These four MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers have started their own small-scale, entrepreneurial businesses and have been generous enough to share their tips for creating a small business plan for such businesses as a secondhand furniture store and how to sell fresh produce to a local grocer.
Sell a Product You Love at Wholesale Prices
My family and I were looking for a way to accumulate the large amount of cash we needed to purchase land and tools . . . before the economy went completely down the tubes. We hadn’t been searching long when we came across “We’re Stuck on the Stickler” in the September/October 1976 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS , and the follow-up success story “How MOTHER EARTH NEWS Ruined My Life by Making Me Successful, Famous, and Rich” — in the September/October 1977 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. We knew right then and there that this answer to the woodcutter’s prayers would play a part in our homesteading plans.
In fact, MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ write-ups on the wood splitting device impressed us so much that we promptly invested $150 in a unit of our own . . . and contacted the manufacturer to inquire about dealer prices. When we were informed that the Stickler could be ordered wholesale — In quantity — for $112.50, we set out to demonstrate the miracle worker to other potential buyers. Our pickup truck — parked just off the highway — became our selling post, with the Stickler bolted to its wheel . . . buzzing away at log after log. The performance attracted a horde of passers-by . . . and before long we were raking in the orders.
That first weekend we sold 10 log splitters (at a profit of more than $350!) . . . and our roadside setup has provided us with a healthy income ever since. We also learned that the Stickler sells quite well at festivals and at energy, state, and county fairs. (At one such event we managed to peddle 126 splitters for a total profit of more than $4,000!)
We owe our success to MOTHER EARTH NEWS and her knack for putting people and information together at precisely the right time. And we’d like to help keep that flow of facts in motion so we’re prepared to send details on how to set yourself up in business to anyone who’ll mail us a self-addressed, stamped envelope. (Or you can take the plunge as we did: Just send us a check or money order for $150 for a Stickler of your own . . . state the year, make, and model of your vehicle . . . and within a few days you’ll be out there demonstrating!)
Anyone who can read today’s ever-present signs of double-digit inflation and skyrocketing fuel prices knows that the time for wood heat is now. We’re helping to make that happen and so can you!
Jack W. Long: Ozark Energy
Start A Secondhand Furniture Store
A few years ago I was living in Tucson, Arizona trapped in the nine-to-five rut and longing to be independent. I had little business experience and even less money, so my hopes of escaping were small, until I read Mabel Scott’s article, “You Can Make First-Class Profits With a Secondhand Business”, in THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS Handbook of Home Business Ideas and Plans.
At the time, my family’s assets consisted of $300 and a pickup truck … but we were convinced that this was enough to make a go of it. We began by locating a site for the business: a 600-square-foot block building — situated on one of Tucson’s major streets — which rented for $175 a month. Next, we invested $25 in licenses, sign-constructing materials (plywood and paint), and other miscellaneous “opening” expenses.
This left us with only $100 to stock our secondhand store . . . but — to our surprise — people began giving us used items just as soon as the word of our little shop spread. Relatives, friends, and an equal number of strangers called in to offer us tables, beds, lamps, stoves… you name it. All we had to do in return was to haul off the unwanted merchandise. The store filled rapidly with freebies … and I spent our last $100 at the local auction house to complete the shop’s inventory.
Sales were slow for the first few weeks after we opened our doors … but — before long — business began to pick up. It soon became clear that furniture sold best and offered the biggest profit, so we replaced our stocks of books, clothes, dishes, and what not with dressers, beds, sofas, etc. We displayed our “star” items in the large yard in front of the store . . . dressers, rocking chairs, filing cabinets, and desks proved to be the most effective bait.
By our second month in business we were remarkably busy … and making quite a profit: Our income — after expenses — was averaging $250 per week! Business prospered in this way for two full years . . . until my wife and i decided we should close the store and move on to new places and activities. As a result, we sold the merchandise we’d accumulated — just above cost — and took home more than $2,000!
Our little enterprise did more than provide my family with valuable experience and material comforts during those years . . . it also gave us security and confidence: We now know that even in the worst of times — we can scrape together a few dollars to set up shop . . . and go right back into business!
Nick Russell: Excelsior, Minn.
Sell and Grow Sprouts for Fast Cash
When my wife Christel read “Sprouts Fill Our Pockets With Cash” in the November/December 1978 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was overcome with enthusiasm . . . and determined to give the business a try. I, on the other hand, was pessimistic . . . and proceeded to offer her several reasons why a career in sprouting would be a waste of both time and money. Fortunately, however, my wife has always had a mind of her own . . . so she pooh poohed my rantings and set out to establish her enterprise.
