Archive for the ‘Albany Colonie Chamber of Commerce’ Category

A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Cafe

August 22, 2008
Maiden Lane, Albany, New York
A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Café opened on May 8, 2006 as an ice cream and gelato shop during the summer months with the additions of soups, breads, specialty coffees, teas, and hot chocolate during the winter months. They have expanded to create unique gelato cakes for birthdays and special occasions as well as provide gelato to several area upscale restaurants. A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Café serves the downtown Albany market with a strong focus on customer service.
Fran & Kathy

Fran & Kathy

Business partners, Kathleen Forbes & Frances Nolles, met while job sharing at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Before they retired from New York State, they had dreamed of opening up an ice cream/gelato shop.

Kathy and Fran did a tremendous amount of market research in order to complete their business plan. This research included taste tests at nearly every Tech Valley business that carries gelato both wholesale and retail. In addition, they stood on the street corner where they intended to open up shop with a clicker counter to count the number of individuals who passed by the street each day. They also handed out surveys to take a poll to determine the interest level of such a shop in downtown Albany. Their market research proved positive. As a result, they forged ahead with the financial section of their business plan with great zeal. With assistance from a relative with an accounting background, the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce loan department, the Downtown Albany BID office, and Chamber business consultants, they launched.
A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Café was awarded a $1,000 grant award incentive donated by First Niagara Bank as well as a one year Chamber membership awarded by the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce through the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program. They used their winnings to attend a training session on gelato-making. This particular gelato class allowed a rebate at the end to be used towards gelato-making equipment. Thus, with their creative thinking and business skills, the $1,000 grant award was effectively doubled!
A Cone of Our Own Gelateria & Café requested and secured a loan from the Capital District Community Loan Fund and SEFCU for $115,000 for equipment and supplies, renovations and start-up expenses. They have also put in around $25,000 each towards the business. Their hours of operation are from 11AM to 5PM Monday through Friday with Saturday summer hours of 11am to 3pm and they will stay open for special events in downtown Albany on evenings and weekends depending on the scheduled event.
With all of the positive things that occurred to them during the early stages of their business, they have had some challenges. We recently spoke with Fran and Kathy to discuss the obstacles in owning their own business. Here is what they shared with us:
Unexpected circumstances
After all of the projections and prep work on financials, it cost us $600 to have the window taken out and put back in so we could get the display case into the cafe. The best part of the whole thing was our landlord, unbeknownst to us, had the same window replaced two days prior to the arrival of our case.
Collecting revenue
For wholesale, gelato is sometimes challenging. For instance, we have had an outstanding balance in excess of $400 for just one customer. Occasionally, we have multiple outstanding balances at one time. What we have done in some cases was to hold up any new deliveries until payments were received.
Charitable donations
They present a big problem. Every day there is a new request for a donation or sponsorship. It is so hard to say no to them but a new business cannot keep giving away product or money. We try to accommodate as many as we can and probably do more than we should because of our nature but it costs us in the long run.
This is another obstacle. You don’t realize how much time a business takes to run. You basically have to give up most of your personal life. We never get to leave at the time we planned. I am sure this gets better as you are able to hire more staff to free up some personal time for yourself but we aren’t there yet.
Manual labor
This is one area that we did not expect to be so hard on us physically. In our case, this is hauling buckets, breaking down all the equipment, cleaning, sanitizing, lubricating them and then putting them back together. For some of the equipment, this happens every day. (Our fingernails are a mess because they are constantly in water and sanitizer which totally destroys them.) Again, at some point in time, we may be able to have more assistance.
Cash flow worries
This is a biggie for us and probably ranks very high on our list. Of course, it affects every one of the above frustrations and concerns. Having to constantly borrow money to add to the business because we don’t generate enough revenue to be self-sufficient as yet.
The economy
The economy has had a negative effect on us this year. If it weren’t not for our wholesale portion of the business, our sales would be down over $6,000. As it is, we still haven’t taken in as much money as last year.
Paperwork is overwhelming
There is so little time. For example, we have a couple of reports to file, one of which should bring us some refund money, but we haven’t had the time to get the paperwork completed and documents photocopied to reap the benefits.
Networking is difficult
Because of our time constraints, we can’t get to networking events. Networking is so important because it usually brings in more business but many events take place during our busiest hours that we miss out on so much.
Location, location, location
We thought we had picked the ideal spot but it turns out we didn’t. For a seasonal type business as ours, we need to do business seven days a week including evenings for the spring, summer and fall. However, our location doesn’t warrant being open evenings and weekends because there are very few people downtown during those times.
The Up Side
Sometimes we feel like all we do is whine about how tired we are and how the bad weather and economy are killing us. But the up side to all of this is……we had a dream, we worked endlessly to fulfill it and we are living it. And except for all of the frustrations and stumbling blocks, we are so proud when people smile and get that look on their face as they taste our gelato, compliment us on the decor, and are elated when they pick up their cakes.

The Chamber’s Art n Soul

August 14, 2008
Janet Tanguay

Janet Tanguay

Meet Janet Tanguay. Janet is the Entrepreneurial Assistance Coordinator for the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce AND she owns her own business: Art n Soul, Inc. , where she is a creativity coach and artist Representative. As part of her business, Janet assists creative types in pursuing their goals and dreams by helping them create a brush with opportunity. “I help artists obtain gallery shows and sell their work in corporate environments.” She is also a mixed media

Peacock Pride

Peacock Pride

artist. “One of the reasons the Chamber hired me is that I am an entrepreneur. I’ve worked through the kinks in starting and growing my business and I can share those experiences first hand with the entrepreneurs in my program. I love the mindset of entrepreneurs….typically innovative, creative and risk-taking. I’m absolutely passionate about helping people start new businesses.”

