Small Business Owners Failing in RI? Gen X & Y looking to break that mold.August 6, 2014 12:00 am
It seems that recently, there is a constant stream of negative news around small businesses failing in RI. A recent study by Thumbtack voted us the least friendly state to do business in. In spite of this, I want to share some positive stories about folks from my generation who are trying to overcome these challenges and run successful small businesses here in the Ocean State. We’d like to applaud them and their efforts to try and boost the lack luster economy of our state.
We hope to make this a recurring series for our blog. Our plan is to spotlight and interview small business owners in the generation X and Y age range over the next coming months. Feel free to nominate a company for future consideration by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Whether these interviews inspire or give you a happy read on your lunch break, I think us Rhode Islanders could use a little ray of hope to overshadow the negative reputation!
Our first interview is with a brand I’ve grown to know very well. When my fiancé and I first started dating he bought me a beautiful pair of earrings and bracelet- both of which I still wear almost every day. Since then, Kendra Phillip is my go-to when buying gifts for friends and family. Co-owner Phillip Sowa shares with us his story on opening his Rhode Island based jewelry company.
What triggered you to take the plunge and open your own business?
I’ve actually known my business partner Kendra since we were kids. She was my neighbor and the maid of honor in my sister’s wedding. When my sister was thinking of gifts to give to her bridesmaids, she wanted something that was both personal and unique so Kendra and I designed a pendant necklace for each one of the girls with their initials engraved on it. The reaction to the gifts was so positive and encouraging, that it led us to believe that this idea was one we could capitalize on. That’s when we decided to create a higher end, trend fashion brand that provides personalized products. From there, Kendra Phillip was formed and we have been in business for over three years now.
Did you take any courses on opening a small business?
No, I graduated from St. Anselm’s College with a business management degree and I feel that gave me the foundation needed to set up the business with Kendra. With Kendra having her MFA from RISD, she primarily focuses on the design aspect of the business and I focus on the day to day operations.
How did you transition from what you were previously doing?
After leaving college I went to work at my family’s metal stamping factory, based here in RI, which is still one of my top priorities today. The formation of Kendra Phillip actually created a customer for my family’s company, as we use the family factory for manufacturing our jewelry.
Kendra and I were fortunate enough to have both the knowledge and experience on different aspects of the jewelry business so we didn’t have to endure the usual learning curve that many start-ups do when they begin. We didn’t need loans or huge start-up costs— all we needed was to file with the Secretary of State and have enough money for our first order. There was no reason for us to put a risk into the business if we didn’t have to. It wasn’t something that we started to think we were going to make careers from; rather, something that we started without expectations. We have worked hard to grow the business and our goals have changed, but our approach still remains intact- let’s come up with a plan and see how it works out.
How are you marketing the brand? What social media tools do you find effective?
We find Instagram to be the most effective but also use Twitter, Facebook and blogs on our website to get further exposure. Due to the popularity of our own brand, boutiques that carry our products have also started to blog about our pieces. They want to associate their own businesses with ours more as our brand awareness grows. Just recently we were featured on the national syndicated TV show “Extra” with a promotional segment that has opened up new opportunities as well. Customer satisfaction and word of mouth has also played a large part in our expansion.
How has owning the business impacted your personal life?
It’s a huge time commitment. I work a lot more hours in the evenings and on the weekends, but the fact that I am doing it for our own business is really rewarding. It can be stressful and challenging to keep everything moving, so there are long days and weekends and there’s even been a few sleepless nights, but at the end of the day we’re in control of our destiny, which is great; so I guess more so than anything it has made us both change our priorities.
What are the biggest issues you face in running this business?
Getting our name out there has been the most difficult part of starting the business and continues to be. It takes time to get a reputation, but as we work away at it we are definitely beginning to see the positives. Also being younger and less experienced we obviously don’t have all the answers, but we listen, take in as much as possible and try to learn “on the go”.
What is the future for this type of business?
Small jewelry companies that get their name out there tend to be bought out by bigger companies or competitors. At the moment that isn’t something that we would consider. We have expanded across the US and are promoting the brand abroad and know that we’ve got great things to come in the near future.
What do you think is the biggest threat to the success of small businesses in RI today?
The political system here as a whole: the tax structure and regulations in place for small businesses can be very prohibitive. The small business owners in RI are just trying to make a living which doesn’t mean that they are well off. We need more checks and balances in RI so that there’s accountability where there currently isn’t.
What advice would you give to other generation X, Y and millennials who might be thinking of starting a business of their own some day?
I read an article recently that I could really relate to. The gist of it was “just do it” because once you’ve made the decision to start, commit to it and the rest will follow. It’s also essential to make sure that you have a sellable product or idea and love what you do.
For more information on Kendra Phillip, please visit their website at http://www.kendraphillip.com/
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