Small Business Majority Blog

Small Business Matters

Sarah Best, founder of Conjured Cardea

If you want to learn how some people do the voodoo they do so well, just visit Conjured Cardea, a full-service online voodoo and hoodoo supply shop.

Sarah Best, founder of Conjured Cardea in Kalamazoo, MI, was raised around folk magic in Appalachia and is an expert on many hoodoo practices. She studied religion in college and gravitated to African diaspora belief systems—related religions that developed among enslaved Africans in America, derived from traditional African religions, such as Vodou, commonly referred to as voodoo. Best identifies as a hoodoo, a practitioner of a form of folk magic originating in West Africa (not to be confused with voodoo, which is a religion) and a spiritualist.

“I always enjoyed creating spiritual items and wares,” Best said. “I create hand-made, natural items that can be used to create a physical routine, a daily ritual or to reinforce a goal you want to obtain.”

With a vested interest in these spiritual paths, Best began a business in her home, selling these products to friends. When demand began to grow, she added some of her products to Etsy, and five years later became the top-seller in her category with over 30,000 items sold.

“I had no clue that this venture would prove successful in any way,” she said. “I simply dove in and started swimming. I left Etsy to branch out on my own and just opened four new sites, three of which are online retail shops, and purchased my own domain name.”

Best named her business Conjured Cardea after the ancient Roman goddess of hinges, doorways and thresholds. “I want my business to be a gateway for those looking to find themselves, their spirituality and their goals.”

Best has certainly put a spell on many customers looking to tap into their spiritual side. Her spiritual services and tarot readings bring people in droves, while products like Queen Bitch oil, Lucky Blue Hoodoo Housewash and items of Marie Laveau, the famous Creole voodoo practitioner, are popular sellers.

One of Best's most popular services is her Tarot card readings.

“My products give you something physical to practice with to bring your mind back to your focus, back to your goal, to help you achieve it. It’s guided meditation. You focus on an object or candle to hone your thoughts. My items are simply tools to aid the mind.”

Best prides herself in using natural ingredients such as herbs and pure essential oils that honor the original formulas of many of the items she sells as a way of honoring the culture and history behind them.

That culture and history, however, is still misperceived by many, something that Best to this day contends with. Recently, Best was terminated from a credit card processing company due to her site being affiliated with Vodou. This discriminatory act was publicized in a local Fox News piece, and Best hopes this will make the company change their policy so no one is denied services for their beliefs.

“I’d love for people to realize that we are just like they are,” Best added, working to dispel the negative notions behind hoodoo. With her bewitching site and historical knowledge of these practices, Best has positioned Conjured Cardea as a place where people can both learn and conjure their own beliefs.

Anita Brightman was always a creative at heart. But it wasn’t until her very own light bulb moment working as a government public affairs contractor that A. Bright Idea was born.

A. Bright Idea, a full-service creative advertising and public relations agency with locations in Bel Air, MD and Sonoma, CA was exactly that – Brightman’s epiphany.

“I always enjoyed public relations, telling the story of the underdog and pleading my case,” Brightman said. When she began to feel “lost in a large corporation with its own language of acronyms,” Brightman quit her job without a real plan in place and started a small business doing something she knew she loved.

“I managed progress slowly and grew A. Bright Idea from a home-based business that used freelance support to a full-service agency with 32 employees and two locations,” she said.

A. Bright Idea offers clients a wide array of services, including advertising, marketing, public relations, graphic design and interactive services including website design and social media support.

The firm’s status as a small business affords it a unique opportunity to serve businesses both large and small.

“As a small business, we understand the struggles of our fellow small business clients, while also possessing the capacity to support large organizations and government entities,” she said. “We see balancing our varying client base as a unique opportunity.”

Unlike other agencies that specialize in one specific discipline, A. Bright Idea’s multitude of services and skill sets offers a multidimensional approach to their clients’ communication problems.

“We believe that any communication tool, whether a corporate identity or a multi-tiered advertising campaign, should tie directly to an overall strategic business and communication plan.”

Brightman felt that sort of model was lacking in the market, noting she witnessed a great need for creative services when A. Bright Idea was in its nascent, home office stage.

“I found myself with a niche in small market areas that consisted of small to medium sized businesses that had no opportunity for creative services. I saw the need for [these services] and I seized it.”

Starting a company that provides creative services allowed Brightman to tap into her own creative impulses and create an environment based on thinking outside of the box and one that prides itself on innovative ideas.

“It’s amazing to see all of the pieces come together,” she said, commenting on the collaborative nature and welcome exchange of ideas her business is founded upon.

“Everyone’s business, whether big or small, needs a creative spark and we make that possible.” And with that said, Brightman sets out to bring a bright idea to all of her clients.

Carrie Ferrence and Jacqueline Gjurgevich, founders of Stockbox Neighborhood Grocery

What began as a grad school assignment has blossomed into a successful small business that Seattleites are eating up… literally.

Stockbox Neighborhood Grocery went from an idea to a thriving small business thanks to Carrie Ferrence. As part of one of her classes at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Ferrence was tasked with designing a business that responded to a social need, and focused on developing a retail response to urban food access.

“We believed that investing in small business development could respond to the need for good food inside of urban communities, while providing much-needed economic and employment support,” she said.

Taking her concept out to the community and getting their feedback on what they liked and what could be improved helped rally the support from the city of Seattle, and inspired Ferrence and her team to bring their project to fruition.

“Stockbox is the new neighborhood grocery,” she said. “We place small grocery stores in urban areas to offer a local resource for fresh foods, meals and grocery staples in communities that don’t have access to good food.”

Stockbox is dedicated to offering affordable and accessible options for fresh food inside local communities from local produce suppliers and farms. Their fair pricing keeps them competitive with larger chains, while low operating costs and higher margin products help them offer fresh food at relatively affordable prices.

