Dunwoody mom Emily Myers got in a financial jam back in 2008, so she started selling jams of her own to get out of it.
Myers is one of the local entrepreneurs who found happiness as well as hardship running a small business in a foundering economy. One Sandy Springs couple, Gail Smith and Randy Dempsey, turned brewing craft beer into a second source of income. Jaime Foster, who lives in Sandy Springs, left her job as a medical sales rep and used her grandfather’s almond butter recipe to launch a new career.
Small business experts say they’re seeing more people tapping their hobbies and passions in search of profit, but success can be elusive.
Cliff Oxford, a Buckhead resident who founded the Oxford Center University to educate entrepreneurs, said the bottom line about building a successful company usually isn’t buying office furniture or developing a plan.
“In reality, the first thing you should do is get a customer,” Oxford said. “Will somebody write you a check for what you’re doing? That’s what we teach.”
You can learn more about the products featured in this story by visiting the following links:
Emily G’s: www.emilygs.com
Hinsdale & Foster Provisions: www.naturalmond.com
Myers said she succeeded because she didn’t have a choice.
Her husband, Matt, lost his financial industry job in 2008, and she had two toddlers at home. What began on an afternoon spent picking strawberries turned into an income for Myers during the worst of the recession. Her family still depends on it, she said.
“I tell people literally, when they buy jam I can pay for my kid to go to soccer,” Myers said. “There’s a direct correlation between my ability to do things for my family and how successfully this company is.”
Her company, Emily G’s, has expanded to include sauces and relishes. Emily G’s products can be found at 180 stores nationwide.
Myers had worked as a sous-chef in Ohio, so making jam wasn’t a challenge. The hard part was missing her kids’ soccer games, working late and learning how to make money off her ideas. In some ways, the job was harder than being a mom, she said.
“If I screw up, my kids will forgive me,” Myers said. “The bank will not.”
Dempsey has brewed beer at home since the 1980s. In 2009, he wanted to step up from bottling small batches at home to putting six-packs on store shelves. His first test batch debuted at the 5 Seasons Brewing Company in Sandy Springs and went over well. Milestones flowed: in April 2010, O’Dempsey’s shipped its Big Red Ale to Savannah Distributing, followed by Inukshuk IPA in September 2010. Today O’Dempsey’s is sold in five states.
“One of the unexpected pleasures is, you go into a bar, you sit down and I order my own beer and I pay for it,” Dempsey said. “I’m buying my beer and paying retail price for it happily. For some reason, I get a kick out of it.”
Both Smith and Dempsey still hold day jobs. Dempsey designs trade shows and Smith runs another small business, CFO Advisory Associates. Smith handles O’Dempsey’s finances and navigates the maze of state alcohol regulations standing between the product and retailers. Every state is different, she said.
“One of the key things is doing enough research to make sure that you choose good distributors, because once you’re tied to a distributor you’re kind of stuck with them for good or bad,” Smith said.
Both O’Dempsey’s and Emily G’s manufacture their products elsewhere. O’Dempsey’s production facility is in South Carolina, and Emily G’s is in south Georgia to keep production costs under control.
Foster operates her commercial kitchen in Chamblee because sharing a kitchen could potentially expose her homemade NaturAlmond almond butter to gluten and peanuts, she said. She produces the brand as a product of her company, Hinsdale & Foster Provisions.
The company officially opened in April 2012. Foster said she left the lucrative and exhausting world of medical sales because she wanted to focus on what was most important.
“I traveled a lot,” Foster said. “I was gone all the time and had two small children. My mother’s sick and life’s too short.”
She said the business exceeded her expectations, with more than 100 retailers carrying NaturAlmond. Her husband helps out while keeping his day job as an attorney.
Her product also has personal significance. She grew up eating it. Her 96-year-old grandfather, who lives in California, taught her the almond butter recipe two years ago.
“I personally love to cook, love to entertain,” Foster said. “I’m passionate about food and healthy lifestyles, and this product fits within everything I believe.”
Peter Rassel, a business consultant at Georgia State University Small Business Development Center, said success varies: 50 percent of the businesses he helped nurture are still open after five years, the survival benchmark for young companies. About 25 percent of the businesses close. The rest struggle, their owners unwilling to concede their life’s work might be their biggest mistake.
“A lot of it is because they’ve invested so much time and energy into it,” Rassel said. “They don’t want to admit that they were wrong.”
Myers knows what Rassel means. At this stage in her company’s life, every decision matters and any mistake could be devastating.
“I always question every decision I make. I am not afraid to hear feedback,” Myers said. “I don’t mind that. I don’t mind being wrong. I would rather have a successful company than to be right.”