Pre-Opening Journal

Chronicles of Nana 6: Opening the Store

Which do you think is more difficult: The tons of paperwork that has to be started, filled, and tracked to get a business legal to operate including the months of planning and marketing prior to opening OR the actual work of opening?  I think it is harder to do all the things you need to do in advance to get ready to open a business.

And now, for the easy part: Opening the store.

I will spend the next week washing and oiling the beautiful wood walls and shelves that Jerry Thornton had inside his jewelry store for the many years before it became a delightful cake decorating supply store with classes. I will coordinate the rug shampoo, the signage, and learn the cash register.

With the help of family and friends, we will haul everything into the store that has been in storage the past couple months.  That means everything like toys, clothes, sleepers, shoes, infant rattles, hats, mittens, ride-on toys, swimsuits, onesies, blankets, sheets, toys, books, and oh, did I say toys?

We will haul cases of children’s hangers, boxes of price tags, tagging barbs, tagging guns, labels, signs, and lots of display baskets, etc. It is no less than 60 or more bags of items and a few boxes, too.

Besides how much work goes into opening a business being miscalculated, another thing that most people don’t realize is that you are setting up another home. Because you are going to spend all day at your store or at your business, you must also have a small refrigerator and a microwave for employees or for your self to enjoy meals and snacks.

Now I’m pretty sure there are a lot of men who wouldn’t care about these thing but as a woman who eats small five meals a day (always have), my body doesn’t do well for long periods of time without nourishment. When my children were younger and even into their teens, they were in my businesses with me because that is where I was. I always had a place for them to be private to do their homework or take a nap.

So I will also haul in the soap, toilet paper, nightlights, paper towels and washcloths, cleansers, waste baskets, plastic bag liners, toilet bowl brush, broom, dustpan, and even a doormat. There is soooo much stuff!

Did I mention the office needs, too? I’ll have to have a stapler and staples, paperclips, tape, scissors, binders, a 3-hole punch, pens, pencils, white out, tacks, tablets, and a bulletin board with markers.

While I’m sure my house will open up and become way less cluttered, I keep thinking about what will happen if the store doesn’t make it and I have to bring it all back home. Dixon is such a tough nut to crack for retail. Well, actually for any business. (This is another reason I believe so strongly in the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Dixon Business Association, and the Dixon Networking Association.) We really do need each other to help be successful! But I really don’t want to have to movie it all back home…

Positive self-talk is critical to being courageous enough to start a business but especially so here.  And what else you have to know if you want to own your own business is that you don’t stop doing all the promoting once the doors open. You must always be willing to share with others why your products or services are helpful. You must keep your business in the front of people’s minds and eyes.

And, you must work really hard every day to keep your store clean, attractive, inviting, and filled with great merchandise. There is a reason I like the verse, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” It makes me not be afraid of the really hard work involved in being an entrepreneur.

Actually moving in and opening the doors to the business will be extremely exciting and rewarding yet absolutely exhausting. Thanks for reading.


Chronicles of Nana 5: One Week Out

We are now one week out from moving into the new children’s clothing and toy store in downtown Dixon. And,  I’m worried about everything.

I’m writing this in the middle of the night. I had already awakened a couple times so when I woke up again at 3 I decided to give up and go to the computer. When I had awakened at midnight, I felt like there was a hole burning through the center of my body. No, it wasn’t heartburn. It was raw nerves.

I have taken great pride in my ability to relax through just about anything—be it pain or stress—thanks to learning relaxation practices many moons ago in my childbirth classes. By the time I had two children with no medication and little pain, and having taught the same techniques for years in my childbirth classes, not being able to sleep is rare for me. We used to joke that I merely fainted as my head went toward the pillow.

At first I was thinking something was terribly wrong and that there was good cause for my tension but then I came across my journal from when I had re-opened my Davis store in 2005. I had written how I was crazy with anxiety when my son, then 9 years old, told me I was just having ‘pre-wedding jitters.’ I had asked him how he knew that and he said he saw it watching ‘Friends’ with big sister.

He was right. And, I’m having them again. There is so much to do still. My order for checks had a week delay because the address they were being sent to was not the address of the store. It made sense I would not be having checks sent to a facility I was not yet in but they didn’t get that and it took a letter from First Northern Bank to help remedy the situation.

