to store or not to store

June 17, 2010 |  Category:   life the biz

So the idea of a store has been on my mind a lot lately. Mostly I get this heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach because it’s such a huge leap, a big risk. I know I declared sometime last year that opening up our own store was in future plans, but 7 months ago I was having real doubts. I don’t want a cafe, to serve breakfast and lunch and have table service, however, most bakeries eventually expand their offerings beyond baked goods just so that it can help cover the crazy rents here in the city. We are profitable now, and from day 1 really, because our overhead costs are relatively low. I know we have a good thing going here – we don’t pay rent for our kitchen space, but Mark rather barters for labor as a pastry chef for unlimited use of the kitchen at the restaurant. But even as this arrangement has worked well for us, there are limitations. We can sustain this level of production for however long this arrangement lasts, but we can’t really grow this way. We can’t bring in hired help in this space. We’re always feeling vulnerable too, not having our own kitchen, like we’re working against a ticking clock that might expire at some unknown time.

But here’s the question – how do we want to grow? What’s the eventual goal here? Dear friends, I’ll fully admit…I’m not sure. I think deep down in my gut we know that we have to end up with our own kitchen and store at some point. It’s only logical. Mark wants one. People ask about a store all the time (it’s like once you get married everyone asks “so, when are you guys having a baby?”) and lots of customers assume we have a store already. Over the past year or so we’ve seen 5 or 6 of our fellow Brooklyn Flea foodies open up stores of their own. We went to the opening of the new Crop to Cup Cafe a few months ago on Atlantic Avenue (pictured above with Kumquat Cupcakes, another favorite BK Flea vendor, at the opening celebration). Every time we hear of store plans from other vendors it’s like a reminder…store, store, STORE.

So why the doubt? Let’s just put aside the financial risks and the exorbitant upfront investment costs to build out a kitchen for now. We spent over 6 years figuring out a way for Mark to get out of the restaurant industry once we started a family. We felt dismally trapped by his chef’s schedule – working every single holiday, every single weekend, the ridiculously early morning hours. So why, after finally escaping that grueling schedule would we want to go back? When I think about being financially and physically married to a store, my stomach churns a little bit. I think it’s reasonable to close the store down 1 day a week, but the rest of the days will be long and early and at least in the beginning, we’ll have to be there all the time. My mild social phobia gives me anxiety about manning a store. When I think about our other friends who have opened stores I think about the fact that none of them have families. It’s not like it’s impossible to do this with kids, but it does present some challenges. Obviously we are not opposed to hard work and long hours – Mark hasn’t had a single day off in about a month. At best he’s had a few hours free here and there, but most times he’s in the kitchen and running around the city making deliveries and picking up supplies so it’s not about the work. I guess it’s about the potential loss of freedom and flexibility and the responsibility and stress of meeting over head costs and maintaining trustworthy employees.

So…here we are. I feel pressured to come up with a plan and future goals. People always say that it’s important for every business to have short term and long term goals. Business is fine, great even, but this is one hump that I can’t seem to overcome. I feel like we’ve been coasting for awhile, constantly chasing orders, overwhelmed with other freelance work, so there hasn’t been time to think. So far Mark has been able to rise to the demands of growing orders, but there is only so much 1 person can physically do in a 24 hour day. We’ve gotten faster, more efficient at packaging and most people wouldn’t believe that the volume of product we put out is handled mostly by a single person, but I believe we’ve reached our capacity. Still, I feel like an ass every time I have to turn down wholesale inquiries which lately has been quite often.

I know sometimes you need to close your eyes, take a deep breath, dive right in and hope for the best. We’ve done it before and I *am* proud of what we were able to build in 2 years time by ourselves alone. We feel extraordinarily lucky that for whatever reason, the press gods smiled down on us and we’ve had press coverage through no pursuits of our own. I don’t know why this has happened or if it will continue, but if this was a gift, I will gratefully take it. It just shows me that we have something here.

