Whether it’s helping a designer with an idea start a business or an ambitious entrepreneur intent on going national, the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Success Center touts itself as a full-service shop for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Two years ago, Anita K clothing boutique in Carlsbad founder Anita Knight was working for a direct sales company and designing jewelry on the side when she came up with an idea for a clothing store for women over 40. She was attending a trade show in Los Angeles at the time.
“I was wandering around in different showrooms looking at all the clothing and saw that they made this stylish clothing for women over 40 and 50,” said Knight, who is 53. “Nobody in Carlsbad or anywhere near carried any of these lines.”
Back home, she found only two boutiques with the same clothing lines from L.A. , one in Coronado and one in La Jolla.
“I called the chamber. I had a great idea, but I didn’t know how to get started,” she said.
Andrea Korogi, director of the Small Business Success Center, suggested she take their Score , Counselors to America’s Small Business , classes that offer legal and financial assistance on starting a business.
“I tell people it was the best $60 I ever invested,” she said.
She found a space just north of the Carlsbad Village Art & Antique Mall and financed the business with a $30,000 home equity loan. Nearly a year into operations, she has exceeded her first year’s budget projections.
“Basically, I just uncovered a need and decided to fill it,” she said. “I love fashion and clothing. I always have. It was just great that it fell into an area I was interested in.”
Her customers are North County women and others visiting the area who are fashion conscious but want to dress “age appropriately,” she said.
“We need to find clothes that fit our bodies,” she said. “We’re not built like 22-year-olds, but we still want to dress really cute. We can’t go to these boutiques for girls in their 20s. It doesn’t work.”
Motivated To Be Self-Employed
She loves fashion, she said, but her main motivation was being “tired of working for other people.”
Entrepreneur Russ Bruhn knows the feeling. He doesn’t mind working 362 days a year, as long as it’s for himself.
“What’s the alternative, getting up and working for someone else?”
An energetic soul, Bruhn was once co-owner of a goat ranch in Minnesota that produced not only cashmere and goat meat, but fetched weed control contracts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said.
He last consulted with a beauty products company whose antifungal cr & #269;me landed a $2.8 million contract with Walgreens.
“I said that’s the last time I do that for someone else,” he said.
Bruhn said the Small Business Success Center helped set him up with a $30,000 Small Business Administration loan and contacts in the food industry.
He launched Carlsbad Gourmet four years ago. Since then he has developed 30 products , fruit spreads, hot sauces, mustards, salad dressings and barbecue sauces , all with local ingredients.
He has received orders from Whole Foods Market stores’ 25 locations in Southern California, nine Costco wholesale stores in San Diego and four Jimbo’s, said Bruhn.
He supplies the fruit spreads for every peanut butter and jelly sandwich at Legoland. And he has partnerships with local brewers Stone Brewing Co., Green Flash Brewing Co. and Pizza Port Brewing Co. to use their beers as ingredients in his products, which he promotes with them.
“Every time Pizza Port, Stone or Green Flash does a festival we’re right there next to them,” Bruhn said.
Last year, he tripled his sales volume to $930,000. Business has really taken off since the company participated in the Fancy Food Show held at the San Diego Convention Center in January.
“We have gotten orders for almost 50 stores in the last month. It’s really exciting,” he said.
Promoting Carlsbad Products
Bruhn said the original thrust of the business was to promote Carlsbad strawberries. He was trying to fill gift baskets for a Hawaiian Little League team his son was playing against that had brought cookies with Hawaii Macadamia nuts.
Bruhn said he couldn’t find any Carlsbad products in local food marts.
“I said we should have found something with Carlsbad strawberries,” Bruhn said. “Strawberries are pretty significant here.”
He found that more than 80 percent of the country’s strawberries are grown in California so he hired a food engineer who helped him design a strawberry spread.
He and his son took the spread to The Flower Fields tourist attraction in Carlsbad and sold 10 cases of the spread the first day. They returned the next week with 20 cases.
He is now looking for a partner to raise capital in order to expand his five-employee business into a larger space and at some point take Carlsbad Gourmet nationally.