Entrepreneurship Thriving In Aberdeen

By Victoria Lusk American News, Aberdeen, S.D.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Women entrepreneurship is thriving in South Dakota where many women are turning to e-commerce websites to launch or grow their businesses.  Some of the women are focused completely online while others are combining e-commerce with brick and mortar operation.

Aberdeen

Dropping grain prices led Samantha Miller to start her own business.

It's one that -- like many others, it seems -- recently opened a location in downtown Aberdeen.

The Farmer's Wife Boutique originally had nothing more than a Facebook presence that was a way to supplement family income.

"Grain prices were really, really good when we started farming, and that's not the case anymore," Miller said. "When they dropped drastically, I began looking for a job where I could work from home and be with our daughter."

Miller most definitely isn't alone in the world of entrepreneurship. The uptick in small, local businesses has some wondering how hard it is to open one.

Million-dollar questions Ask Liz Hannum what it takes to start a small business nowadays, and she will say you need just four things -- passion, work ethic, creativity and networking.

"Those are the only things you need," said Hannum, marketing manager at Ease and founder of StartHUB.

Ease, a company using technology to provide improved care for senior citizens, is another one of the many small businesses that recently opened downtown. StartHUB is a nonprofit organization forentrepreneur-based networking, education and brainstorming that started last year.

There are local funding options available, such as grants, small business loans and some StartHUB assistance. But, having or getting your own money isn't always necessary, Hannum said.

For one thing, while some investors have looked for opportunities outside of town in the past, people with money are starting to realize that there are worthwhile investments in Aberdeen, she said.

Furthermore, e-commerce is a driving force behind start-ups, both locally and across the nation.

Rise of e-commerce Because of e-commerce -- the ability to do business online -- people are seeing less risk in starting their own operations.

Entrepreneurs can conduct half of their business or more online, Hannum said. A brick-and-mortar location, which can pose a financial risk, is less necessary with e-commerce.

"Before (advances in technology), a business had to be visible by spending more money on marketing, but now you have free word of mouth on social media and the web," she said.

Kelly Weaver, director of the Aberdeen Small Business Development Center, doesn't disagree with Hannum's e-commerce theory or four traits that help entrepreneurship. Weaver would also add a few more: energy, a willingness to be a lifelong learner, openness and the ability to be mindful of finances.

Weaver said the center has seen an increase in traffic as of late. The startups she assists vary from home- and/or Internet-based to brick and mortar. Some, Weaver said, start online, then branch out.

Every project or business is unique, based on personality, industry knowledge and business goals, she said.

And while e-commerce is web-based, because of social media, it is not always necessary for a business to create its own website, she said.

Entrepreneurs with websites need to remember one thing.

"Websites are not 'build it and they will come.' You still have to market it," Weaver said.

Hannum agrees.

"(E-commerce) still takes hard work," she said. "But it doesn't take as much money."

Speaking from experience Miller first started The Farmer's Wife Boutique on Facebook, which Weaver calls "the new garage." The social media site enables a person to start a small business with low overhead and is a great way to test out an idea, she said.

While Miller's business "took off at first," it wasn't the right time to be using only Facebook to grow the business and make it profitable.

"It was when Facebook was making changes where you had to pay in order to make sure viewers saw your product," she said.

After viewing and testing website options, Miller began using Shopify -- a site she found to be the mostuser-friendly and one she still uses today.

Miller also began attending vendor shows, which required a trailer to haul her products from site to site. Eventually, her business outgrew the trailer and, in January 2014, Miller opened a shop in Groton.

"It went really well," said Miller, who has kept attending vendor and bridal shows.

Her business was doing so well, in fact, that it grew 30 percent within a year. It's that growth that prompted her to move her business to Aberdeen.

It's not easy

From her experience, Miller said anyone who is starting a business needs "dedication for sure," as well as persistence.

"It takes a lot more work than I thought it was going to. I thought it would be simple and easy. It's not," she said.

While a lot of money might not be necessary to maintain a business through social media and the web, a lot of time is required.

"Especially online, you have to dedicate several hours weekly to Instagram and other social media," Miller explained.

Shortly after her online launch, Miller met with Weaver at the Small Business Development Center.

"I realized I needed more inventory," Miller said. "And I also needed to figure out how much I needed to sell the make a profit. I had no idea about that stuff."

It was after Miller met with Weaver that she applied for her first business loan, which enabled her to expand from her original six products.

"She helped me run different ideas on where my price point needed to be. In the end, it comes down to your own decision, too," Miller said.

Having to decide between setting prices low and selling twice as much or setting prices high to make money faster, Miller said she chose -- and will maintain -- the former.

Affordability and knowing her customers is the key to Miller's business.

"A lot of people will give you feedback about prices. You need to be willing to know what they want," she said.

Supporting entrepreneurs Because of e-commerce, it is possible for consumers to both shop online and shop local. Many local small businesses, such as The Oil Room, Karisma Boutique and The Fabric Bin, all have websites that enable customers to both view and purchase in-store items.

At The Farmer's Wife Boutique, online orders are pulled off the sales floor for pick up or shipping.

It's also important to remember that there is a difference, Hannum said, between shopping local and shopping chains.

"They are not the same, and (a small business owner has) to use all the tools in his or her tool belt to get people to see the difference and where the money is going," she said.

The next big things Also inside Miller's boutique, customers will find Sister SoNaturals. The small, locally based business sells its products -- naturally made salves, body butters and other similar products -- through what's called rack-jobbing.

The rack-jobbing concept is not new to local entrepreneurs, though the term might be. Rack-jobbing is selling a company's products, often on racks or specified shelving, in another's business.

Karisma Boutique, for example, has several small businesses that use its space. They include Stitch Row, Vintage Sugar, Kat's Ceramics and hand-poured Bin There ... Done That candles by Michelle Wik. In rack-jobbing, the owners of the additional small businesses contractually supply an area of the store, keeping the racks full of candles, ceramics or other like products.

Artist and entrepreneur Katie Schreurs, who has a studio set up in a friend's garage, sells her handmade pottery, including her popular license plate platters and mugs, at Karisma.

She started her business after a friend traded Schreurs the use of her garage for a handmade dish set. The same friend set her up with rack-jobbing at Karisma.

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