A friend and fellow entrepreneur recently told me that she was told in her business development class that you’re not a true entrepreneur until you delegate the tasks to others. Actually 2 friends have recently told me this. If you’re still doing all the work yourself, all you’ve done is just create a job for yourself. Interesting. So I’m trying to think about the business a little differently. I’m trying to be courageous, I’m trying to be confident, basically trying to be things that I don’t really feel right now. I’ve come to a point where I can wrap my head around a kitchen work space with a little counter and a few stools. This seems manageable as I still don’t want to operate a cafe. We actually got excited when we talked about selling sorbets and ice creams, which was our very first original business idea way before W&S’s time. And what about location? Ideally close to home so we can still pick up the kids from school and such. Are we asking for too much? And there is that little matter of trying to find an extra 160k to build out a kitchen…and this…and that…oh lord, maybe I need to find a therapist asap to help me deal with all this crap! Clearly, I have not coped well with anxiety in the recent past.

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  • Purple Deer June 17, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Hmmm. It’s a good thought to ponder. There are pros and cons to both ideas, expand or not to expand. The biggest factor I thought you brought up was kids. They are a huge roll, technically your number one job your not paid to do (I know, and I only have one for now). If there ready for more absence in your life. Also when it comes o really expanding, we are talking more fees such as employers, re construction, decoration, etc. The pros are you’re a well known name all over the internet, and outside the internet. You have an established following. I say if your gut is getting worried follow it, guts usually right. Doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen, just not right now. Just my thought. Good luck with whatever you choose to do!

  • Jenny N. June 17, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Wow, so much to think about and I hope you do manage to cope and do open a store! I think it’s in you and your family’s best interest. Everyone needs a little bit more W&S in their lives. And then you can think about franchising everyone else in the world can have a little piece… just a thought.

    I’ve been experiencing similar pressures to consign my bags in shops around the city (and other cities). I don’t feel comfortable about that yet. Can someone really showcase my work better than I can photograph it for my online shop? I’m much further behind where you are in your business.

    Best of luck to you! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Lakshmi June 17, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    It’ll all work out… ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck!

  • paule June 17, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Although it would be dreamy to see what you come up with for a store, im sure it would be soooo lovely and perfect. And work out well too.
    But i think this is the kind of decision you need to feel 100% good about before leaping.

  • Annie June 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Jenna, i’m just starting my business and feel very similar anxiety…(but lacking the success) .
    You have been able to built a great thing, people have accepted you and now need you…
    lack of money and time seam to be a constant issue in my current life, but the satisfaction of having just a few hours of sleep because i was making something that is mine, erases lots of the worries.
    Like you, delegating my responsibilities is hard, specially because I am a controlling, anal, person that feel everything will be ruined… so you find a way to trust others potential.
    opening a location in our ‘hood would be a huge hit, Hard work, but a huge hit.

    Eventually it will all fall in place.
    The kids will play in the shop, you can sit at a table and do your work, Mark will be baking in the back.

    If i had the $ i would invest right away. All i can offer is my moral support and baking abilities when heeded.

    YOU CAN DO IT !

  • June Shin June 17, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    As people say, you should go with your gut. You probably already know what’s right for you. There is a cupcake company down here in Atlanta that opened up a store front, but was only open to the public 3 days. I think they mostly rented the space initially because they needed a bigger kitchen. Well now they are open more days, but close once the cupcakes run out. Just wanted to give you a scenario of what I’ve seen. There’s no one way to run a store, if you decide to get one.

    Good luck!

  • Hannah June 17, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Hi Jenna,
    I agree with the other comments – I really think it will all work out and that someday a beautiful and spice-scented W&S store will be a reality (I’d happily come all the way from London to see it). But I wonder if, in the short/mid-term, there’s maybe a way of joining forces with others in a similar situation to you guys…other Flea vendors and friends whose produce complements your own. Though there might be extra anxiety about sharing premises with others, and therefore having to negotiate more points of view/requirements etc., it could be a way of sharing initial costs and would mean greater flexibility in terms of staffing the place. And it would also benefit from each vendor’s networks and devoted fans.
    Whatever you decide to do I wish you all the luck in the world,
    Hannahx

  • Selkie June 17, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Isn’t there a way to “have it all”? Find someone with a store and kitchen who is struggling, and partner/barter, so you still have flexibility and freedom. Benefits all. I say don’t tie yourself to a store until kids are both in school.
    Good Luck. I just finished a bag of your Earl Grey Sandwiches, and might just have to go order more. They are the BEST!

