big box vs. small shop

December 02, 2010

I have worked in large established retailers since I was 16.  With over 17 years of experience in retail, accompanied by too many years of business related schooling, I was confident that starting and growing a small soap company would be relatively easy.  Let’s just say, I’m still learning =).

I want to be clear, Julia and I are thrilled with the progress Belle Terre has made in its first six months.  We are amazed by the customers who have fallen in love with our natural soap and lip balms and who respect and appreciate our commitment to an eco-friendly business model.  But make no mistake, there has been a learning curve!

In my “daytime” job I’m used to tens of thousands of customers seeking out my store every week.  In my specific department, if there is product I want to move I build a display and the product magically disappears in quantities that are sometimes astounding!  I have learned, with some disappointment, that this does not happen everywhere.  In fact, there are places where you can build a beautiful display with great product and people may not buy anything for days at a time.  So much for the Great American Consumer!

What I have come to realize as we learn more about the small biz game is that neither Rome, nor anything else worthwhile, was built in a day.  Love ’em or hate ’em, every big box retailer started out as a small business.  The owner started with one store, worked like a fool and against all odds, not only stayed in business but was able to open a second location.  In truth, those of us working in big box retailers have it easy and are truly standing on the shoulders of giants.

I appreciate what that owner must have experienced while getting that first store up and running.  I understand the emotional roller coaster that is small scale retailing and I’m sure, small business in general.  Because I work in the reality of another’s dream I know that there is great satisfaction on the other side, when we have taken step after painfully slow step,  to bring our own dream to fruition.  I can see, in my minds eye, our little soap company, becoming a robust business that is spreading the gospel of natural products while setting a standard for responsible business in our resource constrained age.

But whatever becomes of Belle Terre, whether it stays small or becomes a sudsy empire, I can say that I am better for having pursued the dream, than having never never dreamed at all!  And this, I believe, is the great lesson of entrepreneurship!






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