At a time when businesses face challenges beyond what they could have ever anticipated, reflecting on one’s origin story could be the reminder needed to see a way to the other side of uncertainty. Revisiting the events that inspired you can be revitalizing, and sharing your story can be a great way to help customers feel more connected with and invested in the “why” of your brand. It can also inspire others to take risks and follow their passions to keep small business development flourishing. The five business owners share the events that led to their unique and fulfilling pursuits.
Mark Bitterman, owner & selmelier, The Meadow
Who we are: Portland, Oregon’s original salt shop also offering distinctive chocolate, bitters and flowers.
The Meadow features the country’s largest selections of gourmet salts, artisan chocolate bars and craft cocktail bitters, but what really sets us apart is the feeling of being at home. Our mission is to make the experience of shopping as beautiful and rewarding as the products we offer. Shop fixtures are made from old-growth doug fir and cedar timbers reclaimed from an old pickle factory. Customers are welcome to try out the Underwood typewriter for writing a gift card. The shop is tiny, intimate and every single customer is greeted in person.
The Meadow was created because people are starved for the feeling of real human connection that comes from the little interactions of everyday life. First, globalization has made the products we enjoy cheap, impersonal and ethically questionable. At the same time, big box stores and the like ate up the independent small businesses that gave our communities the texture and personality that made us feel like they belong to us.
We wanted to take a step backwards toward the wonderful inefficiencies that make our lives so wonderful—and we wanted to invite the people in our neighborhood to step back with us and to make it a place that was beautiful. Visitors should visually feel lifted up and transported to a magical place, and at the same time welcomed and at home. So the funny thing about The Meadow is that the actual products we carry are not as important as the effect that all of our products taken as a whole have on our customers and even our employees. Deep down we just want to make every day a bit more beautiful, happy, connected and delicious. Follow The Meadow on Instagram & Twitter.
Erika Takeuchi, co-founder, TROVE
Who we are: A Seattle, Washington-based subscription and gift box business that delivers sights, smells and tastes from around the world to your home.
My co-founder and I are best friends who love traveling — we’ve ventured to over 17 countries together (yes, we counted!). When travel was suspended, we were determined to find another way to feed our wanderlust. We looked around and found that there wasn’t anyone out there that was delivering authentic cultural experiences in an immersive way through virtual classes and locally sourced foods and goods.
We started to reach out to the incredible chefs, artisans and guides we had connected with during our past travels and found they were all suffering and feared that they were going to have to close their doors. This was a big wake-up call for us, and what began as a way to scratch our travel itch turned into a full-blown mission to help lift up small businesses around the world. That’s why we founded TROVE. Each TROVE box features hands-on virtual experiences with experts from around the world and locally sourced snacks and goods, and 20% of all profits go to our featured local experts. Follow TROVE on Instagram & Facebook.
Who we are: A Mount Vernon, Iowa-based design and letterpress studio specializing in paper goods printed the old-fashioned way.
While in college, I took a printmaking class as an elective as part of my graphic design major. We used a small proof press and a set of antique wood type and from there, I was hooked with letterpress printing. I researched more and more and eventually purchased my first press through a letterpress swap meet.
Iron Leaf Press began in 2011 with that small printing press and a spare second bedroom. After printing projects for myself and friends, interest grew and so did the business. Now Iron Leaf Press is home to seven antique printing presses and has a storefront in downtown Mount Vernon, Iowa, filled with greeting cards, stationery, writing instruments and small gifts. Our greeting cards, paper goods and invitations are all printed on our antique printing presses, ranging from 65-125 years old. Our greeting cards and stationery sets are also sold in shops and boutiques around the country. Follow Iron Leaf Press on Instagram & Facebook.
Who we are: Bethesda, Maryland-based makers of fine salad dressings designed to dress up salads with simple, healthy and sophisticated flavors.
My business started on a dare! My brother had long held that there was a business to be had in the salad dressing our mother served us every night when we were children, and that, now that I had a family of my own, I was also serving every night. After the birth of my third child, I was itching for something to do, but something with a little flexibility, so I decided to put his theory to the test.
I began sharing my dressing with friends, who encouraged me by sharing it with their friends, and then I got lucky: Someone from Whole Foods tried it and said, “We don’t sell anything like this, and we should!” I think he noticed what I had noticed, and my friends noticed: Most commercial salad dressing bears no resemblance to homemade. They’re filled with ingredients you would never use when making a dressing from scratch, like sugars, gums, starches and something called maltodextrin — not delicious and not healthy.
We set out to make a dressing that replicated homemade, and which was as healthy as your salad. Instead of taking shortcuts, we use real ingredients and create dressings with an obsessive attention to detail. Today, our dressings are sold nationwide and we’re certified woman-owned and a certified B-Corp, meaning we meet the highest standards of environmental and social responsibility. Pretty fancy for the salad dressing aisle! Follow Dress It Up Dressing on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.
Who we are: A Hunt Valley, Maryland-based magic supply shop owned and operated by real magicians and servicing aspiring and professional magicians of all levels.
I was an amateur magician back in the 1990s and working as a computer programmer for a large insurance company. A coworker told me that when she was a kid, her dad had a mail-order magic business in their house. That sparked an idea and I decided to start a little business of my own, advertising in Boy’s Life magazine. That didn’t do much, but then came the early days of the internet. Using my computer skills, I built a website (not a very good one) and orders started to trickle in. I became one of the first online magic dealers.
Luckily, it kept growing and growing and eventually, when I was laid off from my regular job in 2002, this became my full-time career. Nineteen years later, I’m still at it. Follow The Magic Warehouse on Facebook & YouTube.
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Published January 14, 2021