  • linda June 17, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    If it doesn’t make you queasy and nervous in the stomach, i think it means it’s not worth the pursuit. and if you’ve been feeling like what your words have said, it means it’s worth taking that leap of faith.

    i’m not anywhere near where you and mark are in terms of a business (i just recently opened up a tiny paper goods shop via etsy)…but i think with everything you do in life, the first thing is having faith in yourself and your work (which you seem to do already)..and the rest will take care of itself.

    good luck with your store ventures. i’m excited to follow and hear about your stories.

  • unha June 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    investors!

  • gizella June 17, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    do you have to expand? Is it enough to enjoy what you have, or is Mark worried about the arrangement, or needs help? Sometimes I think we all get hung up in the more more more mindset..but I don’t know anything about the food biz.

  • Ted Blood June 17, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    A good person to talk with is someone who is in the midst of doing what you are considering. The psychologist Dan Gilbert writes about how, when we are imagining the future, we leave out many of the details. Likewise, when we remember the past, we erase many of the details and keep mostly the parts we want to carry with us. The best perspective comes from others in the middle of what you are considering because the details are in front of them.

    I would especially look for someone who has children since this is an important part of your life. Being an entrepreneur is over-rated – being happy and enjoying your life (especially while your children are young) is far more important. Seek out your path.

    Good luck!

  • serenity June 17, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    I feel like a store is such a commitment that you have to *really really* want it. You do bring up really valid concerns, and if you’re on the fence, don’t force it.
    But you mentioned wholesale order inquiries, and that leads to a really good compromise – selling your products in other people’s shops. Leave them to man the store.
    It will still be an expansion of your business, but not quite as giant a leap. Find your own permanent kitchen space, a few trustworthy employees to help with the larger orders, and you’ll be able to get a bit bigger, but be comfortable. My two cents!
    I love reading your blog. I love hearing about good ideas and entrepreneurial struggles and making things work, and your blog has the added bonus of a great product and a really nice family behind it. Also lovely packaging. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Noah fleming June 17, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    Great post. I enjoyed reading that.

    The whole thing about delegation from your friends is interesting and a tad outdated in my opinion.

    Delgaating tasks and automating your business to run without you, the linchpin, is a way of the past. I think you can make this work and it sounds like you want to do it.

    FYI, I’m not saying not to delegate but the idea that you’re not an entrepreneur till you delegate it wrong. Ive been reading your blog for a few weeks. Not even sure how I found it, but I consider you an entrepreneur.

    Few books I can suggest.

    1) linchpin – dealing with the voice inside your head telling you not to do those. The same voice that wrote this post.

    2) the 4 hour work week – disregard all I said about delegation and read the 4 hour work week. This book will help you delegate and automate tasks that don’t need your direct input.

    There are more but those are a start. Good luck. I can’t wait to read how this unfolds…

    I just wrote a post lately about a couple I met that took the plunge to open an ice cream shop. It was scary. It was risky. Eventually you just need to lean in and give it a go.

    Kindly,

    Noah

  • Noah fleming June 17, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Sorry for any typos and formatting issues in the above post. Still learning to type on my iPad.

  • ninja June 18, 2010 at 12:35 am

    There are few people with similar offerings, but http://www.onegirlcookies.com/ comes to mind as a successful, small storefront. They offer very limited “cafe” services and most people come to buy a box of cookies to go. I could easily see you pull off a business like that without compromising who you are and what you already do.

    Having your own kitchen would enable you to take on as many orders as you see fit and experiment with new recipes on your own schedule. And ultimately, a moderate expansion of your business might liberate you from the pressure to have to handle every order and every task all on your own. Even a couple of part time employees might make all the difference between dreading a Holiday or looking forward to the extra business.

    Good luck!

