The Market Place LLC
Elizabeth Gillespie was in the middle of a job search when she went to visit friends in Morristown, Tennessee. While on that trip, Gillespie made a visit to a local store selling Amish food merchandise. “When I walked in, I knew that was what I was supposed to do,” Gillespie said. When she got back to Pikeville, one of her first calls was to her cousin, Shelia Adkins. She quickly pitched her idea of doing a general store/deli centered on Amish foods and other goods.For Gillespie, it would be a change of pace after more than a decade working for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. “After I left there, I had some really good job interviews, but nothing had worked out,” Gillespie said. “I just prayed and asked the Lord to ‘put me where you want me.’” Still, it would be a challenge for the two women. Gillespie and her husband had operated a bait store a few years earlier, and Adkins had tried a stint running a florist shop. However, neither had experience starting a business from scratch. “We were kind of lost at first,” Gillespie said. “I just started Googling.”
After reaching out to Amish distributors and getting a business license, the pair reached out to the Small Business Development Center in Pikeville. They met with the center’s director, Mike Morley, who helped them focus on the basics. First, the pair worked on a business plan, and started looking at competitors. Morley also helped them track down financing to help get the business off the ground, but the pair decided to pass on outside money in the end. “We decided to try and stay debt-free,” Gillespie said. “In this economy, we didn’t want something to go wrong and then wind up deep in debt.”
The pair found their location late last year, and opened the Market Place LLC in April. Gillespie said they had a vision for what the store should be like. “We wanted a store like they had back in the day,” Gillespie said. “We wanted to give customers a place to hang out and talk with each other.”
Ambience aside, the focus on Amish foods helps make the store unique for this part of Kentucky. While the state has seen its Amish population growth the fastest over the past decade, most of that grow has been in the western part of the state. For now, the nearest store that sells Amish goods is about 45 miles away in Hindman, but Gillespie said she expects competition to grow if The Market Place is successful. She said one of the most important steps is establishing relationships with Amish distributors that help her store carry authentic foods and other items. She said they started with Amish meats and cheeses to offer something unique for customers.
“When people think of the Amish, they think of freshness and quality,” Gillespie said. “They try and stay away from the preservatives. You can really tell the difference; when you slice the cheese, it almost crumbles.”
Since the store’s opening, the two have worked to expand the menu of offerings, expanding from deli sandwiches to breakfast offering homemade pizza rolls. It’s been a challenge for the two women to tap into their culinary skills, which have typically only been used to feed their families. “I’m 51 years old, and about a month ago, I just started making biscuits — but they’re pretty good,” Gillespie said. The SBDC’s Morley said being flexible is important for a new business seeking to find their market and define their business. “They have a willingness to work and to change when they learn more about the market they are trying to serve,” Morley said.
Gillespie said one of her biggest challenges has been learning patience. Shortly after they launched breakfast service, business remained slow for the morning crowd. She encouraged them to stop serving breakfast because of the lack of interest. The first day they stopped serving it, several customers stopped by looking for breakfast and they didn’t have it. “I learned my lesson,” she said. Gillespie has other advice for small business owners. “It helps to have a clear vision of what you want,” she said. “Don’t go into it blind. That’s kind what we did at first, which didn’t make it easy.”
One of the biggest challenges, Spriggs said, was convincing the city council- which is responsible for operating the Paintsville Golf Course- that her new business would be an asset for the club. "She really had to work for a month or two to get them to approve it," Spriggs said. "But she's been doing great."
One of Morgan's most important business strategies has been diversifying her revenue stream. Right now, about 50 percent of her revenue comes from her catering business, and she not only serves groups in Paintsville, but also travels to towns like Shelby Valley, South Williamson and Hazard.
Another 25 percent of her revenue comes from the lunch crowd at the country club. She said next year will be especially important since she will be able to operate through an entire golfing calendar versus opening in July of this year.
Finally, another 25 percent of her revenue comes from evening dinners at the club. Instead of simply opening for whatever dinner crowd comes through the door, Morgan hosts special dinners for small groups, such as meetings or class reunions. "If I don't have reservations, I don't do it," she said. She said this method is cost-effective, because it allows her to only order the inventory she needs. "If there are 15 people that want beef tenderloin filets, that's what I order," Morgan said.
Morgan said she still meets regularly with Spriggs to discuss her budgeting and marketing strategy. She said the SBDC's assistance has been crucial in helping her business get started off on the right foot. "I had the passion and vision, but they had the practical insights to really put it in perspective," Morgan said.
In July 2012, Amy Adkins began pursuing her dream of business ownership and visited a local bank to discuss her financial needs. The lender referred her to Kim Jenkins, management consultant at Morehead State University’s Ashland Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The Ashland SBDC has been providing small business consulting services free-of-charge in downtown Ashland for nearly 30 years.
Adkins planned to open a Chickabiddy Frozen Yogurt franchise in Louisa. During her sessions with Jenkins, they discussed loan options, loan requirements/criteria and she was provided outlines, information and worksheets to begin drafting a business plan and financial data for SBDC review. They calculated her start-up costs including the franchise fee, remodeling/renovations, inventory, equipment/machinery, and working capital. In the weeks that followed, Jenkins worked with her to develop and finalize a business plan, three-year financial projections, and loan proposal to start the frozen yogurt shop. Adkins then returned to her lender fully prepared to pursue financing.
She was approved for SBA financing, and the grand opening of Amy’s Chickabiddy was held on Nov. 29. Her yogurt shop has created six jobs. Depending on one’s appetite and love of frozen yogurt and toppings, Chickabiddy offers two cup sizes – the iddy biddy and the big ol’ biddy. Then the filled cup is weighed to determine the total number of ounces. The end price is .44 cents per ounce.
“Chickabiddy is the coolest self-serve frozen yogurt shop with 15 rotating flavors of frozen yogurt and more than 70 toppings from which to choose such as fruit, candies, nuts, sauces,” said Adkins. Chickabiddy also offers a customer loyalty “Biddy Bucks” discount card. For every dollar spent, customers earn a point, and 50 points earns a free $5 cup of yogurt. The store stocks and sells trendy Chickabiddy T-shirts at $12 each. Her store is on Facebook, and Adkins encourages everyone to “search for Chickabiddy-Louisa and like the page.”
The business is committed to quality and freshness and offers only the finest, creamiest, and tastiest frozen yogurt varieties including tasty fruit sorbets and low-carb and sugar-free yogurts. “The Ashland SBDC was heaven sent. Kim Jenkins was absolutely wonderful to work with,” said Adkins. “She kept me updated throughout the process and helped me submit my loan proposal to the bank. The best part is the SBDC services are free. If you need business start-up and financing advice, I highly recommend Kim.”
Amy’s Chickabiddy is located in Louisa’s Food City Plaza, 4341 Highway 2565. The hours of operation are Monday-Thursday, noon – 9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, noon–10 P.M.; and Sunday, 1–6 P.M.
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