When the pandemic hit, many businesses took a big, disastrous hit. But this era hasn’t been a disaster for all businesses. For some, the pandemic era has been a golden age of growth. For others, it has been a time when personal passions have been turned into businesses that have helped communities and turned great […]
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When the pandemic hit, many businesses took a big, disastrous hit. But this era hasn’t been a disaster for all businesses. For some, the pandemic era has been a golden age of growth. For others, it has been a time when personal passions have been turned into businesses that have helped communities and turned great profits.It’s being called the age of the “passion economy.”During the recent Black Business Expo and Health Fair at SouthPark Mall, Moline, dozens of entrepreneurs set up booths to sell their various goods. Of those small businesses, about 90% represented the “passion economy,” said Tracy Singleton, CEO of the QC Empowerment Network, the event’s organizer. That is, they are people who took their passions – such as hobbies or favorite activities – and turned them into money-making businesses during the pandemic.Many of those businesses started during the pandemic when people were stuck in their homes, perhaps bored, sometimes tired of family members, and were looking for something creative to do, Ms. Singleton added.In other situations, “passion economy” businesses grew out of the need to find, or create, work during the pandemic’s uncertain times.During the early days of COVID-19, scores of workers were forced out of their jobs as businesses closed. Many used that time to reflect on their lives and decided to take more control of their lives on the job, according to Tom Trone, chairman of Quad Cities chapter of SCORE, a network of business mentors who help people start or expand businesses.Mr. Trone added that local SCORE mentors have helped more than a record 800 new entrepreneurs with their business plans during the pandemic years. In 2020, the QC chapter helped clients start 82 new businesses and create 97 new jobs, according to the group’s website.He added that the fastest growing segments of SCORE’s clients – and new business owners – include women and minorities.“They find that owning a business gives you flexibility… They are finding that the ‘sky is the limit’ when you own your own business,” he added.But getting to those lofty heights takes a lot of work and being flexible to the changing times. Mr. Trone said that one of the top lessons for people in the passion economy is to make sure they are connected to online digital platforms, or the “virtual world.”“If you are a small business and not in the virtual world … you won’t be in business for long. If you don’t change, you will be gone,” he said.Over the past few weeks, the QCBJ interviewed several local entrepreneurs who entered the passion economy by either starting or expanding their businesses amid the pandemic. We wanted to find out their goals, experiences and success stories as well their mistakes and advice for others looking to enter the passion economy.Here are a few of their stories:Mechelle Williams: MJ’s Creative CandlesWhen the pandemic hit, Mechelle Williams took $5,000 – “that was all my savings” – and followed her dream. The Davenport woman created a home-based candle business called MJ’s Creative Candles. (The “MJ” in her business name comes from two of her children: her son Marteze,15, and daughter Jazden, 18.)“We have combined our talent and love of art, creativity, and things that smell good to not just simply make you a candle, but create one. All of our candles are hand poured using only the most quality of ingredients. … To achieve optimal scents, our products cure from two to three weeks – making every candle creation worth your patience,” according to the company’s website at www.mjcreativecandles.com.A quick look at the website shows some of her many candles including Blueberry Bliss, Strawberry Delight, Candy Corn, Peach Cobbler and Berry Delight (both in the shapes of small pies), and White Tea, Sage and Ginger – that’s Ms. Williams’ favorite.“But if you ask me next month, it will be a different (favorite) candle,” she said with a laugh.The prices for the candles range from $15 to about $22.She added that the family’s candle business got off to a simple start when the pandemic hit two years ago. “We always liked burning candles, and when COVID hit, we were stuck at home. So, this happened,” she said.The family members began making candles and worked to find customers by going to business expos, craft fairs, school events and more. At each event, they made it a point to network with others in the business world, and at one event, they met a Hy-Vee grocery store representative. That meeting helped get MJ’s Creative Candles into the Hy-Vee store at 2351 W. Locust St., Davenport, with plans to go into the Hy-Vee in Moline. “Going into Hy-Vee has been a huge platform for us,” she said.Ms. Williams added that her family’s candle business is doing great. The business sells 500-700 candles a month; continues to attend and sell at business expos and other events; and is looking to expand this year.When sales began to increase, she said to herself “I think we are on to something. … We have found our niche.”One of her major goals this year is to open a storefront to sell the creative candles and create a “candle bar” so people can make their own candle creations. She also wants to make a lot more candles. MJ’s Creative Candles aren’t exactly mass produced, but Ms. Williams said that she wants to have more candles on hand so she has a bigger inventory for the many expos during the year.“A lot of people who buy our candles say they are just too pretty to melt,” she added.Ms. Williams’ top advice for people thinking about getting into the passion economy is:
Start with a good business plan.
