Small Business Owners Shared Experiences at Square's 'Let's Talk'
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St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay rolled up his sleeves to introduce the "Let's Talk" event at the Casa Loma Ballroom, which featured a panel discussion with: (L - R) Square CEO Jack Dorsey; Scott Carey, owner of Sump Coffee; Pete Wissinger, co-owner of Whisk Bakeshop; Jeremy Schwartz, owner of Cherokee Street Bikes; and Katie Miller, co-owner of Scarlett Garnet.
Small Business Owners Shared Experiences at Square's 'Let's Talk'
"You know we'll never be New York and we'll never be what we were one hundred years ago, but we could be very interesting," said Scott Carey, owner of Sump Coffee, as the crowd broke into cheers and loud applause.
by Betty Moore, SLFP.com
ST. LOUIS, (SLFP.com), August 30, 2013 - Square CEO Jack Dorsey returned home to St. Louis, August 29, to join the owners of Sump Coffee, Whisk Bakeshop, Cherokee Street Bikes, and Scarlett Garnet for an in-depth panel discussion on small business growth.
Over 300 local small business owners, college students and curious neighbors filled the Casa Loma Ballroom, located at 3354 Iowa Avenue in the heart of the thriving Cherokee Street Business District.
In his opening remarks, St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay said, "We're proud to call Jack a St. Louisan, someone who was educated and inspired in St. Louis. This is a great place to start a business and we want to get better. We're here to collaborate and talk and find out what works, to learn and improve ourselves."
Mayor Slay paused for a moment and then asked, "Who would have thought just a few years ago that Twitter and Square would be the companies they are today. They were small startup companies and they are an example of what a small company can ultimately be."
"Small businesses are the drivers of our economy and the backbone of our neighborhoods," the Mayor continued. "They employee people, provide services and help make a neighborhood vibrant, strong and inspire others as well."
The event was billed as an opportunity to meet other small business owners, opening share experiences in the course of opening and growing a successful neighborhood business.
For many in the audience it was an opportunity to meet and hear from business owners who have created products and services that have changed the world in a very short time.
"Jim McKelvey was my first boss when I was fifteen years old," Jack Dorsey said, with a nod towards his fellow entrepreneur and co-founder of Square, who was seated in the front row. Dorsey related that McKelvey has done a lot for the City of St. Louis and also co-founded the Three Degree Glass Factory.
Dorsey quickly established that the event was not about Square. "We wanted to bring a conversation to St. Louis. We believe that these neighborhood businesses are the fabric of our community and our economy," noted Dorsey. "We believe that if we shine a light on them and support them, we will build strength in this community. We will improve our national economy. We will improve our global economy."
He observed that there is a trend towards local, handcrafted items and brilliant experiences before turning to the panel to ask the first question. "This is perhaps the hardest question, but why did you start a business. Why do you put yourself through all this pain."
"For me it was about trying to find a way to put meaning in my life and what I do," responded Scott Carey, owner of Sump Coffee. "Anyone who starts something new, something daring, they are reaching for something that's not in their grasp."
Pete Wissinger, co-owner of Whisk Bakeshop, said opening up a business was a project that he could share with his wife, Kaylen. He recounted how they began with a business plan in order to have access to a commercial kitchen to prepare farm fresh cupcakes for sale at a farmer's market before locating to a storefront on Cherokee Street. "Whatever you like to do, do it."
Jeremy Schwartz, owner of Cherokee Street Bikes, spoke about his dream to open a quality bike shop. "You just have to do it. The main thing is taking that first step and going in a filing for an LLC and getting a business license and doing all that red tape. Once you jump into that pool, there's no going back."
Katie Miller, co-owner of Scarlett Garnet, discovered that she could make a living selling her handcrafted jewelry. "Making something that a someone would take into their life and wear everyday is really exciting. You just jump onboard."
The panel discussion on risk taking and making mistakes in running a small business was lively and poignant at times.
Wissinger acknowledged that trying to do too much and please everybody didn't always work out. "We found that sticking to our mission and working on what makes us special as a bakery is what we did best. That's what made us happy."
The conversation touched on day-to-day operations, hiring staff, marketing products and services and what it takes to keep motivated. It was revealed that only one of the panelist had a written business plan in the beginning and that plan had evolved over the course of operating their business.
Several owners noted that using social media such as Facebook and Twitter had enabled them to reach a larger audience without having to spend money on traditional forms of advertising. Wissinger noted that St. Louis had good coverage with food magazines and that a mention in an article was seen as free advertising.
To a point, each panelist said that good customer service was very important to a successul operation. Miller commented that she relied on an e-commerce web site to bring in customers from around the county and even internationally to buy handcrafted jewelry made locally. She also noted that bartering services enabled her business on Cherokee Street to grow over that past six years.
As each owner described some their experiences, it became clear that the process of owning a business was organic, complicated, and sometimes frustrating. It also became clear that the results of long hours, unquestionable endurance and strong focus on a singular mission to deliver a quality product was rewarding and an inspiration to continue despite the odds or even breaking even.
Carey recounted his perilous experience with officials at City Hall in the process of buying a building on South Jefferson, obtaining an occupancy permit and finally a business license.
"You have the opportunity to create something," said Carey. "If the City could find a way to encourage that and nurture it instead of being scared of it," he continued and then paused.
"You know we'll never be New York and we'll never be what we were one hundred years ago, but we could be very interesting," he concluded as the crowd broke into cheers and loud applause.
Local small business owners, college students and curious neighbors filled the Casa Loma Ballroom, located at 3354 Iowa Avenue in the heart of the thriving Cherokee Street Business District, for Square's Let's Talk panel discussion.
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