A team effort – Small-business owners learn to succeed using local resources
Starting a new business is a perilous undertaking, and doing it with six partners would seem to be an invitation for trouble. So how do you get six women to work together?
“All of our husbands and boyfriends said that, but here we are,” said Terry Garrity, 21/2 years after she and five partners opened Blondie’s Salon in Grass Valley.
The business at 426 Sutton Way has done well from the start, in part because the partners have developed a collaborative working style that forces them to make joint decisions on major issues while creating space for their individual strengths.
Their success goes against the norm. The mortality rate for new businesses is high ” 85 percent fail within the first five years ” and only 6 percent of small businesses are partnerships, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Mary Wollesen, initiative director of the state Small Business Development Center program, whose office is at Sierra College’s Nevada County campus, said Blondie’s partners avoided many of the mistakes committed by new businesses by paying attention to the basics.
“Most small business owners are inclined to think about what it’s all going to look like when they actually open, as opposed to what foundational pieces they have to put in place,” she said.
In meetings with their counselor, “they literally sat there and discussed their own strengths and weaknesses and put together a business plan … that allowed each of them to perceive fairness, balance and working to particular strengths and weaknesses,” Wollesen said.
“That’s an unusual step. Most small-business people don’t take it.”
Their biggest issue was simply deciding on the name of the business. “That’s the only thing we fought about,” Garrity said.
They solved the problem by developing a list of possible names for the business and then taking a secret ballot. Every partner had to list two names but couldn’t indicate a preference.
Blondie is the only name that appeared on all of the ballots, “and we’re not all blonde,” Garrity said.
The six first met when they all worked at a local beauty spa. When the business started to founder, they looked for a way to stay together. “There wasn’t a salon here big enough to take all of us, so we decided to start our own business,” Garrity said.
Or as Blondie’s partner Kathie Babben put it: “We all had the same goal. We all wanted a nice place to work.”
Since only one of them had ever run her own business, they signed up for small-business seminars at Sierra College to learn the basics.
“We didn’t want to fail,” Garrity said. “We went to school and got the tools we needed.”
Garrity gives a lot of credit to the small business program for the mentoring it provided. “When we had questions, we could always call them,” she said.
The group collaborated on the concept and design of the business and put in a lot of long days getting it up and running. “We had a lot of late nights,” Garrity said. “We’re sick of burritos.”
Since opening, they’ve assigned responsibilities to teams of two so
that all of the work doesn’t fall on a few people, and the business runs smoothly when somebody is away.
And there are rules and limits. Any partner can spend up to $50 on material needed to run the business, but bigger expenditures require a group decision.
“You have to create business partnership based upon the parameters of the business, your own strengths and weaknesses, not on friendship,” Wollesen said.
“One of Blondie’s strengths is that each one of the women came to the table with years of experience and a tremendous interest in creating something that would not only be successful financially, but that would fulfill a very important piece for them as an individual.”
“We’re like a family,” Garrity said. “We don’t always agree, but we’ve
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