible gold leaf. We held a holiday sale that December for friends and acquaintances, hoping to cover costs; when we sold 300% of our goal, we realized we might be onto something.
To market to a larger audience, we opened a ooth at the Portland Farmers Market on Saturday mornings on the Portland State University campus. Sarah worked part time for a public relations firm, and I worked full time at OEF, so production occurred at night. Friday nights we packaged the goods; Sarah would leave for PSU at 6 a.m. Saturday. After cleanup and breakdown, our weekends shrank to Sunday afternoons. Family time at night all but disappeared. We didn’t see many friends, either. And I won’t even go into how lax our housekeeping became.
Still, Alma gained loyal fans, and we were soon hampered by our inability to meet demand. We needed to increase capacity beyond our state-licensed home kitchen if the company was going to grow. And that’s when our 8-year-old son, Owen, and I stumbled onto a vacant storefront in Northeast Portland.
We’d wanted a commercial kitchen, not a retail space, but we ran the numbers and gut-checked the idea with dozens of customers and friends, and heard the same answer repeatedly: a perfect location. Next thing I knew it was October and we were signing bank papers, negotiating a lease and ordering kitchen equipment.
Then the fun began.
The City of Portland’s permitting process, true to its reputation, was confounding. The sanitation inspector mandated four extra sinks to accommodate our manufacturing process; the environmental bureau said that since we were adding four sinks, we’d incurred a sewer load charge of $2,300. Seating for customers? That’s a $10 per square foot transportation charge. In one memorable two-hour stretch, Sarah was told our budget would have to absorb $18,000 in extra fees and equipment.
Building out the kitchen tested my patience and character. The contractors did such poor work that I had to redo much of it. The plumbers broke the water main and failed inspection four times. To make the space presentable for a reprise of the holiday sale, I worked nights and weekends at the space for weeks.
Meanwhile, Sarah quit her job to work full time on Alma, feverishly running between the bank, the city, and the restaurant supply, making chocolate when she could. I couldn’t remember the last time our family had eaten dinner together. Owen began calling my cell phone to say good night. Sarah and I spoke to one another in clipped, tense sentences.
Yet what happens to your life when you start a business is that it grows in unexpected ways. Yes, our cupboards went bare from neglect. Yes, we made entirely too many mistakes.But our children, despite the changes they were enduring, bragged about Alma to anyone who would listen. Dozens of friends offered help. We fell into bed at night — exhausted, but energized.
Does it matter that we didn’t get done in time, or that we had to move production equipment back to our house? Does it matter that our sewer line collapsed five days before our holiday orders were due? No. What matters is that the orders came in: On the first weekend in December, we held the holiday sale in the store anyway. Customers loved the “in progress” feel of the space. And they bought chocolate — lots of it, enough to surpass our ambitious goal of 270% of 2004’s sales (taking the sting out of the plumber’s bill). And they told us they eagerly anticipated our grand opening, which is just in time for Valentine’s Day.
And us? We’re excited, too. It hasn’t been easy, but suddenly our little company has repeat clients, increasing revenue and growth potential. We’re still not quite sure what lies ahead, but we’re hopeful that it’ll be easier to handle than another sewer load charge.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
What is the impact of the legal pot industry on carbon emissions? An NEBC energy forum breakfast makes the case for taking the new industry’s emissions impacts very seriously.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR
Consumers love the savings they get from low oil prices, but how has business been affected?
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY BRIAN LIBBY
Matt French opens up South Waterfront.
Friday, December 12, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER
Studying ground-running birds, a group that ranks among nature's speediest and most agile bipedal runners, to build a faster robot.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Power Lunch at the Imperial.
Monday, January 26, 2015
The day after this issue goes to press, the city of Medford will host its annual business conference. The event features Minoli Ratnatunga, co-author of the Milken Institute’s annual “Best-Performing Cities” report. Preliminary data suggests that Medford is likely to retain its No. 1 ranking among best-performing small cities for having a higher concentration of high-tech firms than the national average.
Thursday, December 04, 2014
BY DEBRA RINGOLD | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
How important are institutional and/or program evaluations provided by third parties in selecting a college or university program?
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Is your business ready to join us in the call for action? This opening panel includes Oregon businesses who will discuss why they signed the Oregon Climate Declaration, the investments they are making to reduce carbon emissions, and how their actions are affecting their companies.
Get ready for two days of special events produced with the EPA, Portland Timbers and ISOS before and after the GoGreen Conference on October 16.
hubbub health uses behavior change science to rethink wellness programs.
In Ashland, a public-private partnership results in online resources to help diversify the local economy.
How sports tourism is driving economic growth and making cities across Oregon a better place to live.
If you have given a former employee access to your company’s electronic information by virtue of assigning a desktop or laptop computer and you suspect he or she of having taken electronically stored data, there are several steps to follow to preserve electronic forensic evidence from spoliation.
The official launch will be Jan. 14.
In a switch on the traditional trade show, representatives from UO departments and local and state agencies will host tables to connect with businesses and vendors. The fourth Reverse Vendor Fair will take place Wednesday, Feb. 25, in Eugene.