Janet grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Her dad had several businesses, including a magnetic sign business, a snow plowing business, a maple syrup business and a concrete company. In addition to owning Art n Soul, Inc., Janet is the author of two children’s books: Be Bee and Dustbunnies Don’t Eat Carrots. In 2007, she was voted “Best Visual Artist” in the Times Union’s Readers’ Poll.

With her Chamber hat on, Janet designs and coordinates a 60 hour comprehensive training program for entrepreneurs. She provides one-on-one counseling to individuals seeking to start or expand a business and advises clients on where to find resources for funding a business. She assists with business plan writing, M/WBE certification and contract procurement. She also connects clients to a wide network of business consultants, attorneys, accountants and others that assist small businesses.

What does she love most about her job?

“I am passionate about inspiring people to pursue their business dreams and goals. I love watching an entrepreneur come into my office with an idea and then assisting that goal so that it comes to fruition.”

What is the biggest pitfall for new business owners?

“The biggest pitfall is not doing market research ahead of time and not having a solid business plan. Partnerships with the wrong person are also a big cause for concern. Another problem that arises is that entrepreneurs get so caught up in the day to day operations of the business that they don’t make time to network and market themselves properly.”

For those starting a new business, Janet offers the following advice. “Do a lot of research before opening up shop. Make phone calls to similar businesses either in the area you are looking to open or if your competition is reluctant to talk, do research in a similar size city in another market. Find out about pricing, demographics, sales, expenses and anything else that you might need to consider to get your business off the ground. Learn from other people’s experiences. I know of some restaurants and gyms that change hands regularly every year. This is probably a tip that this particular location isn’t working in some way.”

The Albany Colonie Chamber of Commerce is a membership organization that provides networking opportunities, health insurance programs, cost-saving benefits and many other services and programs. Janet explains: “The networking opportunities through the Chamber’s EAP training course are amazing. We have over 2,700 members. Many members are EAP instructors and offer great resources for entrepreneurs to get started.”



The Original Chocolate Gecko

August 12, 2008

Lissa D\'Aquanni

Lissa D

My name is Lissa D’Aquanni.  Nine years ago, I created the Chocolate Gecko in my basement.  I wasn’t sure where I was headed with it — all I knew was that I was disappointed with the quality of chocolate that was available for purchase in the Capital Region and I needed an outlet for my creativity.  Growing up, my Aunt had a chocolate store in Westchester.  I remember it being a magical place — who could be miserable in a candy store?  I think there was a part of me that wanted to recreate that magic at the Gecko.  The gecko name — well, that was just frivolity.  I liked geckos and a chocolate one seemed doubly attractive. 

I began the business in the Winter of 1998.  That season — Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter — was fairly busy for a new business.  So I decided to make a go of it. As soon as I decided that, business dropped off.  The phone didn’t ring all summer. “OK, I thought, “it was fun while it lasted.”  Then in September, the phone began to ring again.  That was my first experience with a seasonal business — who knew?  (Just about everyone who had ever run a business — but that wasn’t me.) 

The business continued to grow.  We had a unique, fresh product and our customers were our best advertisers.   In 2002 I decided to expand the business from my basement.  I purchased an abandoned building in my neighborhood, renovated it and re-introduced the Chocolate Gecko.  That’s the short version.  The long version included piecing together a financial package that included private investors, an SBA loan via my credit union (SEFCU), a loan from the city via the Chamber, and assistance from the Capital District Community Loan Fund.  It included coordinating neighborhood volunteers and friends who selflessly gave up their weekends to help gut and rebuild this diamond in the rough.  It included negotiating the often confusing and frustrating maze of contractors, subcontractors and the city’s building department. It included recruiting two other start-up businesses that helped make the project complete.

The business continued to grow.  And as it grew, I became aware that it was no longer a little niche business.  It had the potential to be national — our product was good enough to compete. But I didn’t have the knowledge to get us there and after 9 years of exhausting holidays, I wasn’t sure that I had the energy.  I decided to sell the business.  Do you remember the game show “The Weakest Link” — well, I felt like the weakest link.  I’m not putting myself down — it’s good to recognize what we are good at and when we need to hand off.  Recognizing that it’s time to step aside is just as important as stepping up.  

When I sold the business in 2007, it was with the intention that the new owners would be able to infuse the energy, time and capital necessary to take the business to the next level.  I’m pleased to report that they are doing just that. 

Over the course of this blog, I’ll be reporting on some of the challenges and joys that made owning the Chocolate Gecko an incredible experience.  Staffing, marketing and advertising, financing, vendors, community and networking are just a few of the topics I’ll discuss.  

As for now, I’m an adjunct Professor at the University at Albany and the College of Pharmacy.  I teach public relations and communication.  I love teaching and the students are energizing.  I also started another business: Out On A Limb Consulting.  I provide public relations, marketing, program and campaign assistance to micro-entrepreneurs and nonprofits.  Why Out On A Limb?  It’s all about perspective.  When I owned the Gecko, Entrepreneur magazine wrote an article about creative financing and featured the Gecko.  The article was called “Out On A Limb: when the money tree looks dry, sometimes you just have to create your own branch.”  There were many times when I felt that my back was up against the wall and I was out on a limb (i.e. no options).  But when I got over my fear of heights (excuse the metaphor) and looked around, I realized that there were options I had never seen before — they were creative, entrepreneurial options.  Like I said, it’s all about perspective. 

Over the next few posts, I’ll be introducing the other bloggers at EbizNY and as a blog team, we’ll spotlight other entrepreneurs in the Capital Region and some of the issues they face.  If you have comments or have something that you would like us to address, please let us know. If there is something you are struggling with in your business, email us.  We’re here as a resource and support for you.