  • Sara Jensen June 18, 2010 at 1:15 am

    Oh man. I say go for it. But I am also the sort of person that will make you buy every dress in the store that looks good on you. As a working parents ourselves (Thor and I) with a sometimes intense schedule….you figure it out. It is hard to find people to trust to work for you, but in a place like NYC you will get tons of applicants but out of those applicants you will find awesome people.
    Its a huge huge step, but maybe you will regret it if you dont take that step?

  • Fiona June 18, 2010 at 8:02 am

    What a dilemma. Just to throw in one more factor into the decision… if my experience is anything to go by, your lives will be far less chaotic and you’ll have more money day to day when both your girls are in school. Reading your blog is such a reminder of how fraught and stretched and tired we were as freelancing parents with pre-school children. It’s a great time in so many ways but wow, it gets WAY easier.

  • Jenna June 18, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Thank you for all the comments. And bits of advice! Yes yes, we always wanted to wait until the girls are both in school full time, however, that is not too far away – it’s next Fall 2011!

  • Blissgypsy June 18, 2010 at 9:55 am

    I think renting a bigger kitchen space that is not open to the public seems like a great idea. That way you can expand your market. Hire freelance helpers (thus not having to pay taxes etc on them). Work whatever hours you chose. I mean if he wants to bake at 3 am he can or if something fabulous is happening that he wants to take the kids to he can -leaving the kitchen whenever he wants. I think a store will be too costly (much overhead), will chain you to its belly, and take time away from the children. Time that cannot be re-lived. Also successful shopkeepers seem to be extroverts – I think you like myself (another social phobic) are better behind the scenes. I have thought about opening an office with public access but I prefer limiting my interaction to phone calls. I think a store would be hard on the pocket book, hard on the marriage, hard on the children. The warm and fuzziness of the idea would wear off quickly. Plus to me your company name “Whimsy and Spice” and unique ingredients used lends itself to a far off kitchen, magical, and not in the general public’s face. But these are just my opinions. :> Do what makes YOU happy!

  • bronwyn June 18, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I’m sure any storefront you open would be super successful. Still, I completely understand the hesitation. Good luck with all the decisions!

  • Audrey Cooper June 18, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I agree with your friends business advice. I have had my own company for 3 years now and I have finally learned to delegate. Why I thought that I could take on everything is beyond me.

  • Marisa and Creative Thursday June 18, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Now 3 years into Creative Thursday, I’m finally realizing that I, one person, can no longer get my business to expand to the level I want without getting some help. But this next step really scares me for some reason, so I’m just feeling it out day by day. I’m sure I’ll know when it’s time, just as you will too.
    You know, I’ve also been thinking lately that no one really talks about the 2-3 or 4 year into your business mark, the time where it’s sustaining itself but also levels out after the initial burst ~ the time where in order to take it to the next level you have to expand which often includes more space, more help. I think I had this idea in my head that once my business got going it would just keep on keeping on without as much energy and effort from me. Who know’s where I got that idea?! but now I realize that just like life, a business is never done, it’s always evolving. Now I’m just thinking out loud ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks as always for sharing all of this.

  • Karen June 18, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Timely subject, huh? Seems like many of us have similar decisions to ponder. My advice before you do anything is to read “The E-Myth – Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It” by Michael Gerber. It speaks to many of the issues you’ve raised in this post.

    I’m a pastry chef with three children ages 9, 11 and 13, and can say from experience that anything can be done if you are committed. I have started two different business, all while being a mother, wife etc. There will always compromises, and it’s up to you as a couple to decide in advance (as much as possible) what is acceptable for you as a family, and what isn’t.

    What I can pass along to you from my experience starting & running a retail bakery is that it is one of the most challenging, rewarding, daunting, and amazing experiences ever. There are many obstacles to overcome – finding an excellent, reliable staff, managing waste so that your profits are not negated every night, never losing sight of your mission, your goals, always remembering that quality can never be compromised.

    Are you ready? Who knows? It just seems to me that there are many possible steping stones that you’re potentially leaping over by going from your current set-up to a retail storefront. Wholesale is an amazing vehicle for wide exposure, and while you don’t make the same margins as you do in retail, your volume has the potential to be tremendous.

