story by Jamie Smith
The Northwest Arkansas region is known for being a hotbed of entrepreneurialism and start-up businesses, but also where some of the world’s most prominent retailers and suppliers have a well-established presence.
These two worlds are meshing on an increasing basis as members of the supplier community are finding ways to spread their entrepreneurial wings and create new businesses. In some cases, these businesses are an accompaniment to the supplier position, other times working in the supplier community gives individuals the stability they need while growing a business they intend to eventually operate full time.
“I think in Northwest Arkansas, due to the variety of cultures and businesses in the area, we are much more aware of opportunities,” said Linda Richards of Linda Richards Photography who also works full-time for a supplier as a category management analyst.
“Women are focused on empowerment and for each stage in their life that may mean something very different. Just like across the nation, more women are empowered to make their own career, and why not try your hand at entrepreneurship,” she continued. “I don't want to speak for others but I do think there is an awakening of self where people want to push themselves, feel valued, accomplished, and that their time on Earth was worthwhile.”
Beverly Snyder of Bentonville has worked at Sam’s Club corporate offices and in the supplier community. She now works for a jewelry supplier but she also owns and operates Bev’s Bargain Barn in Springdale and a non-profit organization based in Bentonville named Club Net Junior Olympic Volleyball Club.
“The increase in people starting their own business is because they see an opportunity to take the knowledge they have gained and start something of their own and hopefully help their community.
There is always something to be learned from any endeavor,’ she said.
There are many circumstances that lead people to start their own business.
“For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of starting my own business. I knew someday I would find the right opportunity and financial freedom to do so,” Richards said. “In 2010, I unexpectedly became a statistic of the economic downturn when I was laid off from an employer. It was during this time that I felt I had to seize the opportunity to try something new or at the very least have a Plan B. Linda Richards Photography was set in motion.”
For Becky Paulk, working for a supplier was a way to find steady income while growing her business, Simply Professional Services, which offers bookkeeping and consulting for small businesses. She now operates her business full-time.
“As I networked, I recognized the existence of this small business community,” she said. “I presented my idea of bookkeeping and consulting to these audiences and a few latched on giving me my first clients. Eventually, it proved successful and I am able to save all of my clients time and money by taking away the burden of financial record keeping, allowing them to get back to driving sales and improving profits.”
Balancing a full-time career with the demands of a new business requires efficiency and organization, Richards said.
“It is important that I stay focused on what is in front of me to be successful. When I'm at my office job, I'm fully engaged,” she said. “When I am at a photo shoot, I'm focused on my business and clients. When I'm home cooking dinner and having family time, I'm fully present.”
Outsourcing some of the business management roles has also been important for success, she said. She hires other small businesses to help with web design, accounting and business development. She also receives a lot of support from family and technology to make it work.
“I think this is true for any entrepreneur but for me it is especially true, I could not juggle the two if it weren't for the support from my husband and kids,” Richards said. “For my home, Siri is my best friend for reminders, auto bill pay is a life saver, my boys have had to pick up more chores and I have a house cleaner come in every other week to help keep our home in order.”
Sometimes there still isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish all that she wants with the business, Richards agreed.
“Because of the limited time I can devote to my photography business, I've had to let some ideas stay on a back burner simmering until I could fit it all in but it has also caused me to be more strategic,” she said.
Snyder compared that working in the supplier industry is “not so different from the volleyball teams. Success comes from setting goals and being dedicated to working hard, communicating and working together as a team.”
Working part-time in the supplier community allowed Paulk time to grow her business, she said.
“I worked part time for the supplier while I was developing a business plan, and picked up a few clients. Since it was part time, I dedicated time in the day to each,” she said. “All day Monday to the supplier, then mostly mornings to the supplier and afternoons to my business. Eventually my business had enough to sustain me financially that I chose to leave the supplier and pursue my business full time.”
Paulk said financial changes can be a big challenge when starting a small business.
“In general, starting your own business requires you to be prepared to not get a pay check every week,” she said. “It takes time and money. You have to be able to balance your own cash flow with that of your business, especially at first.”
Working in the supplier community provides many avenues of support for local entrepreneurs. For one, there are the contacts. Snyder said that the supplier community has provided contacts that have aided in both businesses.
Richards had similar thoughts and said that her business career has been a major asset for her business.
“I've always gravitated towards positions with a business development aspect. Working in the supplier community has awarded me opportunities for leadership development, meeting other business professionals, and working alongside really smart people,” Richards said. “In some ways, being integrated into the supplier community has opened doors that would have been much more difficult to walk through otherwise.”
Paulk said the supplier community is filled with entrepreneurs, including the supplier companies themselves.
“So many suppliers are small businesses (or) started off that way,” she said. “It's inspirational to see what some of them started as, and have since become.”
“Owning a business has been one of the most challenging, and rewarding things I have ever done,” she continued. “The challenge is being self-motivated and knowing when and how to allow yourself to grow, plus work/life balance. The reward is making something out of nothing, and calling the shots.”