The Bootstrap Businesses column showcases home business entrepreneurs: Diane Abernathy on making wreaths; Linda Triegel on opening a used book store and R. Sowards on a maple branch chair business.
MOTHER readers share their home businesses, this issue includes a business making wreaths for the holiday season.
Photo By Fotolia/Stefan Körber
Home business entrepreneurs enter into new businesses, including making wreaths for the holidays, opening a used bookstore and building maple branch chairs for profit.
If you now operate — or have ever operated a successful home business that was inspired by an article you read in MOTHER, tell us (in 500 words or less) when and where — and with how much "seed money" you started your venture. If your story can be fitted into an upcoming installment of Bootstrap Businesses you'll receive  the warm satisfaction of knowing that you helped someone else find the happiness you enjoy and  a free two-year new or renewal subscription to THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS.
When Christmas drew near last year, the need 3 for some extra cash became apparent to us . . . and that was when an article I'd read back in It MOTHER NO. 36 ("Make Wreaths for Winter Dollars", pages 85-88) came to mind.
Although I'd never made a wreath before, it sounded simple enough . . . so I bought a cutting permit from the Forest Service for $5.00 and headed out for the dense woodlands from my I home in central Oregon. I drove fifty miles up to the mountains and returned with a load of boughs from white and Douglas firs and incense cedars.
And then . . . with these branches . . . and some leftover, smooth 10-gauge wire we'd used in our raspberry patch and a roll of thinner wire we had lying around and my copy of MOTHER open to Gillian McDaniel's instructions . . . I got started in the wreath business!
My husband made all the rings I needed, using a single strand of the smooth metallic wire for the 10-inch-diameter wreaths and a double loop for the 20-inch size. (The ends of the rings can either be spot-welded or twisted together.) When I ran out of my original stock of wire, I bought some spools of florist's wrapping wire, which — at 85¢ apiece — quickly added up, so next year I plan on finding a wholesale source. (As it turned out, though, our biggest wreathmaking expense was not wire, but gas for the car and truck.)
By now it was the week after Thanksgiving and I needed to find buyers for my Christmas adornments. The McDaniels had sold their wreaths to a wholesaler . . . there was no such animal in our area, though, so I canvassed florists, gift shop owners, and anyone else who would listen. In the process I learned a valuable lesson: Most business people do their Christmas ordering well before Thanksgiving. In other words, the trick is to write orders early, but to cut and prepare the greenery just prior to the delivery date.
Luckily, however, I had requests for my wares the very first day: four large wreaths for a shopping center, and 20 pounds of cut boughs for a small gift shop. When I followed up on my "call back" contacts, I sold a few hundred pounds of boughs and a number of wreaths to a florist who hadn't yet ordered from a wholesaler . . . and, to my best customer — the owner of a holiday gift stand located in a shopping plaza? I delivered several dozen wreaths decorated with pinecones and juniper berries at the rates of $3.00 for the 10-inch size and $6.00 for the larger 20-inch arrangement.
Obviously, my Christmas wreath venture was a great success! I could've sold more than I made, but my time was limited by two small children and a busy homestead.
Thank you, MOTHER . . . I never would've tried it without you.
— Diane Abernathy
I'd had the idea of opening a secondhand bookstore in the back of my mind for some time already when I read about Clarence P. Socwell's paperback exchange in THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS' Handbook of Home Business Ideas and Plans. [EDITOR'S NOTE. The Handbook is available for $2.25 in any good bookstore or from MOTHER's Bookshelf . . . also, see the Profile on Omar Kateeb in MOTHER NO. 46, page 96.) Then, last February, in my own hometown of New Fairfield, Connecticut, I ran across a great location for such a venture: a lovely, white, old Colonial structure that now houses my paperback exchange ("The Open Book") along with the local newspaper office and a gift shop.
I collected my initial stock of merchandise from book fairs, thrift shops, tag sales, generous friends, and through ads placed in the town paper and opened my doors in March with 3,000 volumes. Business has been good and The Open Book's inventory now exceeds 6,000 titles, arranged by category (science fiction, gothics, westerns, and so on).
Most of my acquisitions currently come from regular customers, who receive 75% of the cover price in credit for every book they bring in, and then "pay" from this account 50% of the real cost plus 10¢ cash for each volume they take out. (I keep a card file for all my "creditors".)
Those dimes do add up . . . and I also collect one-half the cover price for "straight" sales, supplemented by occasional specials on odd hard-cover titles that I pick up, as well as 5- and 10-cent sales that the young readers love. I figure I need to take in at least $16 a day to reach the break-even point, and currently the store only draws about $12 daily . . . but it's growing!
My expenses to date have amounted to $300 of books, $400 to install shelving (a lot of cleaning and painting was needed, which I did myself, but I hired a carpenter to put In sturdy shelves), $150 for a telephone, $50 to print bookmarks and buy stationery, and — of course — the recurring monthly rent payment of $155.
Thank you for the idea, MOTHER . . . everyone who comes in loves the place, and I'm having a terrific time!
— Linda Triegel
Now Fairfield, Connecticut
A few months ago, my wife and I moved to the remote hills of West Virginia to serve as caretakers on some property that my relatives had recently inherited. Soon after we arrived, we found that there wasn't any work available . . . and our supply of money was rapidly dwindling.
Our situation looked pretty bleak till several weeks ago, when my spouse — still unpacking — pulled out a copy of MOTHER (issue No. 43) that my mom had given to us just prior to our departure from Florida. As I thumbed through the magazine, I came across Ernest J. Lewis's article ("I Build Willow Chairs for Pleasure and Profit!", pages 72-75) and decided to try my hand at putting one together. (I used maple tree branches instead of willows, which are scarce around these parts.) Lo and behold, the chair I produced turned out to be sturdy, good-looking, and easy to build!
I soon noticed that people seemed to really like my creation . . . so, rather than advertise, I set the finished product on the front porch for prospective home-buyers (the house was up for sale) to see. In the meantime, I continued to build some more . . . and everyone who came to look at the house commented on those chairs!
Consequently, orders are now coming in for 3- to 5-piece sets . . . before I've even had a chance to accumulate much stock. (And the neighbors have also begun inquiring about them.) My maple-branch chairs certainly haven't made us rich yet, but they are buttering our bread!
Incidentally, my total investment — since I already owned the tools — was $1.80 for nails . . . but I didn't even have that small sum of money when I first started out.
However, in the same issue as the willow chair article, I'd read a Dear Mother letter about hunting and selling ginseng . . . and with the idea of quick cash in mind, I called a nearby herb dealer with our last dime and discovered that locally abundant green log moss brought 25¢ a pound "dry". And May apple roots yielded 60¢ a pound "dry". So I hurriedly gathered the moss and roots, and in one month wound up with $120: enough to pay for groceries, assorted bills, and the $1.80 worth of nails!
Thanks for both great ideas, MOTHER!
— R. Sowards
Southern West Virginia