My background prior to working at Premier was in software and web development. I did interface design so my fine arts degree in design and illustration translated to that. However, I was sick of technology and wanted a major change. Between my studies in illustration, my sewing skills that I learned from my mother when I was a child, and my time windsurfing, I managed to be a good candidate when I interviewed for a job with a kite manufacturer based in Maryland.
At that time I knew little about manufacturing and retail sales. I never really thought about the containers I'd see on the tankers when driving over the Bay Bridge on my way to Maryland's Eastern Shore. I never thought about local businesses or the impact they have on our economy. In the years that I've lived in the Annapolis area, I've seen more and more local businesses replaced with large chains which might be fine, but there is something special about a small business.
Some people think about small businesses on Small Business Saturday and might do some Christmas shopping at local businesses that one day of the year. I'm pleased to announce that there is another day that is meant to help us think about our local economy, and that is National Mom & Pop Business Owner Day. However, my blog is not to tell you about each holiday, there are other blogs to do that. My blog is simply what I have to say about some of these days.
The bread and butter of Premier Kites & Designs happens to be Mom & Pop businesses. Some of these businesses have grown as we have grown, some have contentedly stayed the same size, and some of these businesses go away when Mom & Pop decide to retire. I'd like to share a story with you about my personal favorite Mom & Pop business, though. It is a story of a Mom & Pop who decided to retire by starting their own business. B & S Kites.
B & S Kites was started by Bill and Susie Doan in in 1997. Bill and Susie, originally from Ohio, would vacation in South Padre Island, Texas. Kites were Bill's hobby. One day Bill said to Susie that he wanted to open a kite shop there. She thought he was joking. Bill was currently driving a semi and Susie had a job as a bookkeeper, why take such a huge risk and start a kite shop? Unfortunately, their oldest son, Billy, died unexpectedly and they decided they would take the chance and go for it.
I've always liked Bill and Susie (and not just because Susie brings home baked cookies to us each year when they visit us in Hyattsville), but I didn't know about the history behind their store until I decided to write this blog. Here's a very condensed version of how they got started. Basically, they auctioned off almost all of their belongings. Susie had just gotten a new car, but she sold it. Bill restored old tractors, so he had some of those to sell. They simply sold everything They took the money they made and used it as seed money for the store. One March day when Susie was at work she got a fax that a sporting good store was going out of business. It was a 15' x 60' space and they bought it. They made a plan that they would give it 18 months. After they were there for 3 months Susie said to Bill, "We're staying."
When I asked Bill what he liked most about being a Mom & Pop business he said it is getting to be with the love of his life 24/7. Susie was a little more detailed in her response, I can't decide if it is because she's female or because she's the bookkeeper.
Susie said, "Everything is negotiable whatever the difference of opinion is. . .there is no one boss. We have to be on the same page or life is miserable." She then laughed as she added, "That is a pro."
She went on to explain that there is no one higher up who will simply lay down the law but instead they learn to compromise. At the word compromise she added that it is also a con. I asked her to explain and she said that they each need to be big enough to admit when the other has the better idea. As cons go, in my opinion, that's not so bad. Or maybe it just doesn't seem so bad when I think of the two of them. They visit us once a year and something that stands out to me as I write this is how courteous they are to one another. Genuinely thoughtful; that is Bill and Susie.
It isn't often that I see a marriage that makes me think, "If I were to get married, I'd like it to be like that." Bill and Susie have a business and a marriage that I admire. What has made B&S Kites successful in my opinion? Maybe it is Susie's bookkeeping skills or Bill's kite knowledge. Maybe it is that they know the first name, last name, and the hometown of about 500 of their customers. However, I think that they are successful in business, because they are successful in their marriage. They treat each other with courtesy, respect, and love which extends to their business and their community.
Premier has recently updated our website to sell direct to the consumer. We have so many products available that not every store can carry every item. I asked Susie for her thoughts. She said she isn't concerned because they beat us on price and because they don't want to sell online. "We want to stay focused on customer service."
When you go into a Mom & Pop business, at least one like Bill & Susie's, you are going to get better than customer service. You are going to get the attention of people who genuinely care. Supporting Mom & Pop businesses means supporting people who believe so much in their hobby that they want to share it.
Susan has been the art director at Premier since 2002. She used to exercise race horses in addition to working at Premier but has since adopted one of the race horses. Now she is happily working one job and enjoying having spare time. In this spare time she is either outdoors with her horse or home at her easel. Occasionally she is doing random cat rescue. She enjoys her job and all the people she gets to meet along the way. Her favorite kites this year are Batty and Unicorns deltas!