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Aura's Story & The Small Business Struggle

By Jennifer Bartlett octubre 25, 2019

My name is Jennifer. I live in a small town in Indiana. Everyone has hopes and dreams. Some people like their jobs, but most of us are just trying to get by. 

Every once in a while there will be an up-and-coming new business. Maybe it’s a restaurant. Maybe it’s a mom-and-pop store. Maybe it’s someone who has a hobby and is trying to make a couple bucks on the side. I’ve seen some extremely talented people be able to do amazing things and create awesome masterpieces! Unique too! In any other place or in a big city these people could make a career out of their “hobbies” and do just fine. Why is it so hard to run a business these days? Why do we promote shopping local and the importance of shopping with small businesses, but they more often than not seem to fail? In my situation for example… It all started with a dream. My mother and stepfather had a dream of having a small little restaurant and an antique shop. They weren't asking to be the next Cracker Barrel. They weren’t asking to be the next Pottery Barn. It was going to be a simple antique shop, a couple vendors, and a little mom-and-pop restaurant with some soup, sandwiches, and delicious desserts. What made this dream unique is that all this was going to be under the roof of a 120-year-old historic barn. For months and months and even years, this barn was strenuously renovated and given a whole new life! They often times referred to it as a “Grandfather.” I can’t say that those are the fondest memories I have there, seeing as the Midwest southern Indiana humidity makes me quite the a*hole. Yes, I too, definitely put in my hours before you may have seen me running up and down the stairs, waiting on you at your table, or behind the desk dressed in my finest. And yes, that was probably me carrying your 50 pound bookshelf down the steps of the barn in my cowboy boot heels! I’m actually quite the multitasker! I’m getting a little off subject here. So back to my story… We did exceptionally well on Grand Opening weekend! I also, along with working at the barn, opened up my own clothing boutique upstairs amongst other vendors. I had not a clue what I was getting into at first, but after attending a meeting with my mother with the counties Chamber of Commerce, I was inspired by a suggestion I received from the Executive Director. If she’s reading this, she knows exactly who she is, and I am ever so thankful and owe a lot to her! I was in an unfavorable place in my life. I was going through some extremely difficult and painful situations in my personal life at that time and little did she know, her suggestion called me right out of it right in time! I’m getting sidetracked again, I do that often, sorry! Anyway, I fell absolutely right into my niche! I know that with my shop alone I made back 25% of my initial investment back just in that weekend! Yes, when I said exceptionally well, that was even an understatement! Everyone was so excited to hear about this barn and come see what all the fuss about. There may have been further travelers, but from what I know we had people come from even an hour or two away to see what all the fuss was about! We received nothing but positive feedback! The vendors had beautiful, amazing, unique, affordable, one-of-a-kind items. Some vendors re-sold items, but nice, quality, items! Some vendors spent countless hours in their garage restoring items. Some vendors spent countless hours building their items or hand making their items! We didn’t have much of a menu yet, but the secret family recipes were a hit! The pies were delicious, the brownies, cookies, the banana bread… Don’t get me started on when we started making barn blasts! I had perfected the Oreo flavored one in particular! I’m sure a few of you reading this had taken my suggestion at one point or another! What I’m getting at, is everyone loved this place. The food was good, the menu got added onto, the items were unique and ever-changing. Everyone seriously loved this place. No questions asked. One time, I repeat, one time. I got one negative comment that someone did not like the coleslaw at one of our infamous Friday Night Fish Fries. In our defense, that coleslaw came from a food truck and was not cooked by our talented cooks! After it was all said and done though, me and my wonderful “people skills” (I’m not always an a*hole, just most of the time I guess... haha!) were kicked into gear. Needless to say, the whole table walked out happy, in a good mood, smiles on their faces, laughing, and maybe a free ice cream cone in their hands! Those customers that you would normally not expect to see return, actually came back many times! The barn was an inviting atmosphere! The waitresses were not rude, the food was good, the service was exceptional! Not only did the vendors go through a very selective process to make sure we had the perfect fit, but so did the employees! Did I mention human resources was another hat I wore? Told you I was good at multitasking ;)! 

