Small Business Majority Blog

Small Business Matters

Interior cafe of Coppa Gelato in Westerville, OH.

Here’s a scoop: Residents of the Columbus, Ohio area do not have to take that lavish Italian dream vacation to get their hands on some dynamite gelato.

Coppa Gelato, a family-owned gelateria, offers authentic Italian gelato out of a cozy café in the town of Westerville.

Linda Davis had been dreaming of opening her own ice cream shop for more than 30 years. After selling real estate for almost 20 years, Davis quit cold turkey and turned her attention towards that dream. After getting her first taste of gelato, and learning it was healthier than traditional ice cream, she set her sights on opening a gelateria.

“For a little over a year, I researched gelato and visited every gelateria in Columbus,” Davis said of her icy plunge into the entrepreneurial world. Columbus was an integral starting point as Davis notes “many major corporations test the market by introducing their product in Columbus.”

Davis studied under gelato experts from Italy to perfect her craft, researched the market, found a booming retail space and hired contractors to start constructing her vision all before opening Coppa’s doors this past July.

Enlisting the help of her two daughters, Alycia Turley and Lindsey Kovach, Coppa Gelato launched to rousing success. In addition to the 30 flavors of gelato available, Turley is a pastry chef and makes everything from cream puffs to macaroons. Kovach serves as Coppa’s marketing and business coordinator.

“I think the biggest challenge is keeping the business separate from family time,” Davis said. “Lindsey, Alycia and myself live and breath Coppa Gelato, and trying to have dinner without talking business is nearly impossible.”

However, it’s this close-knit working environment with her family that remains one of Davis’ biggest joys.

“The number one part about owning this business is being able to spend time with my daughters and grandson, even if it’s at the café. I am extremely fortunate to have family members involved in every aspect of the business.”

A few of Coppa Gelato's 30-plus flavors.

When it comes down to it, however, it’s all about the gelato. Coppa Gelato makes each batch fresh daily with no pre-mixes. With 30 flavors and counting, Davis says that the seasons play a big role in experimenting with new flavors. This coming fall will introduce pumpkin, apple pie and harvest spice concoctions.

What truly makes Coppa Gelato stand out is the way it embraces traditional and authentic Italian-style gelato, without neglecting the local Ohio sensibilities. Many of their most popular flavors are plays on Ohio-specific traits. The B’Urban Meyer, Coppa’s take on the classic butter pecan flavor, is named after the Ohio State University football coach. Meanwhile, nothing says Ohio state pride like having a flavor called The Buckeye, crafted to meld the smooth chocolate and rich peanut buttery tastes of a buckeye candy.

With a nod to their community, Coppa Gelato keeps customers happy with top-notch service.

“The staff goes out of their way to make each customer feel they are having a special experience, including silver dishes, silver spoons and a Ciao cookie with each serving,” she said.

As Coppa Gelato plans to start distributing to restaurants and grocery stores in the near future, Davis hopes to spread a little piece of Italy along with that undeniable Midwestern charm to customers everywhere.

Jennifer Strain was all washed out after being in the corporate world for many years. But after a night snuggled up in bed reading a book on soap making, Strain’s cleansing process began with an idea that had the sweet smell of success.

Good Fortune Soap, a manufacturer, retail store, spa and wholesaler in Chattanooga, TN, is Strain’s one-stop destination for washing one’s troubles away. And the process of starting this small business did just that for her, as well.

“I worked in the corporate world, but was ready for a change and longed for a different career, a lifestyle that fed my mind, body and spirit while also providing a way to connect with and help others,” Strain said.

She began her fortuitous journey by studying soap making and the natural products industry, focusing on all natural ingredients. “The fearless mad scientist I knew as a child took over as I experimented by making hundreds of batches of soap, scent combinations, shapes, colors and more,” she said.