Then I discovered that the brackets I needed to hold the rods that the children’s clothing would hang on were not available. I mean, like, not even made. They had three-inch and there is 12-inch. What—children’s clothing doesn’t exist? How can that be? If a hanger is 6-inches from tip to tip, then a bracket needs to stick out 6-inches from a wall, not 12 and certainly not 3. Now I have to have my husband totally customize the racks for me.

All we need are dowels from the hardware store and those plastic holders for the rods screwed into the sides of the units.

I do love my husband but I tell you those despairing sighs or about to do me in. What David can do with a wickedly powerful drill in a matter of seconds would take me hours to do using anything. For example, I was trying to figure out why a popcorn-sounding push toy wasn’t working so I was feverishly unscrewing the tiny little screws with a screwdriver. I was on the third one when he roamed into the kitchen where I had the toy laid out like a slab of spare ribs on the counter. I asked for help. He sighed.

He got his drill and took two seconds to get off four other screws and then held out the power tool for me expectantly to finish the job. I did it while nearly drilling a crater in the tile countertop. Finally I was able to take the thing apart and study it. Before I knew it, several more screws fell on the counter and the thing nearly crumbled into several chunks of plastic. I heard a sigh and he asked again if I wanted to just stay home and plant flowers.

Here’s my new policy. If it doesn’t work, I don’t care how brightly colored or cute or even if it brings back fond memories of my own children when they were tots—it will not be in my store. It took us another half hour to figure out how to get it all back together again and guess what, it still didn’t work. Just recalling the evening has made me tired. I’m going to try to get some sleep.

Chronicles of Nana 4

My teenage son is afraid to handle any of my childbirth education materials anymore. Once he found out he was handing me a knitted uterus and not a scarf, he flung it as if it were a snake. Then, I made the mistake of asking him to hand me a book that flopped open to a color picture of a woman who had just given birth and he had to run to the bathroom afterwards. I now get things for myself.

He wanted to share my blanket during a recent weekend night of television watching so I was careful to warn him that I was also thumbing through my ‘Childbirth Graphics’ catalog. He went to the recliner instead.

As I’m looking at all these posters and pelvic models and more, I’m remembering how comfortable I was in sharing about the birth process wherever I went. I had taught childbirth classes as a certified Bradley Method instructor for ten years and an assistant midwife after that. My life was filled with pregnant women, young families, and babies, and I loved it. It is exciting to plan on teaching classes at my new store in downtown Dixon.

It was all fascinating to me and I felt more people needed to become unafraid of this very natural, yet miraculous, female body function that keeps humankind alive.  And, seeing similarities in childbirth to the rest of the world is starting to happen again for me.

Over the weekend, I talked my husband into driving with me to Brentwood where I had found an ‘Open Sign’ for the business that I wanted to purchase from a Craigslist advertiser. First let me tell you why I wanted it: It also had ‘Closed.’ I know that mothers with babies and small children are going to come to my store on a day that I’m closed as I’m planning to be closed on Sunday and Monday so that I can have an overnighter trip to visit the granddaughter or other family members, not to mention catch up on housework, groceries, laundry, etc.

I want to help moms out so that they don’t go through all the trouble of getting their babies out of car seats and putting them in strollers or front packs to discover the store isn’t open. So, if the neon sign also can say closed, all the better. They will be able to spot it from the street. I also liked that this particular sign had a third option which made stars sparkle around the Open Sign. This will come in handy during special occasions.

But, getting to Brentwood meant crossing the dreaded Antioch Bridge. Somewhere in my late twenties, and on my way home to my parent’s house in Tracy with my little ones strapped in the back seat, I had a panic attack while going over it. I had never experienced anything like that before and it scared me. I always went through Stockton from then on to get to my folk’s house.

There have been a few times since then that I faced similar road heights and freeway turns where I knuckled down to get through but I still don’t like that I experience the nervousness so I chattered away as we approached the bridge trying to find something simple and normal in all of it. I studied the shape of its height as we rounded the bend of the Rio Vista River’s edge when I could see it clearly.

“Oh, that’s not as bad as I thought, “ I told my husband. “Why, that is the shape of an early first stage labor contraction,” I said. He looked confused. “On an electronic fetal heart monitor, this is what contractions look like, you know, like on my posters and in the books,” I continued. “All this time I was remembering it as a late first stage labor contraction. This will be a piece of cake.” And, over the bridge we went…and even back with a very lovely open/closed sign in our car.