I loved my job and I loved the barn. 

Moving along in my ramble, let’s talk about my business upstairs. It was small. It was a 10 x 15 or 10 x 20, heck I. don’t know for sure. It might’ve even been two 10 x 10’s together. The point is, it was small, but it was mine. After leaving that meeting that I mentioned earlier, I started doing my research. I researched clothing for hours. Clothing brands for hours. Clothing designers for hours. Clothing wholesalers for hours. I researched fabric, fit, durability, different styles for different body types. I knew that I wanted to do this, and I wanted to do it right. Now, let’s get a little more personal. Anyone that knows me, and this is so uncomfortable to talk about publicly. I’m really going out on a limb here. Here goes. Anyone who knows me knows that my weight has fluctuated so much it’s ridiculous. I am a mother of four. I have been up, down, sideways, fat, skinny, down to perfect in my eyes & confident, all the way to not wanting to attend events feeling so insecure. Every single thing about my life and every little move I make is reflected in my size. Whether it’s children, divorce, success, stress, happiness, genes, and things I can’t control, like not having a thyroid or my love for ethnic food. Hey, the struggle is real!

I wanted to not only be successful, obviously. I wanted my children to be proud of me, I wanted to make a little money on the side, obviously, let’s not lie, that’s the reason we are all doing this wonderful thing called work! I wanted to be a valuable asset to the barn, and I really wanted to make my parents proud of me. Most importantly, I wanted to make myself proud of me. 

I wanted to be happy. 

I think everybody that starts their own business or does anything for a little money on the side, wants to be successful! My situation, yes, I mentioned I’ve been divorced. Well as you know, if anybody has any type of life changes or negative events or anything, for that matter, you’re going to be judged. Women are judged if they don’t work and they are stay at home moms. They are classified as “cliché”, and “lazy”, and a “fat a**” or whatever these negative, unhappy, people want to comment about them. Everyone is judged for everything. I can’t obviously give a man’s viewpoint of how it is, but I know I’m not fake, and I’ll be the first to admit when something is tough, or hurts me or is a challenge! I don’t sugarcoat anything. I'm telling you right now that it is hard being a woman. It’s hard being a mother, it’s hard trying to make something of yourself, especially in a small town! Whoever wants to say their lives are all unicorns and rainbows, that’s great! I’m just telling my story. If you’re still reading it, awesome! 

Like I was saying, I’ve been every size. I wanted to make every woman feel good about herself. I wanted clothes that fit and were flattering. I also wanted us to be caught up with the rest of the nation. I feel like in the Midwest styles tend to get to us last. They start in Los Angeles or New York City then they slowly migrate inward towards us here in the Midwest. I wanted to carry soft, comfortable, unique, beautiful, affordable, clothing. I wanted to be consistent. That was very important to me. There is one particular clothing store, I will not throw anybody under the bus. Let’s just say you walk in there, try on jeans. They will fit you absolutely perfect! You will be ready to take on the world, go on that date, make your ex-boyfriend jealous, get stuff done, just whatever, in these jeans! You’re so excited, and can’t wait to put them back on! Well, after you had your glory and felt on top of the world for about, oh... let’s just say, 15 minutes… You don’t know what the heck happened but all of a sudden you’re looking like "Saggy Sally" and the sh*t does not fit! They get huge all of a sudden, and you know that that new keto diet wasn’t working that darn well! I hate that! What makes it even worse with this particular brand, is as soon as you wash and dry them they’re so darn tight that you’re regretting that extra serving of mashed potatoes you had last night! Some of you may be laughing, but I’m for real! I mean DANG Slim Fast, I thought we were cool!?! All joking aside, I didn’t want that! I wanted women to walk in, find the perfect outfit, feel good about herself, feel confident, feel beautiful, and most importantly, feel HAPPY! 

Everybody has flaws. 

Everybody has insecurities.

