When Pigs Fly on Main Street

Gene Marks reports from 'in the trenches' on Main Street, with tips about starting a business from entrepreneurs who have been there and done that.

Lisa Hiler is co-founder of When Pigs Fly, a resale and retail store in Norwalk, Ohio that generates donations to help aid struggling families affected by a terminal illness, benefiting The Piggyback Foundation. I spoke to her recently about some lessons learned when launching her business. Here is what she had to say:

In the fall of 2011, we decided to take our local success of fundraising garage sales and turn it into a business to support our charity year-round. We signed a lease for a building that was formerly a carpentry shop and went to work refinishing. We had help from volunteers whose talents turned the shop from a well-used dark carpentry shop to the bright, cheery welcoming store we envisioned. Our generous garage sale donators brought load after load of items that we could sell in our new store. Things were going along well.

Then reality set in.

Mistakes to learn from

Our first mistake was a simple lack of awareness of local codes. We found out a few weeks before opening that if we were going to resell furniture, it needed to be sanitized per code. 

Then, we decided to allow a volunteer to keep our books. That didn’t work out so well.

My husband and co-founder received a letter from the IRS stating our family owed $27,000 in unpaid income taxes. After we peeled him off the ceiling, we did some research and found that we had wrongly used our personal social security number when registering our credit card reader. We pulled the information together for the IRS and resolved that, to our relief. 

The takeaway

When starting a business, figure out what your strengths are: in our case it was our ability to create something people wanted to visit and support. But also figure out what your weaknesses are, and get help with them. For us, it was figuring out how to set up the financial systems and all the rules and regulations for starting and running a business.

Hiler is a finalist in the Staples Make Your Idea Happen Contest – a competition where entrepreneurs share their big ideas for a chance to receive all the products they need to bring their business to life. Gene Marks was a judge in the contest.