Organize your money and your time.
Surround yourself with uplifting people.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. “I don’t even call them ’mistakes’. I call them ‘learning steps.’ I have learned what didn’t work,” she added.
Shari Barnett: The Catalina Rose BoutiqueShari Barnett, the owner and sole employee of The Catalina Rose Boutique, has a business card with a Marilyn Monroe quote on the back: “We are all stars, and we deserve to twinkle.”That’s one of her goals for the downtown Moline clothing business at 1727 5th Ave. “I had a vision to bring my passion for fashion to others. I want to share unique pieces at reasonable prices that everyone can enjoy,” Ms. Barnett states on her company website at thecatalinarose.com.That passion has turned into a second career for Ms. Barnett. She worked for the Department of Defense for some 36 years, most of that time at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When she retired, she thought her passion would lead to becoming an employee at an area clothing store. Instead, she decided to take the much more difficult route of starting her own new business.The passion for fashion has been paying off for Ms. Barnett, 63, a Sherrard, Illinois, resident. Her new store, which is directly across the street from the former Moline Dispatch building, has been finding customers, she says, because of her great customer service, clothing selection and prices. It’s also finding an audience because of an active online presence on Facebook and other virtual platforms.Today, some of the best-selling items include spring outfits and dresses for Easter and graduation celebrations.“You get excited when people from coast to coast are buying your products. … And a lot of people are looking for good bargains, especially now,” she added.But getting to that coast-to-coast success took a lot of hard work during the uncertain days of the pandemic. Ms. Barnett opened her 1,000-square-foot store on May 29, 2020, – just weeks into the pandemic.Even though it was an uncertain time, she never considered delaying her store opening because she wanted to bring her passion to customers. ”I just had to make a go of it,” she said.In those early days, she recalled one of the big challenges was to get people out of their homes and visit her store. But, in time, through advertising and many other steps, customers found The Catalina Rose Boutique.Today, she has some big plans for the future that include expanding her business offerings to include home decor items, continuing to serve her customers, and perhaps adding some employees. “That would take some pressure off me,” she added.Here are some of Ms. Barnett’s tips for others considering getting into business:
Do your market research before opening a store. Ask yourself this top question: Is there a need for your services?
Be sure to have a solid business plan.
Be sure you have great customer service skills.
Make sure your business has an online presence.
Advertise your business. Ms. Barnett has an active advertising campaign for The Catalina Rose Boutique.
Acissa Chamia: MozBites LLCWhen she was a young girl in Mozambique, Acissa Chamia learned from her mother how to make samosas – the triangle-shaped pastries filled with chicken, spiced chicken, vegetables and many other delicious ingredients.When she arrived in the Quad Cities a few years ago, Ms. Chamia noticed that samosas – one of her favorite foods – was a mystery to many people in the region. “I never did see them here, unless you go to an Indian store,” she added.So, in the summer of 2020, she took a chance by making 200 samosas and going to a local farmers market in hopes of selling at least some of the food items. They were a hit with local foodies. “People liked them. I sold all of them in three hours,” she added.With that successful beginning, Ms. Chamia formed MozBites LLC to sell her samosas. Currently, she sells them – about 1,000 a week during the summer months – at farmers markets, business expos and other events in the Quad Cities.Tom Trone of SCORE called Ms. Chamia an “enterprising spirit and can-do spirit.”“The positive response she got encouraged her to keep working hard to make her business a success. … Acissa is excited about positively impacting the Quad Cities by bringing something new to its food scene,” he added.Ms. Chamia, who lives in Davenport and also works as a nursing assistant at the Davenport Lutheran Home, has some big plans for the future. She hopes to sell her samosas from a food truck as well as directly to area stores.“I think this business will work,” she added.Some of her top tips for people considering getting into the passion economy include:
Ask people already in the business for help. Don’t be afraid to approach them and ask for tips.
Get out in the community and get started.