I wasn’t going to take any of those away with a $28 shirt, but I was going to help you accept them, forget about them, and FINE, maybe disguise them a little. I’d make you be able to focus on what you were doing, where you were going, who you were with, and what the important part of the day was! Not fidgeting with your darn outfit and clothes and feeling insecure all day! I bet so many of you are thinking, “How does she know!?!” Well, I’ll tell you. Like I said, I have been every size and when I say “every size” I mean Every. Freaking. Size. 

I became very good at styling people. I had an “eye” for putting outfits together. Someone could walk in and I would look at them and just know exactly what would look the best on them! I knew which style or color would compliment their haircut or their curves or their overall look! It was always funny to me because I would pick out a certain shirt for them to try on. (In my POP-UP fitting room!) The responses and reactions were always the same! “No way!“ “That is not my type! That is not my style! I hate that color! Are you kidding me? “It never failed, that would be the outfit or shirt or scarf or whatever, they ended up walking out with! I swear it is a gift!

I didn’t make a fortune, but I did well. I had my regulars. I’m sure most of you that are reading this that are local to the area have tried one of my bath bombs. I’m sure I’ve sent you out the door looking great, feeling great, and a smile on your face! Sure, maybe Walmart can give you a better clearance price. Maybe Kohl’s has a better coupon code. I wasn’t trying to be the next Macy’s.

I loved what I did, and I was happy!

I was happy working at the barn. Like I previously mentioned, I wore a lot of hats. I was Vice President. With that being said, I was a cashier, a waitress, a cook, a janitor, I was IT, marketing, human resources, logistics, payroll. You name it! Guess what else I was.....!

HAPPY!

The next part of my story is not my part to tell, so I will not go into details, only refer to things that are public information. Due to some unexpected, unfortunate, family matters, things got a bit shaken up. Some people were still a part of it, some people weren’t. It wasn’t any big secret, we were warm and inviting at the barn. What comes along with being warm and inviting? Keeping it real. Well, let’s keep it real. The owners went their separate ways. That’s just all there is to it, and like I said, public record. We tried very hard to remain consistent, keep up the happy, positive, inviting vibes to our customers. I’m sure all of that going on certainly didn’t help the business, but also things were slowing down. They had started to before all of the mess. When we opened around that time last year business was BOOMING! Maybe because it was new, maybe because it was Fall, getting colder, people wanted things to do. Maybe everyone started getting in the shopping mood or just wanted somewhere different to eat. This year was very different! Everyone was in a funk for sure, but like I said, tried to stay positive. 

Fast forward a little bit, numbers going down each day... Less and less shoppers when it should be a time when retail shopping picks up before Christmas! Less and less food sales. Now this may be attributed to me running around 100mph, flying into work sideways, loading both arms with Walmart bags because “2 trips are for the weak!”, throwing my hair back, pulling my jeans up, wiggling my toes around inside my cowboy boot heels and throwing together some Meatball and Cheese Ravioli with Cheesy Garlic Toast 2 min before we opened. Forgetting half the lights upstairs, running from kitchen to office to answer the phone, KNOWING the news office was going to call that morning, as they did twice weekly, to ask about newspaper sales. Why didn’t I remember to bring the phone in the kitchen? I’m a one man circus show, I should have it down pat by now....? Right? And yes, there’s probably spaghetti sauce on my shirt. But I had to wear them to show what’s for sale right upstairs! These shirts! No, not this one, lol. 

It takes a village to raise a child. 

Well it takes a village to run a business. 

Unfortunately, this village was in time out. And missing people. And had issues. I’m not talking crap, I’m right front and center of said village. LOL

It might’ve been a madhouse, but at the end of the day, we were open on time, had good food, to eat, had awesome stuff to buy, and closed on time. What it also did, not long after that, was close....

It was very unfortunate. And to be completely honest with you, it was devastating. When I say devastating, I don’t mean “oh boo-hoo, you lost your job, it happens every day. Some people work 30 years at a place and lose their job, boo-hoo.” I know that me personally, has taken eight months off, been depressed, hopeless, lost, it’s crazy! That was not only my main job, but my second income upstairs as well. 