Having spent 8 months in a lab perfecting her craft, Strain finally launched Good Fortune Soap as an open house in December of 2006. In just two days, she sold hundreds of bars of soap and gift sets, with two local gift shops placing orders for Good Fortune’s entire collection of scents and gift sets.

After that initial success, Strain’s next-step was a no-brainer: “Without hesitation, I took the plunge – sold my house, quit my stable job and took Good Fortune all the way.”

Jennifer Strain, owner of Good Fortune Soap

Good Fortune has evolved from the soaps and gift sets it started out on to become a full-blown spa destination and retailer. Locals across Tennessee come to Good Fortune’s Spa & Soap Boutique for massages, organic facials and the make-your-own perfume bar, which boasts over 60 oils and fragrances.

Still, it’s Good Fortune’s wholesale soap that continues to be one of their most popular items, along with The Kiss Me Kit, an exfoliation and moisturizing lip kit promising “serious lip therapy never tasted so good.”

But, ask Strain in hindsight whether she foresaw the success of Good Fortune, and she’ll tell you she’s just as surprised as anyone.

“Honestly, it was a complete leap of faith,” she said. “I was a 26-year-old fine arts major with a natural born drive for entrepreneurship. I had no idea about the market drive, but I knew that I wanted to create beautiful skin care products and make a difference in people’s lives. I’m grateful it has turned out so well.”

Moving forward, Strain is looking to bring her good fortune right to people’s front doorsteps.

“We are working on adding home show parties to our local sales events calendar. This would enable us to take Good Fortune Soap into the homes of our customers so they can pamper themselves and shop in the comfort of their own homes.”

With this convenient, customer-minded business model, Good Fortune Soap is banking on a happy clientele that likes to rinse, lather and repeat.

Small Business Majority CEO John Arensmeyer

For 80 years, the U.S. Export-Import Bank has been financing the export of American goods and services, largely from small businesses. Though it has historically been an important resource for small businesses, recent efforts by lawmakers to defund the bank have put its future into question. Unfortunately for small businesses, Congress failed to address the long-term security of the Ex-Im Bank and instead chose a short-term fix to reauthorize the bank’s charter through June 2015. If lawmakers don’t act to pass a long-term reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank, its loss could trigger far-reaching consequences for the small business community.

The Ex-Im Bank is so important to small businesses because it gives them an edge by leveling the playing field between small firms and their larger counterparts. The bank fills in the gaps offered by traditional financing, and by partnering with private sector lenders to provide loans and credit to aid foreign purchasers in buying American-made goods. Many small businesses rely on the bank because commercial lenders typically don’t support small businesses in this area. In fact, nearly 90 percent of Ex-Im Bank’s transactions in 2013 were for American small businesses. Without the bank, many small business owners say they wouldn’t be able to compete internationally.

What’s more, foreign markets represent a significant growth opportunity for many U.S. small businesses—96% of the world’s consumers live outside the United States and two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power is in foreign countries. Our small business owners must have the tools and resources needed to take advantage of this potential and the security of a long-term solution so they can continue to grow their business with greater confidence.

Small business owners have been taking to the Internet to show their support for long-term reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank using Small Business Majority’s Ex-Im Thought Bank. This website allows small business owners to share their experiences with the Ex-Im Bank and have their comments sent directly to members of Congress. What’s more, Small Business Majority’s Economic Agenda for America’s Future points to a long-term reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank as an important step Washington can take now to help bolster small businesses and the economy.

Failure to pass a long-term reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank would be damaging to the economy and place an unfair burden on small businesses and other hard working exporters. It’s time for Congress to find a permanent fix for the Ex-Im Bank so small businesses can have the certainty they need to continue brokering deals with foreign countries that strengthen our economy here at home.

There are many complex policy issues that have a major impact on the small business community. Each week, we’re going to help break one of those issues down so small business owners can stay in the know and remain aware of their stake in these national issues. This week’s Issue Q&A is on immigration reform.

Q: Why is immigration reform a small business issue?

