The thought of being your own boss can be very appealing. However, it can also be a bit daunting. People often have no idea where to start due to the many intricacies of owning and operating a business.
Running your own business means you forgo the simple pleasure of maintaining a steady paycheck. People are afraid of failure; they are afraid of pouring their time and resources into starting their own businesses only to eventually lose everything.
These fears are valid, and while entrepreneurs certainly do fail, there are plenty of examples of people who went on to have great success after an initial failure.
A prime example of this is Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, who, while in college, pitched the idea for his future multi-billion dollar company to his college professor and received a poor grade. Smith was told his idea was worthless, and yet turned around and created an empire.
Getting started is arguably the aspect of starting a business that most deters aspiring entrepreneurs. I had the chance to interview Sarah Beyrent, co-owner of Pop Toy in Naples, FL, about her experiences starting and operating a business.
Why did you decide to start a business? What inspired you?
“I decided to start a business out of the desire to stay home with my kids when they were young. We started an online business back in 1997 when eBay was just a PEZ trading company. My mother-in-law had a large vintage doll collection and was interested in having an auction house sell them, but instead decided to let us try to sell them over the internet.”
What process did you have to go through to get the business up and running?
“The process for a web-only company was fairly simple compared to the process of starting the corporation we run now. We initially formed our corporation by filling out the documents online through the website Sunbiz.org. We established a name, declared who the officers would be, and decided how many shares the company would have and who would receive those shares. Because we are a family run corporation, we split our shares 51/49 so that one person could have controlling interest. Once our documents were filed, we then applied for a business license within our county.”
What challenges do you face as a business owner?
“Finding the right location for our toy store was one of the toughest challenges that we faced in the beginning. We initially had difficulty securing a prime location in a shopping mall because we hadn’t been in business long enough. We also had to conduct some market research to determine where our target consumers were shopping and what area of town they were in. Lease negotiations were new to us and we didn’t realize how lengthy they could be.
At one point in time, we had product arriving because we had a lease agreement with a mall. However, they then decided to break the agreement in favor of giving our space to a large bank. At that point, we had to find a suitable storefront very quickly. This landed us in the space we are in now. A slightly less prime spot, but with much more favorable rent.
The largest challenge our business faces is competition from Amazon. Amazon is literally crushing small businesses and taking an enormous amount of the market share. We have to provide an experience with unparalleled customer service in order to retain our clientele.”
What skills and attitudes do you look for in a potential employee?
“We look for outgoing staff that have a knowledge of children’s toys, educational toys, special needs/sensory toys and collectible toys. It is often difficult to find an employee who can identify or understand the needs of collectors, as well as those of grandparents or parents looking for a particular educational toy. Usually, potential employees have a knowledge of one or the other. Honesty and reliability are my two must have qualities in an employee. These are followed closely by an upbeat and outgoing demeanor. We are in sales and people that work for us need to be good with people. They need to be able to engage easily in conversations and take initiative. We go through a lot to find the right employees because they are the face of our business and they represent us.”
There are a variety of entrepreneurship courses offered by the University of Florida where students can learn more about the ins and outs of starting their own businesses. Students can also join a number of the entrepreneurship clubs on campus.
Of course, if you’re looking for the most direct advice, nothing beats speaking with local business owners who have gone through it before.
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