Small Business Owner’s Green Store Sprouts After Completing 10,000 Small Businesses at LaGuardia Community College

April 1, 2014 | LaGuardia Community College

Long Island City, NY—April 1, 2014—Elissa Olin, an actor-turned-aspiring-small- business-owner would walk around her Brooklyn neighborhood including Bed-Stuy and Clinton Hill with her dog, Lola, passing storefronts and imagining opening one herself. She envisioned an eco-friendly home goods and gift shop that would provide green products to a working class neighborhood where shopping and resources were limited.

“As I wandered through my neighborhood,” said Ms. Olin, “I thought about what Horace Mann, the founder of my alma mater, Antioch College, had said: ‘Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.’ At that time the work I was doing felt counter to his dictum. I thought by opening a shop that helped make it easy and convenient to live a greener life, I’d be able to contribute to my neighborhood and become a more active part of my community.  It was a way to make a positive difference.”

Within 13 months of hatching her idea, Ms Olin took a course to develop a much-needed business plan, discovered a vacant storefront on Myrtle Avenue that would be a perfect space for a small store and received approval and an affordable rent for the space.  And on Earth Day 2009, April 22, Green in BKLYN — a one-stop shop for people who are striving to attain a greener home and life — opened its doors.

“Doing everything in such a short time – it was definitely a wild ride,” she said.

Now, five-years old, the store is everything the small business owner envisaged. Customers walk into an inviting, friendly shop, where she is there to greet them with a warm hello or a congenial employee is at the ready to assist and answer questions.  And Lola is there to welcome the patrons and their four-legged companions.

The wood shelves are stocked with a wide array of sustainable, eco-friendly home goods and gifts ranging from recycled paper goods to organic beauty products to coffees, teas and chocolates. Many of the items carried are produced by Brooklyn companies: cotton kitchen towels made by a woman who lives around the corner from the store; jars of local honey provided by a local beekeeper; chocolates walked over from the local factory; and two lines of cleaning products made right in the neighborhood.  Also sold are books, greeting cards, jewelry, solar powered products, pet supplies and children’s toys many of which are also from local companies.

The store, which is offering a greener lifestyle to its customers, has established a niche in the neighborhood, has expanded its inventory and has increased its revenue, but Ms. Olin admits that during the first few years the demands placed on her as a fledgling small business owner were taking its toll.  Being the sole employee meant working six days a week leaving her little time to do anything else.  And when she was finally able to hire staff they did not prove to be the right fit.  She also was not certain she had control of her finances.

“I didn’t think I was making good decisions regarding staffing and financial matters and I wasn’t managing my time properly,” she said.  “I realized in order to successfully grow my business, I had to learn how to run it more effectively, how to make sound decisions and how to be a stronger leader.”

Enter Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, a collaboration between Goldman Sachs and LaGuardia Community College, which provides entrepreneurs with the tools and knowledge they need to help grow their business. The program teaches a specially developed curriculum that covers every aspect of business that is vital to a small business owner’s survival—accounting; marketing and selling; negotiating; hiring, developing and retaining talented employees; and organizing a growth plan.

In the summer of 2012, Ms. Olin enrolled in the free intensive business program at LaGuardia and for 11 weeks engaged in a variety of activities that provided her with a wealth of knowledge.

One assignment in particular—creating her growth plan—proved to be invaluable. “By sitting down and refining my original business plan into a growth plan,” she said, “I was able to clarify my mission and vision, and, by doing that, I was able to address one of my main concerns: how to hire the right people.”

She went on to say, “I realized that when it came to hiring I have to bring in people who embody the culture of the business since a big part of why customers return to the store is because they appreciate its warm, relaxed atmosphere.”

Ms. Olin currently has three part-time employees who were originally customers and neighborhood residents and one local student intern.  “I’m not only able to give people who live in the neighborhood jobs, but now I’m hiring people who also believe in the mission and want to be a part of it,” she said.

Now that she has hired competent staff, Ms. Olin has the freedom to spend four days in the store and the other three directing her energies to growing her business. She attends gift and craft fairs in search of new product lines; posts information on social media sites; focuses more attention on updating her website; and is working toward selling products online.  She also publishes a monthly newsletter that is distributed to over 5,000 customers and, with a better understanding and management of her finances, is making more effective financial decisions.

“I loved being in the store, but 10,000 Small Businesses taught me how to be a better CEO – one who concentrates on hiring more people, creating more opportunities and successfully growing the business.”

And grown it has.  Since taking the program, sales have increased 20% and she plans on hiring additional staff as well as expand into on-line sales.  She has become a self-declared ambassador spreading the word about the program.

“I’ve told every small business owner I know to take the program,” said Ms. Olin who added that so far two people have followed her advice and entered the program. “I told them, ‘It’ll change everything – it’ll change your business and it’ll change your life.’”

To learn more about the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative at LaGuardia Community College, please:

•           Visit www.laguardia.edu/10ksb

•           Call our team at (718) 730-7400 or

•           Email 10KSB@lagcc.cuny.edu

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Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is an initiative to unlock thegrowth and jobcreation potential of 10,000 small businesses across theUnited States through greater access to business education, financialcapital, and business support services. The program operates through anational network of public and private partner organizations includingcommunity colleges, business schools and Community Development FinancialInstitutions. The initiative is currently active in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Salt Lake Cityand will continue toexpand to communities across the country. Community partners in New YorkCity include The City of New York, LaGuardia Community College andSeedco Financial Services.

LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.

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