University of Virginia statistics in 2012 indicate that a quarter of all small businesses fail in the first year, and that 46 percent of those failures are due to incompetence. U.S. Census data is showing small signs of revival in wholesale and retail sales. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the recession hit small and large businesses equally.
Locally, aspiring entrepreneurs are still dreaming of running their own businesses.
Theresa Widmann is a part-time Hudson Valley resident who’s making plans to put down roots in Uptown Kingston. A legal professional, she’s considering various business ideas. She keeps coming back to the idea of a unique clothes shop. “I’ve been collecting pre-loved clothes for years, clothes with a prior life,” she explained.
Widmann describes what she does as “a clothes makeover.” Armed with a sewing machine and a lot of imagination, she redesigns items to make something updated and interesting. She can see herself in her own boutique-workshop, making her creations available to the public.
She doesn’t expect to see it happening for at least a year. “I think women are just naturally more cautious,” she said. “I think it makes sense to ease into it: start selling online, testing the market, getting a chance to understand the financials better. I need to know what I realistically can produce myself and how much support I need.”
Her big concern is giving up a secure income and, as she put it, learning to be fully self-reliant. She admits it takes discipline. “I’ve been working on that,” she said. “I feel like I owe this to myself, to show myself I’m committing to my passions. So I have to see discipline as my friend, a friend who can help me reach my dreams.”
Discipline is what has kept the owners of Sissy’s Café on Wall Street in uptown Kingston going during their first year. Denee and Shani Francese-Smith are sisters who have always dreamed of opening a restaurant together.
“We both have experience in restaurants, both strong ones and struggling ones,” Shani said. “So we knew what to expect. But even so, we ran into a lot of things we didn’t expect.”
“The biggest surprise for me,” added Denee, “is how tired you get. I’ve worked 60- and 70-hour weeks in other people’s restaurants, but when it’s your own it’s always on your mind, even when you’re not there. I’m more tired even though I’m not putting in as many hours.”
The sisters say that the limited customer base in uptown Kingston is proving a challenge. “There are so many restaurants now, and most of us do our business at lunchtime. There’s no business early and nothing after 2 p.m.,” Shani explained. “It’s great on Saturday during the farmers’ market, but Sundays are completely dead.”
The sisters are planning to open Sissy’s for dinner and they’ve applied for a wine and beer license. “We didn’t expect to have to do that in the first year,” Denee said, “but it’s an adjustment we’ve got to make.”
Those kinds of adjustments are crucial to business success, according to the owner of a new business which will open in Woodstock this Friday. “You have to be in your business every day and make adjustments quickly and on the fly if you’re going to survive,” said Maish Freedman.
Freedman is an Albany native whose former business is The Greenhouse on Pearl Street in Albany. With business partner Joanna Mesker, he is opening Little Apple in the center of Woodstock in what was last year’s Press and Blend.
Freedman envisions Little Apple as the supermodel version of the prior tenant. “We’re the only place doing cold-pressed juices from Plattsburgh in the Hudson Valley,” Freeman said. “Our juices are pressed here on Norwalk machines, and they only have a two-day shelf life. Cold-pressed juices are a world away from juices that have been subjected to heat. They’ve got so many more nutrients.”
Freedman, himself an avid juicer, became more convinced of the need for juicing when his own ten-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Type One diabetes. “It’s an epidemic in this country — obesity, poor health, diabetes, junk food,” he said. “We’re going to offer our customers an alternative. And if you ever start juicing, you won’t believe how much better you’ll feel.”
Little Apple, which will offer juices, teas and Greek yogurt, is also offering another lure for customers — organic frozen soft-serve. “We’ll have vanilla, chocolate, pomegranate and a vegan coconut soft-serve to start,” Freeman said. “Our supplier is working on a lot of other flavors. We’re the only ones in town offering soft-serve.”
Little Apple, which plans a second location in Rhinebeck, will also offer online ordering, shipping and, perhaps, delivery. Juices cost anywhere from $3 to $11, and a full cleanse, which includes six juices and one juice “shot,” is about $50. “But not everyone will want to spend eight or ten dollars on a juice,” Freedman said. “So we’ve got smoothies, yogurt, ice cream, granola and tea.”
Freedman’s recipe for business success is careful oversight. Offer an incredible product at a reasonable price, but watch food costs. “And most important is to have the right people in place,” he added. “You need to be paying attention, or by the time you notice what’s going wrong it’s too late. The difference can be life or death.”