    Happy to talk shop with you if you’re interested. I’ll barter my experience with retail for your experience with etsy, etc. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jenna June 18, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Thanks Karen for your advice. We already do as much wholesale as we can handle and for us, it’s not necessarily an avenue that we can or want to actively pursue in our current set up, or even in the future. The solution always points to having our own kitchen – to do more wholesale means we have to have to be able to find a kitchen that can accommodate hired staff. I think what most people are not realizing is that there is a huge lack of shared commercial kitchens in NYC. There used to be a small one in Brooklyn but it shut down and at this point, there is only 1 main incubator kitchen left in NY. It’s a real problem for many of the small food businesses in NY, considering that we have such a large number of artisan food companies. And so, many of us find and work out situations such as we have…or open their own. What are the other stepping stones? I’d like to hear them.

  • tracey June 18, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    no real advice other than delegating seems to be good advice! i’ve been reading a book and the main jist of it is to delegate the things you don’t need to actually handle yourself.

    i haven’t put it into action alot myself, but i can see the upside to it! more time with the kids, husband, myself.

    i hope it all works out for you – you’re too talented to let the dream stay a dream!

  • Lecia June 19, 2010 at 12:27 am

    There are good reasons for doing whatever you decide to do, ultimately. Follow your gut instinct – you’ll know what to do when the time is right.

  • Karen June 19, 2010 at 3:00 am

    Hello again – Thanks for your response. I guess in my head “building a commercial kitchen” is a very different venture from “opening a retail shop”. I am currently in the process of building a commercial kitchen for my business, and while I will welcome in any curious visitors, give them cookies & coffee, I am not going to have a retail set-up. Once was enough. If you feel like your business right now is your third child, a retail operation will feel like your entire extended family moving into your lives. I’m not trying to steer you away from doing what you’ve always dreamed of doing. Rather, I just want you to move forward with as much information as possible so that you and your family are prepared. When I started my bakery, I worked all of the time. I felt like I had no choice, and to be honest, I loved it. I loved the comaraderie – the pastry staff was absolutely my family, and to this day I continue to think of them as each holiday approaches on the calendar. The downside? My husband and I had to juggle our time at the bakery (he was the bread baker) and with the kids. As I mentioned in my earlier post, anything can be accomplished if you are committed, but there will always be compromises.

    If you were able to set up a commercial kitchen and begin selling direct to customers via your website (locals could come and pick up their orders instead of requiring shipping), that would be one of the stepping stones to which I referred. It’s clear that your product is excellent, so your problem isn’t finding customers. It’s getting a kitchen. I would suggest working on getting your own kitchen space first, and move toward a retail shop at some point in the future if that is still what you want.

    So, how does one “find” a kitchen in nyc? I wish I knew. In my opinion, the biggest challenge you currently face is your location. I don’t know if this is a possibility, but I would look at any local churches/temples to see if it’s possible to rent kitchen space. I would also keep my eyes out for any restaurants that are not open for lunch, which would make me wonder if they might be willing to consider renting space to you. It’s going to be hard to try to squeeze yourself into someone else’s kitchen, but if you are able to find a way to make it work, it will give you a good test of whether you can continue to be profitable while paying some overhead, etc. Would you ever consider relocating out of the city?

    I feel for you and your predicament – I’ve been looking for a space to build a kitchen for the past four years. It had to be close to my house so I could easily come home to be with my children. it had to be affordable. Obviously, it had to be in the right zoning for industrial work. It needed to be reasonable easy to turn into a commercial kitchen so I didn’t end up in a major financial black hole. I feel extrememly lucky that it’s finally happening, and I truly believe that your time will come as well.

    Don’t ever forget the good news in all of this – if you are at this point two years into your business that you need to consider how to handle your growth, you are doing something very well. You have created a product and packaging that has generated a lot of interest, and that is not an easy feat these days. Don’t be discouraged and try not to be antsy. You guys really are heading in the right direction.

