Sunday, January 27, 2013

You Don't Know Till You Try!

Many people have asked me over the past year why I decided on purchasing a business. Another popular question is "How did I do it?" Business ownership has been a dream of mine for many years. I come from a family that owns a small business, so it is in my blood and is something that I am a very strong believer in. Another source of my inspiration is a professor I had in college, Ellen West. Ellen drilled it into my brain to follow my passions and use creativity. I thank both my parents and Ellen for being such an inspiration to me. Going back to the question of "How did I do it?" Well, you just HAVE to do it, dive in, and try to make whatever you are going after a success. You don't know till you try.

A throwback photo of my mom and dad! 
Before graduating from Portland State University in 2011, I had already decided that I was going to go into small business and bypass the corporate route. My passions lie in fermented beverages, food, and photography. I also love to host events, be creative in the kitchen, entertain, and ensure that everyone is having a great time. A small business in hospitality held immense appeal and I was going to make it happen.

Towards the end of 2011 I was preparing a business plan for a brew pub. I had a potential location for it, an idea of the beer brand I wanted to feature at the pub, was planning out a menu, but in the end that plan fell through. Thankfully, that plan fell through in time for my next business opportunity at Urban Decanter. It was around January of 2012 when I had heard about Urban Decanter being for sale. I had been a customer there, so I already knew what the business had to offer. Honestly, Urban Decanter was right up my alley.

This photo is from the day that we agreed on a sale price.
 Who doesn't want a  big, pink, fake check?
To purchase the business I hired an attorney that I knew through Twitter, and who was also once my bosses boss. I also reached out to a CPA I have been working with for a few years. With the support of my parents, sister, fiancee, attorney, and CPA, I closed the purchase in April of 2012. It took me about three months to complete the purchase of my very FIRST business. I was determined to turn the business around and make it better than ever!

The purchase of Urban Decanter closed on Sunday, April 22nd. We did inventory and I wrote the final check to the old owners. Upon writing the check, I felt as though I was somewhere between a dream and hitting a cement wall of reality. It felt like such an accomplishment to be the new owner of the business, but at the same time I felt like the business was a young child that I had to immediately try to understand and care for. I was mentally trying to prepare myself for the challenges that lie ahead. I was also preparing myself to become part of a new community. Upon the close of the sale, there was a lot of changes heading my way and I was ready to tackle them.

Overall the business buying process was pretty easy. I wanted the business bad enough that I did what I could to make it a smooth process. The founders of the shop were also motivated to sell it and were also careful about who they sold it to. They wanted to find someone who would take over and keep a similar structure and not completely change the business. There were many things in place that I did love, making it that much easier to commit to Urban Decanter. It already had a wonderful atmosphere, plenty of wine racks, and working equipment. I was also happy with most of the menu and was able to keep the staff through the transfer. Buying the business ended up being a simple turn-key operation!

Pumpkin ice cream!
When I first took over Urban Decanter I got right to work and began to implement the changes that I wanted to make. My first task was to bring in product that I wanted to represent on my shelves. I am a believer in being able to stand behind the product I sell. In a retail environment this cannot be 100% true 100% of the time, but I try to minimize carrying product I'm not crazy about. I also made some minor changes to the menu. I had to do things such as add side salads to every panini which in turn meant that I had to increase some prices. Thankfully this went over really smoothly with my guests. There were also a few menu items that I added. Experimenting with the menu and new recipes has been a BLAST! As you can imagine, cooking for people can be intimidating. I have NO professional kitchen training, and have never had so much control over a menu. There have been times where I was waiting for someone to critique my soup or sandwich special harshly, but thankfully I have heard nothing but compliments. A few guests have even told me the food is now "better than ever". Yeah, I know, I can't believe it either! As time goes on I know my confidence for cooking for my guests will increase.

As I got up to speed, I was learning the ins and outs of daily operations. Everything from Quickbooks software to maintenance on my refrigerators. I stepped into a whole new world of friends, customers, mentors, suppliers, wine, food, beer and a million other aspects. There were a truck load of new stresses that I had to learn to manage. My stress level in the first six months was too high and it did peak and I snapped at one point. When I snapped I knew I had to do something about it and I did.  I made changes such as better time management and not worrying about the business so much. I also took time to write down my daily tasks so I knew what had to be done on specific days.

Buying the business created a whirlwind of new experiences, stresses, tasks, responsibilities, and roles that I had to take charge of, and FAST! I was worried that Urban Decanter would suffer if I could not pull myself together. Once I had time management and got comfortable with my new roles, things began to go very smoothly. I am no longer stressed out and am currently working on trying to spend more evenings away from the shop while my staff run it.

I frequently get asked how the last year ended for me. My answer is "Awesome!" I feel like my first year was a success and that the business is growing. I have managed to keep the existing customers while finding new ones. I am building trust in my guests and am able to successfully guide them to wine/beer that best suits their palates. The year ended with my sales goal being shattered and a feeling of success. The end of 2012 brought new goals for 2013 and plans to step up my game. In 2013 I am going to host new events, change the menu, and continually grow my business. I also hope to pay myself!

As I sit here and reflect on how things have gone, I feel like they are going well. I have really grown into my role as a business owner and I love my business. I can truly say that I love what I am doing. As time goes on I have the ultimate goal to make the business sustainable so that I can go and start another venture. I look forward to watching the business evolve as it grows.

If you are looking to venture into starting your own business, I have a few pieces of advice to pass onto you that I picked up along the way.
1) Just do it. You don't get anywhere by just thinking about it. Take the steps to make your thoughts and dreams a reality.
2) Follow your passions. You will be much happier. Do what you love and love what you do.

Working in the vineyard at 3 years old! 

Check out Urban Decanter on Facebook!