Keeping It Local

Article excerpt

Byline: Julie Halpert

"Locally made" is a popular term for budding entrepreneurs with romantic notions of taking a product in their community and turning it into a profitable business. But transforming a local gem into a cash cow takes more than a good idea.

NEWSWEEK spoke to two successful local-goods entrepreneurs about what to consider when starting out. Natalie Chanin founded Alabama Chanin, a wholesaler that produces couture clothing with local, organic, or recycled materials. Her annual revenue: about $500,000. Bob Sutherland is founder of Cherry Republic stores. His three Michigan locations feature more than 175 cherry products, such as cherry jam, that bring in about $9 million a year in revenue. Their advice:

ALABAMA CHANIN

Develop a Nose for Numbers

"You can have the best idea in the world, but if you can't make the books balance at the end of the month" it won't work, Chanin says. She suggests new owners at least learn the basics of accounting. One way to do that: buy a copy of QuickBooks accounting software and "make it your best friend."

Forget the WalMart Types

Some stores will always offer cheaper products, so don't attempt to go up against them. Instead, focus on marketing the qualities you have that big chains like Walmart don't. For example, do you offer more personalized service? Do you deliver nationwide? "Play up your strengths," Chanin advises.

Hire the Faithful

Chanin says one of her biggest mistakes was to hire people who didn't share her commitment to producing locally. To avoid that problem, ensure that prospective employees and advisers support your company's goals and, at a minimum, understand your mission. …