Why Your Small Business Needs Big Vision

Gene Marks reports from in the trenches on Main St.

Andrea Leiser is the founder of the Little Hat Workshop – a Connecticut based hat and accessories store that creates hats for people with cancer. Leiser was also the second place winner in the Staples Make Your Idea Happen Contest – a competition where entrepreneurs shared their big ideas for a chance to receive all the products they need to bring their business to life. (I was a judge in the contest.)

I recently spoke with Leiser about one of her earliest mistakes, and the lessons she learned that might help other small business owners. Here is her story:

When I started, I had not been in front of a sewing machine since I was 12-years-old. But, after seeing my sister sew an adorable fleece hat, I knew I had my calling. I went ahead and purchased a sewing machine at a yard sale for $5 and jumped right in.

I love what I do and enjoy helping others at the same time, but when you run a small business, it’s easy to learn things the hard way. And sometimes these lessons can be expensive.

My company is not yet large enough to buy fabric wholesale, so for now, I buy at retail, which is much more expensive. I often purchase fabric and supplies from Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft and Michaels. One day, I happened to be standing in line at Jo-Ann Fabrics when I saw a customer in front me using the store’s “VIP” card.  When I returned home, I went to the store’s website and learned that the VIP card is available to customers who qualify based on several different classifications, one of which is tax exempt status. The card offers a 10% discount plus exemption from paying local sales tax.  And guess what? As a tax-exempt reseller I qualified!

For me, not realizing this was a double whammy because I was paying sales tax and missing out on those 10% discounts! I didn’t realize I could use my resale certificate at a mainstream consumer retailer. I called another store I frequent and asked if they accepted resale certificates – they said yes, and that I just needed to bring it each time I shopped and they would remove the tax.

I had made a very costly mistake.

What Andrea learned:

No time for tunnel vision: I had been focusing on the status quo of my business. I realized that in order to grow, I needed to make sure that I was taking advantage of any opportunity to save money, and asking more questions.