It's noon on a typical day in the life of Lanning, but the spunky owner of Stinkweeds Records has had a busy morning by anyone else's account. Having awoken at 6:30 a.m., she's already met with a local politico, stopped at the bank, bought office supplies, came into the Tempe store an hour early, read through 150 e-mails, answered dozens of phone calls, and now stands at the register, methodically sorting through boxes and boxes of new CDs and greeting customers.
And she doesn't even drink coffee.
"What keeps me going is I'm passionate about what I do," says Lanning, 37, as she rips through a box with a razor blade. "I love the challenge. Tell me I can't do something and I'll do it 1,000 times harder."
Lanning's is just one example of the kind of wisdom, fervor, wherewithal, determination and schedule juggling needed to face this perilous path of starting and running a small business. It doesn't hurt to have some creative financing, a good location, and a frugal sensibility to boot.
While it's improbable you'll own two record stores and a performance venue a year from now, following the advice of local indie moguls and using every resource available, you could be well on your way to becoming the latest alt-culture capitalist to hit the scene.
Lanning says the first thing is figuring what you're most savvy about, telling a story of one middle-aged man who came into Stinkweeds wanting to open a skateboard store with no knowledge of the trade.
"He probably thought he's gonna sit in the back and smoke a stogie while these kids run everything for him," she says. "Someone who's worked in a skateboard shop for a year probably would know more about the industry than him."
Lanning also recommends talking to people or surveying the scene to see what's popular or where there's a void. For instance, she says, with the success of local designers like Angela Johnson, it'd be wise to open something fashion-oriented. "You need to be on that right now," says Lanning. "If you try to get on it two years from now, you're too late." Artist and property wiz Beatrice Moore feels there's a similar need for more retailers along Grand Avenue, because of the dearth of shops in the gallery-heavy area.
Despite Lanning's opinion that it's "too expensive" to open on Roosevelt Row or Grand Avenue, there's still a chance to get in cheap. Moore is renovating a commercial building at 13th Avenue and McKinley that'll boast 10 spaces "at lower than average prices" when it opens in June. Developer Wayne Rainey's also aiming to keep rent at one dollar per square foot at "Ro 3," a 20-space indoor-outdoor marketplace set to open later this year on Second Street between Portland and Roosevelt.
Consider getting as close to the action as possible, says Johnny Chu, über-chef and proprietor of Fate, who relocated his former restaurant to a strip mall at McClintock Drive and Southern Avenue in Tempe and drew clientele from both Mesa Community College and Arizona State University.
Bolder businesspeople can take a chance on untested areas, like Central and Camelback, where Lanning opened the latest Stinkweeds last fall. She thinks it has the makings of a potential "boom" area, with a number of affordably priced vacancies to choose from, and like-minded neighbors -- like Cowtown Skateboards -- that she can build a "synergism" with, two ingredients to success.
Rainey says you need to be tenacious, talk to a lot of people, and contact property owners to see if something's available. "If you want someplace that's cool, you gotta go after it," Rainey says. "Being proactive not only pays, it's the only way."
Persistence and creativity are also required when digging up some scratch, and it'll likely involve a variety of sources. In order to get the cash to start the first Stinkweeds shop in 1987, Lanning sold everything she owned and got a bank loan. Jen and Scott Sanders, owners of the Paper Heart, used credit cards and got a group of artists to invest. Cindy Dach and Greg Esser, owners of such art spaces as eye lounge, mortgaged their house.
But before maxing out the Visa or kissing up kith and kin, Chu thinks that embryonic entrepreneurs should prepare a rock-solid business plan proving they figured out how to survive.
"You need a strategy how to make this work, make income and market the business," says Chu.
Two local organizations -- the Small Business Development Center and the Service Corps of Retired Executives -- can help you develop a plan through free one-on-one counseling and low-cost workshops, guiding you through numerical nightmares like securing capital, maintaining cash flow and proving that loans will be repaid.
"We provide a helping hand and a shoulder to cry on," says SCORE counselor Erik Mikkelsen, "but they're going to have to show commitment and do the homework."
Mikkelsen and company also will prep newbies on approaching lenders, but without a co-signer or equity, they should consider local microlenders like Prestamos and the Self-Employment Loan Fund.
Prestamos routinely issues microloans of $2,000 to $35,000 -- at a 9 percent interest rate -- to individuals of every race, and SELF manager Joe Martinez says its analysis includes expected cash flow, equity, credit and collateral.
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