Chronicles of Nana 3

The last I left you, I was working on ordering hangers and completing legal paperwork. I am happy to announce I have done both. I was moving onto getting my three beautiful display units from Alphabet Moon in Davis, which closed, to Atkinson Storage so that our cars can remain in our garage.

I realize most people would not think of wood display units as “beautiful” but as a retailer—and knowing how those rolling metal racks are a dime a dozen—these units have class and this is what downtown Dixon needs more of, especially on my side of the street where there are other, not-so-pleasant looking entities. I want my new store to be what they have been in the past: a very pleasant shopping experience that exudes cherishing babies and relishing parenthood—with a little fun sprinkled over the top.

But these puppies were heavy and we were not going to move them easily. My husband said they weighed a ton and followed that with, “Can’t you just stay home and plant flowers?” In step great friends who own Lorente Productions which is a company that moves sound equipment that really does weigh tons. Steve handled everything and made it look easy with the help of my son and my ever-so-not-optimistic husband.

One of the guys would lift up an end of a unit using a big dolly while we placed the 4-caster furniture dollies underneath. You had to do it all just right or that dolly could go flying out at you when they put the weight of the unit back down. I will not mention the terrible visions I tried to ignore each time my short girlfriend, Suzanne, kept planting her little body right in front of those things. Needless to say, I had to have a little glass of wine later to let go of all the tension but indeed, there were no accidents and the units are safely in storage.

We are now four weeks out of getting in the building and possibly opening. I love what Janis Luzzo said to me recently when I was checking measurements in the space. “In my perfect world, I envision…” she said before reminding me that her husband, Duane, was doing all the improvements in the new space himself. Her plan is to close on a Friday and open the following Tuesday on an upcoming holiday when most people leave town. This would, I agreed, be perfect timing for us to open by March 1. I made mental note to send down my husband to offer a helping hand. My husband loves to help build things.

With all of this going on, who had time to learn a computer bookkeeping system? (That goal last week was interrupted by a bout of the 5-day flu.) My son said that a program already on my computer would do everything I need so I attempted to learn it last week. I got so far as to find it under “Finder” but when I tried to open the file, it said I needed to type in the serial number. I figured that would be normal, as I hadn’t used this program yet so off I went to locate the original box. This is why, by the way, it is very important to keep a home filing system so you know where to find things when you need them, even if it’s years later.

Two days later, I was still unable to get the program open so I called in the big gun: Devon, the 16-year-old, who promptly noticed that I was trying to open iWorks ’08 when I was clearly holding the box that said iWorks ’09. He took two seconds and two clicks to open the program.

Chronicles of Nana 2

Women, I think, probably experience a lot more stress when opening a business if they are in a more traditional role of wife, mother, housekeeper, etc., like me. I give a lot of credit to any mother who opens her own business because there are just so many demands on time by their family.

I don’t have any little ones anymore but it seems I spend half my life just trying to keep things ‘normal.’  Normal is my springboard for additional activities. If the house isn’t clean, for example, it must be cleaned first. Too often, dinner is over when I get to concentrate on my business plans.

So when I got up at 5 am knowing the house was tidy and all was well, I expected to have a whole day to finish the legal paperwork for the new business–the new children’s store I’m opening downtown this spring. But, life happens. I hadn’t even got my teenage son out the door for school when he hollered for me from upstairs with that desperate sounding tone of ‘we’ve got trouble’ that all moms know.

I bolted upstairs to find a huge mass of feathers all over the bedroom floor and one very guilty Beagle sitting next to it. My husband has been on a business trip for the past few days and this was the third day in a row that our dog let us know she’s upset about it. Yesterday it was his pillow, and the day before that, it was a sheet. There was a 3-foot gap in the seam of our down comforter.

She’s now sulking in her crate.

So here I am just trying to get out the door to finish the tasks of legal paperwork that was started the day before but first I have to whip out my sewing machine–who cares that it has black thread–and sew back together a white comforter. Feathers were floating about my hands and head like dandelions and miraculously, I managed not to sew my fingers. I hauled it to the back yard to shake out all the loose down knowing everywhere I walked, I was leaving a trail of the tiniest down feathers everywhere. Then I ripped off all the bedding and re-made the bed. If anyone had been watching, I’m sure they would have thought I’d lost my mind. I was using the wand attachment to suck up the zillion little airborne whispies of down that had burst threw the air when I tried to vacuum up the mass pile off the carpet. I knew I had a lot to do so I didn’t waste a minute and I’m proud to say this very determined woman finished the task in less than 45 minutes.