April Bowlyou: Queen Bee BoutiqueApril Bowlyou remembers when she told people she wanted to open a dress shop in Milan in the midst of the pandemic.“A lot of people thought I was crazy. You really didn’t know what COVID is going to do. .. But I said ‘Let’s do something for Milan,’” she recalled.During those crazy times in late 2020, many area dress shops were permanently closing their doors. But in that business chaos, Ms. Bowlyou saw opportunity because girls and women now had far fewer options when it came to buying formal clothing.Even though school proms, wedding celebrations and many other events were being canceled because of COVID restrictions, Ms. Bowlyou took a chance and opened the Queen Bee Boutique at 528 1st St. West in November 2020 with two employees.With a lot of hard work, that business gamble paid off. In the shop’s first prom season months later in 2021, Queen Bee did three times the business it expected. In fact, business has been so good that in less than two years, the boutique has gone from two to 11 employees and is quickly filling its 2,000-square-foot storefront.“We’ve just exploded. We’re now growing out of our building,” said Ms. Bowlyou.She added that the Queen Bee can use at least 4,000 square feet, and it might look for a new home. “We are open to options, but we do need to grow.” Part of the reason for growth is that the word has gotten out about the store’s offerings and services. Today, the store is described as a “bridal, pageant and formal shop that offers customers a place to find unique and timeless fashion pieces,” according to the company website, www.thequeenbeeqc.com.Ms. Bowlyou said she is proud the shop can work with just about any budget and accommodate any customer – even same-day service. Not too long ago, the business helped a girl find a prom dress on the day of the prom.However, in most cases, the shop likes a little more time to help its customers. Ms. Bowlyou said the prom shopping season should start in January for the spring events. When it comes to weddings, it’s good to begin looking at least six months in advance.Still, those last-minute customers will find many dresses in stock at the business. The Queen Bee has about 600 dresses on hand in its store, she said.In recent times, the Queen Bee has become so popular that it has been drawing people from other communities – even from Iowa – to Milan, she added. “This is the hot spot for proms and bridal.” Ms. Bowlyou offers this advice for people considering getting into business in this era:
Plan a budget for your project – and double it. The supply chain issues will mean your business will be paying more for just about everything.
Find a business mentor to help you with the business. “I have a really good village” of friends and family members who help this business, she said.
Surround yourself with good, positive people. “That’s how your dream comes true,” she added.
It’s OK to have doubts about the project or business.
Jessica Triphahn-Blohm: Personal trainerIn the “passion economy,” passions are not limited to hobbies that have been turned into businesses. On occasion, they are services and activities that are now businesses.Jessica Triphahn-Blohm, of LeClaire, shows this side of the passion economy can work.While in college, she had a passion for physical fitness and was an aerobics instructor.After school, she worked in the food industry for some 15 years, but still had that passion to help people with their fitness and health goals.A few summers ago, Ms. Triphahn-Blohm and her husband “had a random conversation in the garage” and talked about her goal of becoming a fitness instructor again. She said he “crunched the (financial) numbers” and they decided it could be done.Soon after that, she started her return to the health instructor profession. In December of 2019, she left her full-time job in the food industry and now is a certified group fitness instructor and health coach. She also became manager of the FIT Rx Fitness & Training, located at 1007 Canal Shore Drive, LeClaire. According to its website, FIT Rx was created to give individuals and small groups an environment and atmosphere of non-intimidation while reaching their fitness goals.But just as her new career as an independent contractor in the health and fitness field began, the pandemic hit. In-person training sessions were over; and online – especially Zoom – training sessions were the new norm.During those pandemic months, Ms. Triphahn-Blohm said it became very clear that her fitness training was needed more than ever. “A lot of sedentary lifestyles were forced on people … There was no social interaction,” she said, adding that her online fitness and health services have been especially helpful to many people during the pandemic.Today, Ms. Triphahn-Blohm does online training and has about 11 clients. She works with women who are struggling with weight regain. “For a lot of these women, life happened and they gained weight back,” she added.She offers fitness and health programs to fit any budget and programs that are customized to individual needs. But she also tells her clients: “You get out of it what you put into it.”Ms. Triphahn-Blohm added that even though there have been some tough times during the pandemic, she is happy to have made the decision to return to her passion of helping people with their fitness and health goals.And other people can also follow their passions into the business world.
Ms. Triphahn-Blohm has this advice: Ask for help. “Reach out to people. Ask people how they are doing it. … People can be very supportive,” she added.For more information, visit www.FITRx-Iowa.com.