Why do small businesses fail?

If the barn was such a hit? Why did sales slow down? Food sales slow down? Visitors in general slow down? Constant good compliments on everything about the place. Christmas was coming up, why weren’t people shopping there (at basically a one stop shop for any and everything!) Why weren’t people eating there? Same price as fast food and much healthier being “home cooked.” I could ask 100 questions. But this isn’t just about “the barn.” If a place is so great, and if people are so mad or sad when it closes, why didn’t it get the business it needed to survive?

This is something I’m sure relating business owners, unfortunately, have to ask themselves all the time. If we were this, or had that, or this this that that, why did we just close our doors?

In our community I feel we have a very active Chamber of Commerce. They go above and beyond to help out businesses, local happenings, etc! They make sure events are promoted via social media, the newspaper, you name it! They were great with us at our Grand Opening as well! So frequently you will probably even spot T-shirt’s saying “Pick Perry” along with a hashtag even, to further the awareness of all of the local small business. 

Now here’s where I could ruffle some feathers. It isn’t my intentions, I’m just writing this with a genuine curiosity of WHY some small businesses fail. We can’t just all have “crappy luck” or “be bad at business.” We most certainly all do not “have enough drive.” The lengths people will go to and the determination they have to be successful is a whole other “story” or “post.” 

(Stay tuned for where I’m at with Aura these days!)

So, I see “Pick Perry” being pushed. But, do ALL of us ACTUALLY Pick Perry? 

My Dad owns and operates a Multi-Million Dollar Domestic and Exotic Hardwood Flooring company. He doesn’t advertise locally. Ever. I take that back, if one of my kids hits up “Ol’ Papaw B” with a fundraiser form, he usually gives in. I believe he may sponsor a Little League team too. Other than word of mouth, if you didn’t see his business on a banner at the baseball field, or on a page of your local Volleyball program, you’ve probably never heard of it. Nearly 20 years in business in our small town, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Where’s that? What’s it called again? Hmm. Never heard of it..” 

I bet you know where Menards is! Home Depot? Lowe’s? I bet you’ll drive 45 min- an hour to get there. I bet you’ll walk past a couple options, maybe a couple aisles even. Guys, I bet you’ll stand behind your wives, checking your phone, or repeatedly asking when you’re going to go eat while she stands there making decisions. Not caring about durability, material, maybe not even price. I’ll bet she saw “this color on Pinterest and it looked SO cute!” And boom! A shout to a friendly worker to get it loaded up for you, a swipe of the ol’ card, and I hate to break it to you, probably a trip to Hobby Lobby is how that’s going to go. And yep, probably BEFORE you get to go eat. See, told you I’ve been married before, I know how Saturdays go. 

Yet again, not talking crap about anyone, been there done that! What I’m getting at, is he doesn’t advertise locally. And again, did you read that correctly? “Multi. Million. Dollar.. Million!” You won’t catch him wearing a Pick Perry shirt. Nothing against a Chamber of Commerce, it’s just my dad, he doesn’t change his wardrobe. It’s either his business shirt or a “Grandpa” shirt! Haha! 

Now, not only would you have got good, no, excellent, quality REAL, GENUINE, hardwood flooring, you would’ve got it at a great price. He does so much business nationally and internationally, and such large orders, as a courtesy, he does business locally for HIS COST! Just so people around here can have and enjoy beautiful flooring in their homes! Or whatever you need! I know I’ve went down and rummaged through the scrap pile and made some nifty little crafts and signs that turned out beautiful! Much better than some clearance pine board from Menards! 

Now I know personally as my Google Ads budget is quickly running out, I’d love to know his secrets on advertising globally because he’s obviously doing just fine! I do have to take a moment to brag that he has supplied flooring for places you’d never think of! Trump Tower, Jay Z and Beyoncé’s home, TV sets, mansions, it’s insane! I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see pictures for proof! 