Feeling like superwoman, I then returned to the task of being a businesswoman. Yesterday, I had driven to Fairfield and got the Fictitious Business Name filed without incident and with a helpful, smiling clerk on the other side of the window but had not nailed down the fact that I needed a copy of the lease/rental agreement to submit with the application for the Resellers Permit. This is the county government’s tax collection bureau and I was amazed they even needed that information but I didn’t have time to get on my political soapbox so just typed a simple one up for my new landlord to sign and now FAX in.

Today was also the day I finally did turn in my business license paperwork with the City of Dixon—another pleasant experience, and then off to the Dixon Tribune to give them the copy they need to publish that I, Debra Dingman, am in fact going to do business as “Nana” and pay the paper $35 to tell everyone that. I appreciate that the Tribune takes it from there and will run the official announcement in the classifieds once a week for four weeks then file the paperwork with the appropriate government office while forwarding me the completion copy.

Then I went to First Northern Bank as it will be less than a half of block from my business and also because they offer a great business bank account with no fees and have always been very helpful and personable.

Unfortunately and no fault of Araceli Rocha, the requirements are to have two official forms to prove your business. Yes, I had the fictitious business name copy but the city license will be sent to me and the reseller’s permit wasn’t final without the lease so I had no other document to prove I am opening the business. So there you have it, a new stage of limbo. Until I get a copy of one of those other documents, I cannot continue the business of properly record keeping the expenses of opening one.

Next, I will attempt to order children’s white, plastic, durable hangers with silver hooks that swivel and un-pen my dog.

Chronicles of Narnia, I mean ‘Nana’

Chronicles of Narnia, I mean, Nana

Since I’m starting this log today as a means of chronicling the art of opening a business, I’m going to back up a few days to let you know that I’m on the other side of a day of great uncertainty.

Three days ago, when my husband and son left me home alone for various other activities, I had quiet quality time with myself and the plans for my business, Nana and Company—Children’s Resale Boutique and Parent Resource Center, in Dixon, California. The moment of doubt attacked again when I opened an email to discover the Kiwanis Club sent me an advertisement seeking a House Director for a cause I support whole heartedly. The job duties fit me like a glove—a job I would love to have with regular pay that I know I’d love, too. I looked to the Heaven and asked, “Why now?”

I am far too deep into the commitment of opening this retail shop and have already spent close to $2,000 on the endeavor. (I have been working on the plan since last September, firmed up a commercial space rental in November, and diligently since.) I spent the next two days on robot as I contemplated whether or not I was too far into plans to abort mission when suddenly it dawned on me that there have been numerous jobs that ‘had my name on them’ but I had never even got a call back much less an interview.

“Oh, riiigghhht,” I said out loud to an empty house yesterday. That is why I’m opening my own business. No more looking backwards I reminded myself. This is the right path for me at this time in my mid-50 life, I said to encouraged myself–a habit well known to fellow entrepreneurs. So, I spent the day yesterday on the phone with AT & T to go through their various business plans and felt pleased with my order and the costs. I also brought out my storage tub filled with files from when I owned a similar shop four years ago.

Last night I waded through all of them and made stacks of tasks I needed to do and then organized them to put into a binder titled, ‘Nana Start Up.’ I was pretty discouraged by nightfall, as it really is a huge amount of work still to go.

“This is why NO ONE should sell their business for less than $10,000,” I said with determination. The dog cocked her head trying to figure out if I was talking to her. There are weeks of hours put into it before it even opens the doors. At even minimum wage, my investment of time has been thousands and my experience to make that contribution even more effective is worth even more. First timers often get it wrong and I was no exception. However, I’ve now opened a business several times, closed unsuccessful ones and sold those that were successful. This one, despite all my planning and time with professional consultants, is a leap of faith.

Today I will file the fictitious business name, which means a drive to Fairfield, and get a reseller’s permit, which is in Suisun.  Then I’ll swing by the City of Dixon to apply for a business license. Note I’ve already spent time checking with the city for approval to know what I had to do and also spent time researching these other requirements online. Forms are filled out, cashier’s checks already drawn, and much to do in between. This week I have to make a decision about a bank as I need a credit card to run all transactions through for the paper trail and record keeping part of this.

If you ever want to own your own business, follow along and see why the American Dream needs to be exposed. Some say business ownership is actually a nightmare. I’m constantly reminding myself that this is just the start up. Once it is all up and running, things get a lot easier, you get great customers, and you love to go to work.