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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Entrepreneurs remaining undaunted

By Joyce M. Rosenberg
Associated Press

NEW YORK — Starting a business amid the economic uncertainty of 2001 and 2002 might seem like the worst possible timing. And it might be hard to believe that a fledgling company could make it when so many established firms are hurting.

Edward Anthony Tupper, left, and his son Edward Lawrence Tupper are co-owners of a house-cleaning service in Woonsocket, R.I. They're optimistic business will get better.

Associated Press

The Associated Press talked to five people who started companies in the past year, and found, as might be expected, varying degrees of success.

The right market niche and great customer service have helped some do very well. Others found themselves having to reconfigure their businesses or bide their time until the climate gets better.

Tammy and Rick Mathias opened their quilting store after Rick's employer, Pratt & Whitney, closed its operations in West Palm Beach, Fla.

"We always wanted to start our own business, and so we did it," Tammy Mathias said.

The couple opened Treasure Coast Quilt Studio in Fort Pierce in August 2001, beginning with quilting machines and offering to do quilting for customers. Business was strong from the start, and it didn't take long for customers to ask them to stock fabrics and other supplies and offer classes.

A year into the venture, they moved from their 1,000-square-foot store to one with 3,000 square feet.

Mathias attributed their success to people staying home more, increasing demand for materials for crafts and decorating.

Edward Tupper and his father were both looking for a business to run.

"We knew the economy was shaky in the beginning, but we went ahead," Tupper said. To make their venture easier, they decided to open a franchise — "something with a support system," as Tupper put it.

They signed up with The Maids, which supplies home cleaning services, and began their company in Woonsocket, R.I., on Aug. 1, 2001.

"We started with a bang," Tupper said. Then Sept. 11 came, and "we never recovered. We now have exactly half the customers we wanted."

The problem, Tupper said, is that people who lost their jobs or worried about the economy are cutting their budgets, and household help is easy to cut.

"We're the first to feel the recession and the last to bounce back from it," he said.

Tupper is waiting for the economy to improve. In the meantime, he's holding on to his optimism: "We're confident it will work."

Debra Wyatt, who had worked in the hospitality business for more than 20 years, was looking for a business that would give her time to raise a child. She and partner Joann Tantimonico decided to start Pour People, a service that supplies bartenders to private parties in the Newport, R.I., area.

"We started last fall, advertising in the local paper, and it really took off," Wyatt said. "I was thinking I would do small, intimate parties, and then I started getting calls from caterers, weddings, big things."

Wyatt says the economy has actually helped her firm. While she has many upper-income customers, they're looking to cut costs, and it's cheaper to have parties at home than at a restaurant, country club or catering establishment.

Just as the dot-com crash was starting, Robert Barker and his partner, Don Rhode, decided they wanted to open a moderately upscale restaurant in Austin, Texas — home to companies including Dell Computer, Motorola and Compaq Computer.

Barker said he and Rhode lined up investors, including people connected with high-tech. But as the dot-coms faltered, so did some of their backers. And then came Sept. 11.

"So we changed from Plan A to Plan B," Barker said.

That meant scrapping plans to build a restaurant from scratch. The pair instead found an existing restaurant and remodeled it. They also found vendors who would give them good deals.

Their ideas, and their menu, were good enough that they ended up attracting new investors, and Demi-Epicurious opened on June 17.

Joe DeKama's career has been in marketing and distributing, but he had a hankering to make and sell pasta sauce. And he wanted to get it into supermarkets, where names like Ragu, Buitoni and Newman's Own can dominate the shelves.

DeKama decided that the way to stand out was to bottle an upscale sauce that he called Joey's Pots & Pans. And he went to a medium that many other marketers don't turn to first: radio. He bought commercial time on some of the most popular stations in the New York metropolitan area.

"I knew if I did some guerrilla marketing, I'd be able to cut out a niche in this market and grow it," DeKama said.

With help from friends, a food broker and a distributor, the sauce made its way to New York-area upscale food stores by last June 15. And DeKama said he's now making it to supermarket chains in the Northeast, too.