The project began with a $100 investment . . . which bought 50 pounds of alfalfa seeds, a supply of plastic sandwich “baggies”, and a stock of printed labels. During her first week in business Christel packaged up two dozen bags of the shoots and went door to door, offering them for sale to the small, independent grocers in our immediate area. And — thanks in large part to the guaranteed free weekly replacement of unsold produce with fresh (which was outlined in MOTHER EARTH NEWS) — my wife returned home with every sprout sold. (This simple exchange policy has only cost a total of .1 percent of the business’ plant output!)
Christel’s sprouting career began to expand steadily, and — consequently — I was quickly converted to my wife’s way of thinking. Then one day I came home to find the couch covered — end to end — with gallon jars and growing sprouts. Exasperated, I turned to the section on racks, trays, and shelves in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS article . . . and, following the instructions, put together enough stands to clear out our living space. (In addition, I added several improvements to the design, including black plastic, with which I enshrouded the shelves to protect the plants from too much light, and a small, thermostatically controlled heater placed beneath each rack … to regulate warmth without having to adjust our house’s heating system.)
The entire family has become involved in Christel’s sprouting endeavor: Our four boys — ages 4 to 10 — earn 1 cent per minute when they lend us a hand (this adds up to one to six dollars per week, depending on their ambition). My mother and sister — encouraged by my wife’s immediate success — have begun a similar undertaking of their own . . . which is doing a $9,000-a-year business after just six short weeks. And Christel is clearing approximately $14,000 per year . .. earmarked for paying back debts, building an energy-efficient “thermal envelope” home (see the March/April 1979 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS); and taking our long-dreamed-of trip to Europe.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS — together with my strong-willed wife — is responsible for making all of this happen. So, if there’s room in the sprout market of your locale, all I can say is: Pick up a copy of the November/December 1978 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. . . and move in fast!
Mike Taylor: Rigby, Idaho
Sell Fresh Produce to A Local Grocer
My home business is probably one of the very few such enterprises to be inspired by a growlin’ stomach. You see, I was out for a walk one day when “the hungries” hit me. So — since I’m a vegetarian — I ambled over to the local health food store for a bite. The organically grown vegetables and fruits were tantalizingly displayed, but then I took a look at the prices: 37 cents for an apple, 75 cents per carrot, and a dollar for a bunch of celery! When I asked the proprietor to explain this outrage, he related a sad tale of having to import wholistically grown produce from California — through a middleman, of course — in order to stock his little Pennsylvania store.
I went home — on an empty belly — and began to ponder the dilemma. It seemed to me I’d read more than one article in MOTHER EARTH NEWS on the subject of selling fresh produce . . . so i sat down and began leafing through my back issues. Just as I’d remembered,the May/June 1978 issue contained an article called “Turn Your Garden Surplus Into Cash .. . at the Farmers’ Market” and the May/June 1975 issue had another piece entitled “How to Start a Produce Business”.
Well, I’d been planting my own organic plot for nearly seven years, using the techniques described in MOTHER EARTH NEWS … and the procedures had really paid off (as evidenced by the health and abundance of my very diverse crops). I’d had such a surplus the year before that — in my attempts to preserve the “extras” — I’d gone from canning to drying to purchasing a half-price freezer at a Sears “scratch and dent” sale . . . and it seemed I had more organically grown fresh produce than I could ever eat!
Moreover, my most recent yields had gotten even further out of hand . . . and, after putting up 2,000 quart jars and filling 25 cubic feet of freezer space, I felt I’d had my fill of the bounty. So off I went to the health food store to make the owner an offer he couldn’t refuse. “I’ll beat every one of your wholesale suppliers’ prices by 3 to 5 cents per unit,” I said. “The vegetables will be organically grown and freshly picked on the day of delivery . . . and I’ll provide same-day service on any order if you’ll call me in the morning.” Not only did the proprietor promptly extend his hand to seal the deal . . . but he also gave me my first order on the spot!
Before long, my business was earning me $25 per week from the health food store, $25 per week from various other produce outlets I’d connected with along the way, and had also brought in a number of valuable items that folks had been glad to barter for my fresh produce.
By the end of the summer, everyone involved was happy: The store owner had a direct-from-the-garden supplier . . . his customers had inexpensive, fresh, organic vegetables . . . and yours truly had money in the bank!
Jim Jordan: Glenmoore, Pa.