A: Without comprehensive immigration reform, small businesses and the economy cannot maximize job creation or revenue generation. As the nation’s primary job creators, small businesses seem to agree something must be done because immigration reform is good for their bottom lines and for our nation’s economy. To illustrate, according to our scientific polling, a sweeping 88% of small businesses agree that our current immigration system is broken, with half believing it is in need of a major overhaul. What’s more, 84% of entrepreneurs support a bipartisan Senate proposal aimed at reforming our immigration system.

Q: How will immigration reform specifically help small businesses and the economy?

A: Many companies, particularly in lower waged industries such as cleaning and food services, target undocumented workers for the employment that they desperately seek. These companies pay them meager wages, creating an unfair playing field that hurts other small employers who play by the rules and pay their workers fairly. This perpetuates a shadow economy that stifles small employers’ ability to create jobs and grow our economy.

Q: What are some solutions to immigration reform?

A: A vast three-quarters of entrepreneurs agree we are better off letting people who are in the country illegally become legal taxpayers, so they can pay their fair share and work toward citizenship in the future. By creating a path toward citizenship for undocumented workers, it creates the opportunity for them to become true contributors to our nation’s economy. Additionally, a majority of small business owners agree it’s important for the country and the overall economy to allow more high and low skilled foreign workers into this country. Allowing higher skilled foreign workers into the country legally boosts innovation and entrepreneurship, while lower skilled foreign workers are more likely to take jobs in the service or agricultural industries that many Americans won’t take themselves.

A love for pounding out rhythms and grooves with his own two hands became an unlikely success story for Kevin Brown, owner of Rhythm House Drums.

The Matthews, NC based small business was a labor of love for Brown, who claims it wasn’t his initial goal to set off and start his own business.

“I was just playing and building drums as a hobby,” Brown said. “I soon realized that what I was doing was very unique and others were interested in these drums.”

Hailing from a family of classically trained musicians, Brown also gravitated toward his musical muses. His first introduction to percussion came in college where he was seduced by West African rhythms and the surrounding culture behind them. He soon set out to make and sell these types of drums, setting up a website that spiraled into Rhythm House Drums.

“Inspiration grew from the desire to build a better hand drum,” he said, noting that most mass produced drums don’t have the rich sound or look that many organic West African drums like the Djembe possess. “I wanted to do better, for myself and other drummers.”

This proved to be a challenge initially, seeing as how mass-produced and imported drums are sold on a fairly large scale and are cheaply made. Some cultural traditionalists also dismissed Brown’s use of local North Carolina lumber and other materials in his drums.

Djembe drum

“[Many] believe a Djembe should be made in Africa with African wood,” he said. “It’s been challenging to change their minds and show the benefits of locally built drums from locally felled lumber, and using modern tools to create completely unique pieces.”

But Brown’s love of the drum, particularly the West African Djembe, which he describes as “extremely powerful and very dynamic,” clearly shined through in his creations, as the Djembe has become his most popular product. Drummers can also find everything from the Nigerian style Ashiko to Native American Powwow drums at Rhythm House Drums.

Native American Powwow

Brown fully admits that it was his musicality and genuine affinity for drumming, not his business acumen, that truly helped Rhythm House Drums become what it is today. “I’m not a businessman – I didn’t have goals other than to build kick ass drums.”

Rather, it was his love and passion for percussion that was the driving force behind his business. “Hand drumming in itself isn’t a huge business – narrowing that down to a specific style of hand drumming means that you better be doing this because you love it, not to get rich.”

With the Djembe now conquered, Brown has his sights set on a specialty Conga. “After lots of research, I have finally started to develop, design and hand craft my own stainless steel hardware for Conga drums. I believe this will be a game changer for me as it opens up a whole new market.”

As Brown perfects his Conga craft, and with the dream of moving to a larger storefront that would serve as a studio where locals could come hang out and play music, it looks like the beat will go on for quite sometime for Rhythm House Drums.

Mini Conga Quinto & Ashiko