|| Print ||
|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.
Thursday, October 08, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR
Based on several metrics, Oregon has one of the lowest performing K-12 education systems in the country. Teacher compensation is part of the problem.
Monday, September 28, 2015
BY GARY FISH
Over the years, many mentors have taught me lessons that have helped shape the way I view the world of work and our business.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER
Vigor’s values don’t stop at truth. Walk into a company office, conference room or on any shipyard site and you’ll most likely see a poster inscribed with the words “Truth. Responsibility. Evolution. Love.” Otherwise known as TREL, Vigor’s culture code and the prominence it is accorded can be a bit surprising to the unsuspecting shipyard visitor.
Monday, September 28, 2015
BY BEN DEJARNETTE
Controversial track star Nick Symmonds is leveraging his celebrity to grow a performance chewing-gum brand. Fans hail his marketing ploys as genius. Critics dub them shameless.
Monday, September 28, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN
To attract technology companies, the U.S. Bancorp Tower repositions itself as open, light and playful.
Friday, November 20, 2015
BY JASON NORRIS AND MARY FAULKNER
It’s been a volatile year in equities and heading into the holiday season, it doesn’t look like these market extremes will dissipate.
Monday, September 28, 2015
BY KIM MOORE
A conversation with Jonathan Bennett, managing partner at law firm Dunn Carney Allen Higgins & Tongue.
|The Love Boat|
|The Food Pod Grows Up|
|The High Road|
|Tinker, Tailor, Portland Maker|
|The Shift to Community Health Care|
|The Harder They Fall|
|Another chapter to the Bezos/Musk space race story|
|Thanksgiving travel: Fuel costs low, terrorism anxiety high|
|Costco chicken salad linked to E. coli case in Washington|
|Nestle comes clean about benefitting from slave labor|
|Enormous drugmaker emerges from Pfizer, Allergan deal|
|Startups joining lobbying game|
|Merchants complain as Square goes public|
Economic diversity has proven a smart strategy for the Port of Hood River. How can other Oregon communities replicate the model?
Phone, Internet needs of small community school districts earn attention of top-five telecom provider.
Farmland LP grows its vision for organic farming in Oregon.
The Salem Convention Center has capped its tenth anniversary year by earning the prestigious “Best of the Best 2015” award from NW Meetings & Events magazine. Selected as the Best Convention/Conference Venue in Oregon by meeting and event planners from Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, the Salem Convention Center ranked above the Oregon Convention Center and the Portland Art Museum.
The Oregon Cooperative Hall of Fame honors individuals for their outstanding contributions to the successful building and operation of Oregon agricultural cooperatives.
Health insurer reports $10.2 million in net income after taxes through the first nine months of 2015.