So let’s go back to the married couple at Menards... Why didn’t they shop local? For such a big ticket purchase like flooring? That sure would’ve bought a lot of baseball helmets, cleats, dance classes, or a couple months mortgage. Why pay for some CEO’s jet fuel? Not to mention, unless you’re wanting a certain type, it isn’t even real hardwood floors..?  

Do you pick local where you live? EVERY time? For EVERY thing? I’m betting you don’t. Here’s why. If there’s a post on Facebook shared about Walmart having such and such on sale for *extremely crazy, you don’t even need it, but the price is so good you’re knocking kids out with shopping carts to get it*, BET, with me living right on the main road, by the time I get there (not even a couple mins), it’s sold out... How’s that work? Somebody’s somebody’s neighbor’s grandpa’s little shop sells the same thing. Why didn’t you go there? I can take the bullet here with “Why did you set your alarm, open your phone/laptop, scream for everyone to get out of the room so you could “focus”, debit card(s) in hand, waiting for those Black Friday ads to go live online? Yeah, that wasn’t me, never been me. *whistle* 

Why did I have to park in the GRASS by Dollar Tree just to go to Walmart to get cheap toys the kids don’t need and cheap pjs the kids won’t wear? Looks to me like there’s a whole parking lot, or five, FULL of us folks that aren’t “Picking Perry!” And that’s you too Miss “These bath bombs were so cheap!” Mmhmm, well I sell bath bombs too, trader! And they weren’t made in Indonesia, won’t give you some random rash, leave you smelling like your moms 1960 “rose garden”- more like trash compost with a hint of lemon- perfume and are half the price of Bath and Body Works and other big places like that. I’ve heard nothing but GREAT things about my bath bombs! They’re made right in Indiana too. 

Why don’t we choose local? 

There’s a T-shirt shop, or 2, actually 3 even I believe. We know the owners. They’re active in the community. They’re good people. Just trying to put their kids in school and sports. It’s softball season and your purchase will probably pay for their new helmet this season, or cleats! One weekend my purchases went towards basketball shoes and being able to go to my daughters softball tourney. So why don’t we support them? Why are we searching for coupon codes for Vistaprint? Why are we getting a milkshake that’s loaded with who knows what from a fast food chain when we could get the real thing from a cute, nostalgic, spot right on Main? Are we all “broke”? We just want everything cheap? I guarantee you a small business owner will appreciate that you thought to come to them instead, and want to make that sell, they’d be more willing to negotiate with you than a big box store. 

Tell me how that goes. Go in to Best Buy, have a chat with the manager. Sit them down, ask how little Susie’s grades are.. Ask if Jack made the basketball team. Then tell him that “All you have is 85% of the asking price” of “that there shiny new tv” and would that be alright? You’ll get something alright and it won’t be a new tv. I’d imagine you’ll get handcuffs, a couple charges... maybe stalking and shoplifting. Along with your name on “that” neighborhood website. I mean just sayin’! All joking aside, I know I go above and beyond to work with people on prices, payment, throwing in some goodies, just because. “Oh no, that outfit is not complete without.......” Often times I wouldn’t even care about the price, it was my job to send each customer out the door looking and feeling their best! I wanted them happy and confident. So I’d throw in extras. Just to make sure they were happy and to show my appreciation. I don’t have all of the overhead of a lease, employees, etc. Prices weren’t what was keeping my customers away. 

