By Debbie Pruneri McKeown
This story originally appeared on TheBlaze.com
This column is part of our ongoing series of op-eds this election season from small business owners working with The Marketplace by TheBlaze. We often hear politicians talk about what small business owners want, and if elected, what public officials could do to help these entrepreneurs. But we haven’t heard enough from small business owners themselves. This series will feature small business owners discussing their business, ‘how they built that,’ and what it has been like trying to sustain and grow their business over the last 4 years.
I retired in 2006 from a 30-year career with GTE/Verizon. In January 2009, I began researching and laying the ground work to begin my new business. I originally wanted to produce “homemade” sausage and pasta sauce, inspired by my father, renowned for his sausage varieties. I quickly realized meat product, refrigeration & health regulations in California were going to be a huge hurdle. I settled for packaging a selection of my father’s original “seasoning blends”, along with a selection of Balsamic Vinegars & Olive Oils.
In April 2009, Migliore Gourmet Distributors became an LLC, with the help of Legal Zoom.
That was the easy part. I then needed money. Initially, I used money from my savings, but soon realized I would need a business LOC or loan. I went to my local banker of 20+ years, but was turned down for lack of years in business, needed to show profit and they would not consider my personal “retirement/401K” portfolio as collateral. I could not use my house either, because my business would be out of my home, not a business building. I called my contact at my local Chamber of Commerce to find a chamber member in banking, only to be told the same thing. I could not find any assistance for “small business (SBA), or woman owned/minority business. Eventually, I did receive a business LOC from the Bank of North Dakota located in Scottsdale, Arizona, which happened because of family friendship with the VP of the Bank. However, two years later, BNC was taken over by another small bank, that converted my LOC to a 4 year TERM Loan! Therefore, my business LOC comes from my personal credit cards and balance transfers when necessary.
To introduce my products, I began seeking trade shows, i.e., Home Shows, Fairs,Festivals, Food Shows, Home Parties – I would try just about any venue to see what clicked! I quickly learned that I would need Health Permits, Food Safety Certificates & more, if I wanted to provide any samples of my food products. Every county and every city has a variation of rules and requirements, not to mention additional fees. In some cities, I am required to purchase a business permit, even if it is for one day. I have a business permit that was issued in my county and they require us to add our “temp” shows to our permit, which allows them to apply any sales tax made at the event, to the appropriate city/county. Some cities also require us to have a fire extinguisher in our tent/space and will conduct a fire inspection prior to the event.
In September 2009 I rented space at the Los Angeles County Fair. This would be my first and last experience with fairs. I hired (6) of my friends as “casual/contractor” show assistants. I had consulted with my CPA and understood I could have casual workers during the year, as long as they did not exceed $600.00. The State of California requires Worker’s Compensation, regardless of number of hours or wage, as long as you (the business owner) provide a time that the “helper” is to be in your booth. That cost me an additional $703.00 in Worker’s Compensation Insurance for 30 days!
In January 2010, I received my first Corporate Tax Bill for $880.00, which is an annual fee. Fortunately, I sell “prepackaged” food items, which are exempt from Sales and Use Tax. However, I have some “gifting” options, crafted bags, dipping saucers, baskets, which are taxable. After diving into the “rules”, I did find certain items can be tax exempt, if included in your food “gift” basket. However, 2011 the Board of Equalization changed their electronic filing tool, which included a long form “district tax.” After spending eight hours on line, reading and populating the tool, I asked my friend and former CPA if she could figure it out. She spent another 3 hours – failed too. I called the Board and did receive a person that was able to help me out. At the end of the day, I owed California Board of Equalization $6.40 Sales and Use Tax for 2011.
Moving past government cost and challenge, I needed to learn all aspects of my business, as the only “full-time” employee. Quickbooks is far smarter than the original debit and credit columns I was trained on in college accounting! Vendors, Co-Packers, Inventory and shipping have improved with pure customer experiences and volume demand.
Finding a reputable website host with good security was very important. This is another very time consuming part of my business. Maintaining, updating and reviewing the content of my site, is MY responsibility. Newsletters and social media are crucial to my business, so I have taken webinars and classes to stay updated.
I joined the NASFT (National Association Specialty Food Trade) in 2009, which provides great resources for small business. I have taken advantage of their membership discounts for shipping programs. They have on-line publications that have provided “free” feature space. At the NASFT summer and winter shows, we have an opportunity to set up meetings, Business to Business, with large companies that would not typically be easy to contact. For my annual $300.00 membership fee, NASFT has been a tremendous resource and one of the best “springboards” for my gourmet food items.
Entering 2012, I have formed (3) partnerships with other websites. Two of the websites specialize in “gift shopping” and have “free” membership requirements. Markdown is the third and most exciting website, providing fantastic exposure and opportunity. More importantly, it gives me of a great deal of personal satisfaction and pride to be a part of this organization.
Just as many other small business owners, I was offended by President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remarks in Virginia this past July, dismissing any credit of success being given to business owners.
He also stated “The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet”, which is also incorrect. In 1962, the (ARPA) Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Department of Defense did not wake up one morning and decide to build a network for companies to “make money.” It was another decade before email even became available to a select few large companies, mostly “defense contractor” related. Not until the late 80’s, did the NSF (National Science Foundation) realize the significance of the internet and commercial interest. Obama must have borrowed Al Gore’s playbook on the Internet!