“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney
I have been coming up with business ideas and products since I was a kid and a lot of it has to do with my childhood neighborhood. It was an entrepreneurial place where families made extra money by selling different products - candy, snacks, clothes, car parts - from their homes to their neighbors. So as kids, instead of going to the corner store to by candies, ice cream, and snow cones, we'd go to our neighbors' houses. Weird? Maybe. But this D.I.Y. neighborhood marketplace was my entry point into the business world.
At seven-years-old, I realized that this informal system of buying candy, ice cream, snow cones, and snacks from my neighbors was flawed. For one, I didn't know what everyone was offering so I had no idea where to go for a particular item quickly. And while walking to my neighbor's house was more convenient than getting a ride to the corner store, a lack of signage or set hours meant that I would often go to the wrong house or an empty one.
I knew there was a need: kids wanted candy. But the way that my neighbors were going about selling candy was not really meeting my need to get that candy or snack quickly and conveniently. I knew I could do a better job.
So I gathered up a hundred dollars from my birthday and I asked my mom if she would buy me candy from Sam's Club to re-sell. She wasn't a fan of the idea of having our house double as a candy storefront, open to any customer at any time. But with enough begging and persistence, my mom agreed to let me do it with one condition: if there was one complaint, the shop had to close. No discussion. I agreed to the terms and purchased my first batch of candies and ice cream to sell.
To set myself apart from the competition and to make things easier for my customers I created flyers to hang to light posts. They let people know where to find me, the types of snacks and candies I was selling, my pricing, and my hours. As silly and simple as this sounds, this one factor separated me from the competition and it led to some success.
My little business stayed open for a couple of months until I received what I still believe is a baseless complaint about "an ant in an ice cream." (Baseless, is a very nice way of describing this.) Either way, the shop closed immediately and without discussion. And while my business was shuttered, I took a couple of important lessons from my first jump into business:
1. A good business idea should address a need for your consumer. 2. In order for a good idea to become a really successful business, you've got to make it convenient, quick and easy for your customer to buy what you're selling. When it came to candy, I sold a similar product and had competition on the same street as myself, but no one was providing information to his or her customer.
These lessons applied to one of my most recent jumps back into the world of candy and business - Lush Puff!
Before I launched Lush Puff, I researched and discovered only one other person in Texas was providing a cotton candy service and she was in Dallas. I also found that in Houston, someone could rent a cotton candy machine, but there wasn't a business to provide the cotton candy making service nor the cotton candy experience. I also found two cotton candy businesses from California & Australia that were executing their cotton candy making businesses successfully and studied their success.
L-R: 1. On Valentines Day 2015 in Guadalajara, Mexico this is where I got the idea for Lush Puff. 2. Months later I would go to a hardware store to find a frame for the cart, as I wanted it to fold and fit in my car. 3. The bones of the cart. 4. Working with Fredis on the logo for Lush Puff. 5. What the cart looked like prior to powder coating. 6. The cart today, this was taken at an event with Williams Sonoma.
I took all of this - the need I knew existed in the market, the research, the best practices and then made it my own with unique branding, standards for service, and strategies for getting it to customers - then launched operations.
This is the level of development and preparation that should go into a business idea way before it's ever launched. You have to make sure it's rooted in a market gap and need; you've got to do your research and then develop a good operation and model for reaching your customer. And remember to find ways to make it easier, quicker, or more convenient for people.
My neighborhood inculcated in me the idea that there is enough business to go around for everyone. And seven-year-old Abby taught me that in order for you to be the best in the business, you've got to put in work, find solutions, make things better and leave a personal touch on everything you do.