So I really want to know, why do small businesses fail? We all like the idea of shopping local, supporting one another, but do we just “forget”? Possibly. Do we like “convenience”? Not hardly, because I now run my boutique online AND you can even shop by appointment! That means you don’t have to rush around to make it somewhere by the time it closes. You get to shop all by yourself if you want! So you won’t rush somewhere, have some snooty looking teenager texting and rolling her eyes hoping you hurry up and leave so they can be off and make it to wherever... You can browse every single thing I carry on the website. You can make an appointment for you, your friends, your mom, whoever! To come shop on YOUR time. I work with you and offer personal styling if you just want something different, or want to change up your wardrobe, or maybe you’re just not good at putting outfits together? I’ve helped someone dress for a wedding the day they had to be there because they searched two days prior in all of Evansville and Louisville and just couldn’t find a dress. Left happily with not one, but TWO from my shop! They didn’t even know I carried “going out” dresses! Well heck yeah I do! I throw in extras, and I go “Extra!” One of my best memories is a customer telling me she NEEDED red pantyhose for a Christmas costume. Well, that’s simple enough, right? It was around Christmas. They should be everywhere? Jokes on me. Nowhere. Not the kids section, not in all of Tell City. Not in Owensboro! Needed the next day, so no go on the Amazon Prime. She got her red pantyhose though. Not one, but two pair! Wanna hear my secret.....

Koolaid. And Pinterest. 

You think the CEO of Macy’s is going to be standing over their stove at 10pm boiling water and packets of koolaid “cooking” you up some red pantyhose? Well?

Heck no. 

But guess what! I sure did! I warned her I’d never done that and I couldn’t guarantee her legs wouldn’t be red for a couple days, but she had them! And loved them! And rocked them!

So, why wouldn’t everyone want that kind of customer service? Or someone that can understand you just really don’t like the way your arms look when.... or after you had your third child you are really uncomfortable with.... or your man really pissed you off and you need this type of pants to accentuate that thing that is gonna bring him to his knees??!  Hehe. Whatever the case may be, I get it! And I’m here to help! Day, night, online, in “shop”, it doesn’t matter, as long as you get what you need and are happy! Like I said I’ll elaborate an update for Aura. 

But I will say... people. Shop local. Support local. Stand behind people, that even though might not be driving a Bentley, or flying to their vacation home this weekend, or sitting on 6 figures, we’re trying. We’re putting our kids in this school in hopes they’ll grow up to be smart. Hang with the right crowd. We’re putting them in that sport. To teach them teamwork, dedication, responsibility, obligations. It’s expensive. It’s all expensive. Maybe we’re just trying to keep a roof over our heads. Maybe we’re struggling but have children watching our every move and we lead by example. Meaning we can’t give up. We can’t teach them that if something doesn’t work out just forget all about it and do something else. We’re teaching them consistency. We’re trying. 

I want to end this with some unforgettable advice I got on the very first Grand Opening weekend. Now mind you this was the Grand Opening for BOTH of my jobs. I went from busting my butt at my Dad’s hardwood/ flooring company until I was too pregnant with my 4th child to continue, to taking a couple years being a stay at home mom. This was all new to me. Both jobs. In every way. But anyway, I got some advice. I will never forget it. Who remembers upstairs at the barn by my shop, the sweet little old man, Leroy and his smokin hot wife? *Love ya Jane!* They sold Amish jams and jellies and he always always had a joke or story to tell? I love and miss them dearly! What he also always had, was advice. 

He told me “Always be persistently consistent, and consistently persistent.” If that isn’t the most true and wise thing I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is! So with that in mind, I haven’t given up. I haven’t stopped trying. I haven’t stopped going “extra” to make every single customer happy and feel good about themselves. 

Maybe you can relate to this post. Maybe you realized some things you hadn’t before. Maybe now you have a little compassion for small business owners and why it’s a little more tough. Especially as big companies get bigger and our pockets get smaller. Maybe, hopefully, you’ll remember. Remember this. Remember someone you know who owns a business. 

Remember to shop local. 

Every business owner has a story. This is just mine. 

*Jen 

www.auraboutiquetc.com

www.facebook.com/auratellcity 

***This was written August 2019. There has since been changes and developments with Aura Boutique. I wish they would’ve happened many months ago, but I had to just go with what felt right & put my faith in God for guidance. I also owe a couple of people an extreme gratitude for their love and support through all of this.***

—- Socks and Hand Towels Buy 2 Get 1 Free with code FREEBIE


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