Have you ever considered starting your own business?
A friend of mine, Ilene Evans, recently took that leap of faith. She relocated with her three children from the East coast down to North Carolina, and started a granola business. A couple weeks ago when she officially opened for business, I ordered 4 bags of her Hippie Chick Granola.
I’ve never been a big granola fan, but I wanted to support my friend. One bite is all it took to make me a Hippie Chick convert…and quite possibly an addict. It was the best granola I have ever had. Those 4 bags were gone within days. And I was not happy that one of my favorites, Tamara’s blend, disappeared into the depths of my son’s room right after I opened it, and I got hardly any!
At this point, I am on my third order…fourth if you count the Mother’s Day order for my mom!
Starting a business is a lot of work. My husband owns his own business, and I consider myself a serial entrepreneur. When you’re a small business owner, it consumes your life. There is no 9-5. I thought it would be interesting to do a little Q & A with Ilene about some of the things you should consider when thinking about starting a business.
I know a little of the background of how your business idea came about, but can you share it with all of us?
If you’ve read the story on my blog or on the website, then you know that I’ve been baking granola for years, and I had this one prized recipe that people loved and always suggested that I sell. (For the record, that recipe is the cranberry almond granola that I call Fiona’s Blend). I never took their suggestions seriously, until in late 2012, I had to find a way to fund my daughter’s trip to Cheer Nationals. I started selling granola out of the trunk of my car to pay for her trip, and the response was tremendous.
When I relocated with my children to Oak Island last year, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for work. I’m also a yoga instructor and enjoy teaching very much, but it’s difficult to make a full time living in the yoga world alone. The closest decent job market where I live is Wilmington, NC, which is about 45 minutes away, but I didn’t want to be that far from my children during the day. After the prior success I had experienced selling granola, it was always in the back of my mind to go “all in” with it.
I know it can be difficult to find exactly the right name for a business. How did you come up with Hippie Chick Granola?
Well, the granola part was easy, since I knew that would be the heart of this business! As for the rest? From a branding perspective, I was trying to capture a feeling of joy and free spiritedness. My logo designer was able to bring this to life beautifully, better than just the words of the name itself would have done on their own.
What makes your granola different? Who do you see as your ideal customer?
As far as what makes my granola different, the flavors are all a little surprising for Granola. Fiona’s Blend, the cranberry almond mix, is probably the most “traditional” granola, but then you have flavors like chocolate pretzel, peanut brittle, and candied ginger. One of my friends recently called my granola the “new comfort food,” and that seems fitting!
What else makes it different? I hand bake all of the granola on site in the back room of my Oak Island storefront. This is not made in a high speed production facility or on an assembly line.
Lastly, I have gone to great lengths to source my ingredients from trusted suppliers who provide me with best in class products. I use as many organic ingredients as possible. I use 100% pure maple syrup that I order directly from the processer in Vermont. I stand behind every single ingredient that I put into my batches, from Bob’s Red Mill rice flours, to Wholesome’s Organic Sucanat, to Ocean Spray dried cranberries. I’ve put great care into every aspect of this right down to the packaging, which provides the best barrier protection against spoilage that you can find, and which is necessary since my granola has no added preservatives. .
My mission is to provide my customers with a great experience. I want them to open that bag of Hippie Chick, love the smell, love the texture, and of course, love the taste. My ideal customer is anyone who enjoys good food!
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about starting a new business?
Surround yourself with great business advisors. I knew how to bake granola, but I knew nothing about running a food business, or any kind of business for that matter. I had a phenomenal experience working with both the small business resource center at the community college as well as the local chapter of SCORE.
Also, understand that you will spend 20% of your time “following your bliss,” and 80% of your time running a business. I bake for maybe three hours a day, and I spend the other 10 to 12 hours running a storefront, sanitizing sheet pans, mopping floors, ordering supplies, operating a website, keeping the books, answering emails, packing and shipping boxes, and marketing my products. Unless you start off in the position to hire a staff, know that you will have to “do it all” and more importantly, understand what “all” really means.
Last of all, listen to your gut. If you have a passion and a vision and if you know in your heart why you want to share that vision with the world, go with it, regardless of how impossible or illogical it looks on paper. Does the world need another granola company? Maybe not. But I firmly believe there is room on the shelf for my brand. And that’s not from P&L statements or market research. That’s instinct.
I’m sure you’ve had your share of setbacks…can you tell us about one of them and how you handled it?
I’ve certainly had my share of setbacks! From failed building inspections to major mistakes on ingredient deliveries, there have definitely been some obstacles. One of the setbacks was entirely my fault and there’s some humor in it but it is also a testament to how great it is to start a business in a small town like Oak Island.
I am not a great “DIY-er” and I never used a drill in my life until I had to renovate this storefront to become a commercial kitchen. Even at that, I was doing the most minor tasks imaginable and hired professionals to do the bulk of the work.
The one task that I thought I could handle on my own was drilling my fire extinguishers into the wall, one by the front entrance and one by the back entrance, per the fire code in the town. Oh, Michelle, I was so proud of myself for figuring out how to do this! I even learned how to knock on the walls and figure out where the studs were, since the fire extinguishers are so heavy, you need to make sure you attached them to the studs so that they don’t take down part of the wall with them when you drill them in.
Afterwards I was admiring my handiwork and it hit me. The fire extinguisher by the back door seemed way too close to the electrical panel, which wasn’t good, since you’re not supposed to have anything within a three foot radius of that panel. I ran down to the Oak Island Fire station in a panic, with a photo of the placement of the extinguisher on my phone. There are different regulations for different classifications of business and for different buildings so the Fire Chief took out his big regulation book to see whether or not I was in compliance and he also offered to come to my shop the next morning with his tool box from home to help me remove the extinguisher from the wall and re-mount it.
I love this town.
Thinking about the long term…what are your hopes for Hippie Chick Granola?
My hope is that Hippie Chick will become a national brand and that you will be able to find it on the shelf of your local specialty store, so that you don’t have to wait for it to come in the mail!
My other hope is that the company will become a voice and a means of support for social issues that are important to me. I’m not exactly sure what this looks like yet in detail, but I can tell you that this is a priority of mine.
You have a huge network of blog friends who cherish your friendship and want to see you succeed. What can we do to help?
First of all, I am touched beyond words at how the blog community reacted when I announced what I was working on in my little corner of the world. The support has been amazing and I am very grateful for that.
As far as help goes, just talking about the brand on social media or with friends is huge. This is a word of mouth effort. People are going to buy my product because someone else personally recommended it and not because I had a great ad spot on TV. Last week, I received my first batch of web orders from people I do not know personally and that was very exciting for me. It proves how quickly word gets around. These are not folks who Googled “granola” and found me. These are people who heard about Hippie Chick through a friend.
In addition, I am definitely open to giveaways and product reviews. Talk to me if this is something you might be interested in doing.
For the record, I am sharing Hippie Chick Granola with you today because it is delicious. Ilene didn’t ask me to write about it, nor did she give me anything to do so. This post was entirely my idea. I love the fact that Hippie Chick granola uses as many organic products as possible as well as Vermont maple syrup (especially since Vermont is my home away from home)! I was thrilled to hear that there’s no added preservatives, because I try to stay away from ingredients that I can’t pronouce. And it’s nice to know that it’s not produced in a high speed production facility and that great care is taken with every batch. You can taste the difference!
My favorites were Fiona’s and Tamara’s blend, but they were all really good! Enjoy, and stay tuned for the Granola Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars recipe that I made the other day!