Interior of Stockbox's First Hill store location

What truly makes Stockbox a standout grocer has been the rapid disappearance of corner stores in many communities, resulting in a unique opportunity that Ferrence is positioning her business to help solve.

“23 million people in the U.S. now live in a food desert, which means they don’t have access to a grocery store or fresh food where they live. This grocery gap is actually growing and demonstrates both a large market opportunity and pressing social need.”

The commitment to community that drives Stockbox as a small business can also pose problems of its own.

“We are challenged by finding locations that are a good fit for us and the community. And because we’re committed to hiring from the community, it can be challenging to build a staff that represents the community.”

Nevertheless, Ferrence basks in the rewards and customer support that Stockbox’s community-conscious business model brings in.

“I love to hear customers’ reactions when they visit our store for the first time. They come in for the food but end up excited by how fresh and fun it feels inside the store. We’re not another app or technology (company)– we offer a sense of space and connection for our customers to reconnect to food.”

With two stores currently open, Stockbox is working to continue expanding its network and reach in the Seattle area and beyond, with requests to open locations across the country.

By merging the quality and selection of large chain grocers with the ambiance and civic mindedness of a local mom-and-pop shop, Stockbox Neighborhood Grocery is a small business that could become a big, national player in the urban grocery market in the years to come.

Lisa Goodbee

As a successful woman small business owner in Colorado, Lisa Goodbee knows first-hand the hardships that go into starting a business from scratch.

With blood, sweat and tears, Goodbee has turned her small business, Goodbee & Associates, into a standout woman-owned engineering firm since its founding in 1994.

It’s this experience and the opportunities that were available to her that shape Goodbee’s stance on immigration reform, something she strongly believes in.

“As a Colorado small business owner, I am in strong support of immigration reform. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do from a business perspective,” she said.

Goodbee particularly supports The DREAM ACT, legislation signed into law by President Obama, which helps provide conditional residency to immigrants who arrived to the United States as minors, lived in the country for five years prior to the bill’s enactment and graduated from a U.S. high school. Residency can be extended or become permanent should they choose to enlist and serve in the military for a specific amount of time or work toward earning a collegiate degree.

“It makes absolutely no sense that we limit opportunities for young, motivated Colorado Dreamers – young people born abroad but raised and educated here,” she said.

The math is simple. Immigrants are one of the leading founders of small businesses across the country. Small businesses are our nation’s prime job creators and stimulate many local economies. If immigrants are the primary group that establishes one of our economy’s largest growth machines, then it makes fiscal and economic sense to provide them with the opportunity to do so.

“As a business community, we should be encouraging and supporting future contributing members of our society. Deportation, tearing families apart and demonizing immigrants is anti-business and anti-community,” she said.

Without comprehensive immigration reform, Goodbee realizes that these things will continue to happen, not to mention the missed opportunity for small firms and the economy to maximize job creation and revenue generation. “Allowing [immigrants] to find a career path through higher education and employment lifts us all up,” she said.

But it doesn’t just stop at reform for Goodbee. She, like many other small business owners, believe the most appropriate way to handle what a vast majority believe is a broken immigration system is to create a path toward citizenship for many undocumented workers.

“When people are given the opportunity to be tax-paying, contributing consumers, that is good for all business,” she said.

Goodbee worked hard to build her business from the ground up and turn it into one of the Denver area’s many small businesses that power the local economy. She knows many immigrants have the drive to do the same, they just need the opportunity to do so. That opportunity starts with reform.

Mardi-Ellen Hill, creator of MEND

It’s not often that consumers gets to fully immerse themselves in, and become a part of, the product that’s sold to them. But MEND, an interactive story, is both an ambitious product and small business that seeks to combine fiction with reality.

The genesis of MEND is rooted in a fictional narrative written by Mardi-Ellen Hill, who conceived an entire business plan and company around the idea of an interactive story.  What she came up with is an operating system that allows people to interact with elements of the story and use the system to engage with those elements, such as a decoding a secret language that drives the story’s plot. MEND is a device that places readers of the story straight into the heart of the action.

The original book bible follows a female protagonist named Lily Barrington who’s family’s checkered past comes back to haunt her, placing her in grave danger. MEND is an invention within the story fought over by the characters and also the real-world product of Hill’s business.

The system allows readers and consumers to further participate in the narrative elements of Hill’s sweeping epic, almost like an interactive digital encyclopedia. Users can use MEND’s musical language system to decode the secret languages of the story and discover profound clues to the diabolical plot unfolding.

Hill realizes the concept is a lot to take in, noting that her biggest challenge is “articulating the difference between MEND, the work of fiction and MEND the real time operating system. MEND is both a work of fiction, and a work of reality.”

With the creation of MEND as a tangible and consumable product, Hill has bulldozed through the passive limits of storytelling, fostering a truly immersive audio-visual story that readers can actively participate in. And Hill doesn’t plan on slowing the expansion of MEND anytime soon.

“Taking off as a business is the exact stage MEND is entering now,” she said. “I always knew that after the initial conceptualization phase I would be looking to partner with a publishing company, a movie production company, a gaming company and private enterprise partners.”

Currently, the story of MEND is being produced as a script for Hollywood and has already been staged as a play production that sparked the concept for morphing MEND into other adaptions, such as books and games.

However, the most exciting part of Hill’s journey has been the evolution and innovation in technology that has enabled MEND to become a truly interactive journey for consumers.

“This activity was a lot of fun, especially considering a lot of this technology did not exist when I first wrote the story. Suddenly much more of this story was understandable to a much wider audience.”

With technology continuing to catch up with Hill’s effervescent imagination, the sky’s the limit for where she’ll be able to take us with MEND next.