Small-business owners, what are you doing to stand out from the crowd? Each week, we focus on an entrepreneur who has lessons to share that we think will resonate with other small-business owners.
Jerome Eberharter, founder of gourmet coffee maker White Cloud Coffee, answers our questions:
What are you doing to stand out from the crowd?
Like most coffee makers, White Cloud Coffee roasts its own beans and sells them to coffee shops, grocery stores, boutiques and directly to customers, but we’re also experimenting with distribution and refining the list of whom we allow to sell our products. In particular, we discovered that when schools and other organizations host fundraisers, the fundraising organization receives just a fraction of the sale’s proceeds because most fundraiser products suppliers mandate their sellers’ prices. To curb this phenomenon and cultivate legions of White Cloud salespeople across the U.S., in 2007 we launched LifeFoods, a fundraising program that allows organizations to sell White Cloud products at prices they set themselves, allowing them to take home much more of their revenue.
What’s the best part about running your own business?
Giving people the freedom to work out their own schedules. We’re not a cubicle nation. Not only am I able to help some of my employees work during the hours they desire and in the location they choose, but also I allow myself the same flexibility. While I may have to work 12 hours a day, I get to pick which 12 hours.
What’s the biggest challenge of running your own business?
Finding employees who can handle working for a small business. Although many high-quality workers are suddenly on the market and willing to work for less, I’ve noticed that moving from a large firm to a small one is a difficult transition. At a small company like White Cloud Coffee, you don’t have the big budgets or support systems like those of larger companies.
Name: Jerome Eberharter
Business: White Cloud Coffee
Industry: Food Service
Location: Boise, Idaho
Year founded: 1987
Number of employees: 21
Web address: WhiteCloudCoffee.com
What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome?
Getting customers to pay up. About 25% to 30% of our customers are paying anywhere from 10 to 20 days late. The longer a customer takes to pay, the more creative I have to be to pay for everything, including payroll, electricity and coffee beans. To help meet these obligations, we’re using factoring, in which we sell our receivables for 2% to 3% of the invoice amount.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Thinking I can do everything myself. After a couple of key managers left about two years ago, I made the mistake of not filling their positions. However, things quickly began falling through the cracks. We weren’t taking care of current customers like we used to, and we lost prospective customers. While I couldn’t afford to hire anyone, I knew I needed help. To compensate for receiving a smaller paycheck, I offered new employees a 2% to 10% equity stake in the business.
What’s the best business advice you can offer?
Be relentless. Especially in today’s economy, you have to keep saying to yourself: Never give up.
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