  • Jenna June 19, 2010 at 8:30 am

    karen,
    thank you again for your long and thoughtful response. I really appreciate it since you have had your own retail operation. I totally realize that we will be working there all the time – this is why I am not 100% ready, however, right now, Mark IS working all the time. It would be an adjustment to keep retail store front hours, but the hours won’t be too much of a shock. We’re already experiencing this. It will be much easier to swallow when both kids are in school full time.
    As far as building a commercial kitchen, in NYC the rents are so high that you pretty much need to open a retail outlet to help pay for the rent, however an alternate kitchen is something that I’m always on the look out for. I feel like the stepping stone you are describing is where we’re at already. We have kitchen space in a restaurant. We are extremely lucky in that Mark has keys and can go whenever and however long he wants. We already sell directly to customers from our website (it’s been down but will be back up next week). We’ll be in this arrangement as long as we can, however, we are at the mercy of the restaurant and if is ever closes (and lots of places are closing in the neighborhood because of the economy), then we’ll need to start over. It might be sudden and devastating. This is why we think about our own space.
    Karen, good luck in the buildout of your kitchen. That is very exciting and I appreciate your words of advice and encouragement!

  • alexandra June 19, 2010 at 10:41 am

    you guys are more than capable of running a shop! and will be amazing :). good luck! *

  • pandora June 20, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Jenna, follow your gut and you’ll find a solution. You don’t need to rush an important decision like opening a store…and I believe it’s not necessarily the solution. Sometimes we think that what other people do is the answer but I think you just have to find what works for you and makes you happy…the rest we’ll come…like the press!!
    I say this because 2 years ago, my husband and I opened our store, it was not what we wanted but it was our only choice, so we decided to see it like a step towards our dream…but you’re right to be nervous, the bills come every month no matter what, the customers are a pain, and there are many nice people but even those take away a lot of your energy, you have to open every day and you have to be on time…and at some point you’re doing a lot of things you don’t want to (like selling coffee, etc) , to be able to make it work.

    It’s not all bad, but if I had the chance to do it again, I would find a different solution, because no matter how much you grow and change, the things you don’t like only accentuate with time and experience…so follow your gut!!!

    And thanks for sharing your thoughts..it always makes me feel less lonely.

  • amy June 22, 2010 at 10:19 am

    hi jenna
    thank you for all of your sharing, i love reading about your family and NY. i just wanted to let you know your concerns are founded. they are all things to consider very carefully. we had a retail shop for 13 years and closed it a year and half ago. it was heart wrenching, the hardest thing we have done but it was the best business decision we have ever made. we are now a 100% website business and turning over 100 times what we were with our shop. the overheads were killing us. i have my husband back and life is much more simple. we have 2 and half old twins and a 3rd on the way with no family around, so i need him. we will never open a shop again if we can help it. i understand from your replies that the problem is not having your own kitchen space and i think its very different there in the states (we live in the depths of the countryside in the uk), so it looks like a retail space could be the answer to get that space. however i would just suggest keep it simple and only take the leap if you really can afford it and try and figure out a way to get your husband a break and not move from one long hour working situation to another (like can you have a retail unit and only open to customers one day a week? and can u have staff in there instead of you guys? etc). i really hope you can figure it out and really enjoy your amazing, growing business, well done.

  • vana July 4, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Hi Jenna!
    Interesting post and I can certainly relate! I had these exact thoughts for over a year now, and last month I decided to get my act together and look for a studio/workspace outside the home and hire a part time employee. It was a big decision I had to take – first for my own sanity and secondly for the sake of growing my business. So far, I’ve been operating Le Papier Studio from the corner workspace my hubby built for me – although it was the perfect little space to start out – let’s face it – once the business grows there ins’t enough room left to move around let along bring part time help. I had barely any overhead expenses – now i have to pay a pretty steep rent plus the salary of a part time employee. Am I scared? Heck yeah! But I am also eager to see where this is going to take my business. Sometimes the best decisions are the ones that involve taking risks. They get us out of our comfort zone and therefore make us stretch harder.

    Whatever the decision, I am sure you guys will get there sooner or later. Good luck!

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