I just scrolled through my latest blog posts and realized how pathetic of a blogger I have been lately. I haven’t carved out any time for blogging except for a few minutes each week to do a High Five For Friday post (okay, okay I even skipped a week of doing that). I’m making myself take a break from work tonight, and after two hours of Law & Order SVU and quite a bit of Pinterest time, I’m feeling the urge to do something productive and I’m missing blogging. So I’m finally going give you the lowdown on my most recent adventure: starting a small business.
The Cliff Notes Version: My husband and I are opening a Gamers store in Grinnell, Iowa. Gamers sells new and used video games/accessories/systems, small electronics and board games. You can trade in your old games for cash or store credit which I think is so cool. Gamers has 13 corporate-owned stores in Iowa and Nebraska, and we will be their very first franchised location. David’s last day at work was a week ago, so he is now working in Grinnell full-time putting the final touches on the store. David will manage the business day-to-do and he’s pretty excited to work with video games every day. I have barely even played a video game in my life, but now I own close to a thousand of them so I imagine I’ll be learning a bit more about gaming down the road. I’ll still be working full time at the Chamber of Commerce here. Our store is located downtown, directly across the street from our apartment which is insanely convenient. My office is at the other end of the block (also insanely convenient). We’ll be opening the doors for business in just another week or so!
The Full Story:
David and I have been married for about a year and a half already, and he has always commuted an hour to Des Moines and then an hour back. The commute was wearing on us, and the corporate job in general was just not the right fit for David so we’ve been patiently waiting for the right opportunity to both live and work here in this awesome small town. It was just about a year ago that we decided maybe it was time to create our own opportunity. We have both talked about maybe owning a business someday, and I think all my work with small businesses over the past three years also rubbed off on me. We thought there was a demand for video games in Grinnell, and eventually that idea grew and now we’re about a week away from turning on the open sign and seeing how much demand there really is in this small town.
We met with a Gamers rep on a warm Sunday afternoon, Father’s Day in fact, last June. He was on his way back home to Omaha from a trip and took the time to stop by Grinnell and tell us more about Gamers and what a franchise might look like. I could feel the energy in the room immediately. David and Ryan’s personalities meshed really well and they just hit it off right away. We liked what Ryan shared about the company, and we walked home with a really good gut feeling about the whole thing.
We immediately dove into market research and our business plan, and we decided it was an idea worth pursuing. We went back and forth about whether or not we wanted to be a Gamers franchise. Maybe we could we do the same thing on our own? Was it worth the extra cost? How much control would we have over our business? Did we really want to be the first franchise? Did we really believe we could make video games work in this town? After a lot of research and soul searching, we felt that Gamers was the way to go. Gamers currently exists in 13 larger cities, but none in a town our size. But our financial projections showed that it would work here. And we’re obviously hoping that we’re right about that. Yikes, that’s scary to think about.
So, this has been a huge leap of faith. After that meeting in June, we spent nearly every night for several weeks on our business plan. My boss was super helpful in formulating our plan and helping us figure out next steps. We pitched our plan to four banks in town. One wasn’t interested, another rejected us, the third only seemed interested in having us fill out more paperwork, and the fourth jumped on board to work with us. Lincoln Savings Bank has been fantastic. Since we’re young and have no collateral to offer, we were a prime candidate for an Small Business Administration loan. So we started that process, which we learned takes
forever many months. Basically, we first had to get our bank’s approval and then they helped us prove that our project was worth the government partially guaranteeing, which negates some of the risk the bank would otherwise face in lending to us.
It took us from September to April to get the franchise contracts all finalized (since we’re the first franchise, the paperwork wasn’t even written yet), find a landlord that wanted us, and get the SBA to approve everything and process our paperwork. Oh, did I mention that there was a government shutdown in the middle of all of this? The SBA process was on hold during the shut-down, and when they were back up and running they had a huge backlog and unfortunately we were at the bottom of the list. So that didn’t help matters any.
But it is suddenly feeling so very real. I glanced through our business plan earlier today, and I can hardly believe that our business actually exists just across the street from me. It was an idea on paper for so long, that it’s still surreal to me.
We are just crazy excited to be seeing all our work actually turn into something. Our original business plan projected us opening by December 1, 2013, and I’ll be honest that my inpatient self has never been completely sure this would ever turn into something real. We have put a ton of time into it. We’re working with some great people at Gamers and they are being super helpful to us. It’s been really exciting to learn how their processes work during our training with them over the past couple weeks. This is definitely not a cookie-cutter franchise model, which is a huge part of what sold us to go that route. We negotiated every piece of our franchise contract and even wrote our own sections to fit our ideas. We’re putting our own spin on just about every aspect, including carrying board games which their other stores don’t deal in at all.
One thing we have definitely learned over the past year is teamwork. It’s taken a lot of late nights, a lot of excitement and also a lot of doubt and frustration. One thing that we have observed and talked about over and over again is how this journey would have been nearly impossible if David was on his own. His working a corporate job an hour away from here meant I did a lot of the legwork. And it was exhausting, but I know he wished he could have helped more. Thanks to my flexible job–and the fact that it’s my employer’s mission to help businesses grow here–I was able to sneak away when necessary for a quick meeting with a lawyer or to sign some more forms at the bank. And I had time to take a long lunch to call all the 800 numbers and turn in the paperwork to all the places that are only open 9 to 5. Without that flexibility, I don’t know how we could have done this. One of us would have had to quit our job four months ago just to get everything done. I do wish starting a business could be easier for other young entrepreneurs out there that want to do something on their own. Our journey was not easy, fast, or cheap but it was probably worth it. If it had been easy, we wouldn’t appreciate this opportunity nearly as much.
We are extremely excited to be part of the business community, and about committing to making Grinnell our long-term home. I am having a lot of fun putting the finishing touches on everything and am anxious to turn on that open sign in another week or so. I am also really excited to work down the street from my husband and for him to finally experience this charming small town day in and day out. Small towns are a foreign idea to him, and I don’t think he understands just how amazing they are quite yet. I think we’re both feeling a wave of emotions as our roller coaster ride nears the top of the biggest climb–now we’re feeling the butterflies and excitement as we wait to see what’s on the other side.
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