We’ve all heard it over and over — small business is the backbone of our economy. But sometimes that backbone needs an adjustment. These savvy local business owners share their stories and some advice on how to succeed. Mentors Matter Starting a business can be a scary and difficult thing to do. But John Kolbrich, the director and owner of the Avalon Music Center in Waterford Lakes, took a chance. After having a “very vivid dream” about the school ten years ago, he took a leap of faith and began teaching music in his home. As the demand for the music courses being offered increased, Kolbrich began looking into expanding the business beyond his house. Now, ten years later, Kolbrich has not just one, but three different shops located throughout Central Florida: Waterford Lakes (his first establishment), a location on East Colonial Drive (run by his son Phillip, a University of Central Florida graduate), and his newest location in Avalon Park (which will celebrate five years this month).
Kolbrich says he has had a love for music since he was young, learning the accordion and trumpet, and how to sing at a young age. Considering himself a life-long musician, Kolbrich says he knew that it would always be a part of his life. “Most people would retire and go golf or something. I would retire and go do music,” Kolbrich says. Of course, owning his own business has its ups and downs. From mechanical and technical aspects such as building maintenance, taxes and marketing, Kolbrich has learned a lot along the way. Kolbrich offers a key piece of advice for those considering starting their own small business: Get a mentor to help you. A mentor can help not only with day-to-day things but also with motivation, which you’ll need when things get tough. He also recommends studying and reading as much as you can about your industry and small business in general. He got a lot from reading Michael E. Gerber’s “The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It.” Kolbrich also advises that you have to have passion and heart for what you are doing. It’s what will carry you through. Growing Deep, Not Wide On the corner of Edgewater Drive and Vassar Street in College Park is a small cookie shop that does one thing: cookies.
Cookie Cousins was kick-started by Melissa Hart and her cousin Tracy Nolen, with nothing more than ideas and ambition. Before Cookie Cousins, Hart and Nolen were both elementary school teachers, but in April 2009, with no business experience, they opened Cookie Cousins. “Starting a small business can be extremely difficult and confusing,” says Hart. “There are so many different departments you need to talk to when finding out what is legal, what is allowed, what the health codes and regulations are and what licenses you need.” Hart advies to pick a niche product or service and to “grow your business deep, not wide.” What that means for Cookie Cousins is that the business focused on one thing: cookies and only cookies. Cookie Cousins does not bake brownies, cakes, cupcakes or the like. Hart believes that by focusing on one product, they were able to make it their specialty and make the best cookies in Orlando. Part of their niche business is that they customize their cookies with logos, team colors or special shapes. “We stick to cookies, which is what I think has given us the reputation we have,” she says. “Instead of being a bakery with a ton of stuff that is average, we have one product that is amazing.”
Hart also suggests asking other similar businesses for startup advice and doing your own research on the licenses, codes and regulations needed for your business. Friends and family members have watched Cookie Cousins blossom but most say they knew the business would be a hit from the start. “When they started this I knew it would take off because I knew there was nothing like it in Orlando,” says Barbara Clayton, Hart’s mother, who actually gave Melissa and Tracy the idea for Cookie Cousins. “The quality of the cookies and the perfectionism that goes into each one is what makes them unique.” Hart says although advertising and location are important, having a good product and good customer service is key. She advises to match your product to your customer by knowing what they want, what they like to see and what their price range is. “Word of mouth is, hands down, our biggest marketing tool,” says Hart. “We make a cookie that looks good and tastes good, we strive for perfection in all aspects.” John Kolbrich of Avalon Music Center turned his passion for music into a full-fledged business. Melissa Hart of Cookie Cousins chose to focus on one product and make it great.