Business Owners’ Blood, Sweat & Tears

On July 13, 2004, Scott & I had been married for exactly 1 month & 1 day. We were both 22 1/2 years old & had been dating since we were 16. My first job was at a pizza place in our hometown as a cook. A year or so later, my mother re-married & moved us 250 miles away from the only home I’d ever known. I was a Junior in high school & not happy is an understatement (not to mention there was this boy)! I found a job there too, also doing pizza. By the time I graduated from high school, I had earned myself the title of ‘Manager’.

I found myself back in my hometown that fall (my mother divorced her new husband) working a full-time job to save money for college. When that company went under in the spring, I lost my job. I found myself back at a ‘pizza place’ called “The Pizza Place” as a night supervisor. I learned SO MUCH from my employers! Not just in regards to business, but I went through some rough personal stuff with my family & they were there to be supportive & offer advice. I had worked there almost 2 years when I gave my notice- through my tears.

Scott had gotten a job a few towns over & we decided to move in together. I had also decided to switch to a 4-year college instead of the technical school I was attending. As I explained this to my bosses, they informed me that they had been approached about opening a second location & it just so happened to be in the town Scott & I were moving to- & RIGHT next door to the house we were renting! It was an answer for both of us. I agreed to manage the place when they were up & running. I worked a call-center job in the interim- & hated every day of it. I then worked for them for about a year & a half. The business didn’t do very well there. Poor location/visibility along with a main product ingredient that just didn’t scream “Quality” did them in. I took a different job as a legal secretary in another town… & hated that too.

This convenience store on the corner of 2 main highways in our small town was advertised For Sale. It was a “mom & pop” type of place that didn’t do much business. I honestly had always gone to the store across the street, but when I went into this one, I came out with ideas. I brought it up to Scott who thought I was joking at first. When he realized I was serious, he changed his tune & we started doing some homework. This store had a kitchen set up for pizza. I had always gravitated to working with pizza & this seemed like the perfect solution. The people I had previously worked for were closing their location in September, so there was no competition & I saw “blue sky”.

I quit that legal secretary job in time to prep for our wedding. After our mini-honeymoon, the finalizing of everything took place. What it all looked like on paper- & in my head- was going to be work, but I was ready for the challenge. I was young, excited, ambitious & just wanted to provide something to the community that it was missing.

Let’s fast-forward to today. Let’s talk about the bullshit; some of the things that I told myself or others told me when I started this business…

  • Bullshit #1: This is going to be a lot of work.
  • Bullshit #2: I’ll hire some people to help me & it will be ok.
  • Bullshit #3: People might try to break-in or take advantage, but it won’t be that bad.
  • Bullshit #4: I can set my  own hours & do whatever I want!
  • Bullshit #5: I get to write my own paycheck!
  • Bullshit #6: I’ll just stock the shelves & it will work. It can’t be that hard to sell stuff.
  • Bullshit #7: A convenience store will be really fun to own!
  • Bullshit #8: You’re too young & inexperienced to do this.
  • Bullshit #9: You’ll fail in the first 5 years.
  • Bullshit #10: Vendors will rip you off.

Now lets talk truth to my bullshit! Truth that the last (almost) 15 years have taught me.

  • Truth #1: This isn’t a lot of work. This is a TREMENDOUS amount of work. This is Blood, Sweat & Tears. This is emotional & mental & physical. This is NOT easy.
  • Truth #2: Employees are the bane of my existence. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had/have some really great ones. But I’ve also had some really bad ones. This is the single biggest struggle for me & if I had known then, what I know now about employing other people- I wouldn’t have done it.
  • Truth #3: The attempted break-ins were more annoying than anything. The robbery in the middle of the night in which he set my store on fire was definitely the worst! We were closed for about a month & a half while the store was gutted & re-built inside. “The Fire” as I refer to it, was traumatic for me, even though no one was hurt (Thank God!) The person responsible was an employee I trusted & the amount of anger, fear, disappointment, etc. that it instilled in me isn’t something I can describe even now. I’ve also had to deal with employee theft & pressing charges against them was not easy- or fun.
  • Truth #4: Bahahaha! My business has hours- which means I do too! I was here 6:00 a.m.- 10:00 p.m. for the first 4 months of operation. I am the only person who cooks lunch M-F so I HAVE to be here. I gave birth to 2 children & both times I took a week off before going back to work with them. 1 WEEK of maternity leave. I felt a little like Superwoman holding my baby in one hand & her bottle with my chin while I used my other hand to ring up customers & give change. When they were old enough to go to daycare, I went back to work in the kitchen.
  • Truth #5: It’s such a good thing my husband has a good-paying job. It took almost 3 years for me to take a paycheck. Getting this business “on its feet” is something that took much longer than I ever thought! I have 2 full-time employees & their paychecks are still larger than mine. We receive other “benefits” as owners, but I can’t just take what I want, when I want from the checkbook!
  • Truth #6: This is a half-truth, half-bullshit. I was told “If you build it, they will come.”- a quote from the movie ‘Field of Dreams’. This has been accurate to an extent. However, just because they come once doesn’t mean they’ll come back. You have to EARN the privilege of those customers walking through your door. If you have rude staff, a disgusting bathroom, empty shelves, etc. you won’t have returning customers.
  •  Truth #7: While it has its moments of fun, this is a difficult industry to be in. As an Independent Operator, I don’t have access to the things/resources all the chain stores do. Government regulations also make this an expensive industry to be in & I also don’t have the financial backing. We have to save & maneuver & plan months/years ahead for changes that need to be made. If it’s something that has to be done right now, we take a loan.
  • Truth #8: I was young & inexperienced when it came to the big picture. It took a lot of learning to figure out how to do this- & how to do it right. I’m still learning on a daily basis to listen to my customers & to push them to trust me with my ideas 😉
  • Truth #9: Those first 5 years were brutal! I refused to fail because people had told me I would. I worked more, I worked harder, I found new resources & made business relationships with people that made all the difference in how I operated & functioned. July 2019 will be our 15 year anniversary… not bad for a 22 year old girl who didn’t know what she was doing!
  • Truth #10: For the people who have/do experience that, I feel really bad for them. I have had nothing but good relationships with my vendors. My business doesn’t work without my relationship with them. They offer suggestions on sales & placements of products. They help keep my inventory relevant & moving instead of stagnant. Vendors are invaluable & picking the right ones makes all the difference. I have never found a vendor to be shorting me product or being dishonest in any way.

So my Blood, Sweat & Tears are literally in this store. Anyone that owns & operates a small business will tell you the same thing. That is my name on the front door, I sign the paychecks, etc. My reputation & the brand I’m building for our children is reason enough to keep going. I pray that this is all worth it someday. Even when employees don’t remember “Bosses Day” or the guy working on that construction project in town steals a pair of sunglasses, the effort is worth it. The blood, sweat & tears are worth it.

All my love,

Jenni

 

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