Local News: ASBTDC acceLHERate professional women’s forum a success (3…


Photo/ Lauren Siebert
Pictured is Graycen Bigger speaking of the importance of the census during the women’s forum.

The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC), a branch of Arkansas State University, held an acceLHERate small business and technology development center professional women’s forum March. 5 at Ozarka College.

The forum opened with introductions by ASBTDC Sydney Rebstock, who provided a little information regarding the operations and services offered by the ASBTDC.

“This is the third time we have held an event like this and the first time it has been held in Sharp County,” Rebstock said. “We work with small businesses or people interested in starting a small business, to help them grow. We do one on one confidential consulting work with you as you’re starting your business or if you’re already in business, we hold training events like this one.”

She then introduced the panel of speakers for the event. Kristie Brewer, owner of Artisan Grill in Ash Flat; Hazelle Whited, team leader for the Sharp County Economic Development Commission; Lori Carpenter, business owner and designer and Graycen Bigger, Assistant Vice President Community Development and Marketing Coordinator for Farmers and Merchants Bank.

The first to speak was Brewer who shared hints, tips and smart advice about budgeting.

“We have had several small businesses over the years. Raising four kids, we always had to have a side hustle. I am a researcher and love to read. In 2014, we decided we wanted to do something for a minimal investment and turn our money over. We did a lot of research and landed with food. The first year was rough,” Brewer said. “We were humble enough to listen and change. By the end of the first year, we had changed our menu nine times. Hard work, lots of prayer and three years later, we had met our five year goal.”

Brewer said prior to opening her restaurant, she had spent countless hours researching and had worked with the ASBTDC gathering information and statistics.

She encouraged those in attendance to surround themselves with like minded people and seek out a strong mentor to help them with growth and development.

“We had looked at several areas we could open our business and decided Sharp County was ideal. We had a small budget and a strong sense of where we wanted to go. We said if after three years, it wasn’t supporting itself, we were going to cut ties. You have to do that,” Brewer said.

As a woman in business, Brewer provided some statistics on the growth and impact women have.

“Women are huge in business and women now own 40 percent of businesses. Women drive economy and so it makes sense we’re opening the businesses in service because we get it,” Brewer said.

She moved on to provide an example of budgeting and the important role it plays in small business.

Using the metaphor of taking a vacation, Brewer said to imagine a business like a suitcase, as there are only so many things which could be packed in.

“You have to look at what you can fit in there and know your limits. If you only have a little money, what can you do with that money. Make sure you’re realistic about it. There may be things you want, but what do you need. If you know you’re ‘going to the beach’ you take one swimsuit, you don’t need to take 10. Be realistic about what you need,” Brewer said.

After three years in business, Brewer said not only had the five year goal been reached, but also the seven year goal which prompted she and her husband to take the next logical step and purchase property rather than rent.

She then provided online resources to those in attendance.

The next to speak from the panel was Whited. She gave her presentation from the perspective of what the Small Business Technology Center is.

Whited provided an extensive background of her work history, from working for others to owning several small businesses and some large businesses, successes and failures and the importance of networking.

From working as an affirmative action specialist to holding million dollar contracts with healthcare facilities, Whited said her broad exposure to many different professions helped her to be more dynamic as time went on.

After relocating to Arkansas in 2009, Whited said she traveled to FNBC bank to speak with Martin Carpenter about business development. At that time, there wasn’t really anything of that nature taking place in Sharp County.

Whited decided to continue to live in Sharp County but was forced to find work elsewhere for several years.

Through her adventures, failures and successes, Whited summed up her advice with a few jewels she’d picked up along her career path.

“Don’t be a self fulfilling prophecy. Don’t say you can’t do something. Look for unique opportunities to network. Look for opportunities to get involved. Build strong relationships. [Develop] integrity and humility, people have to know they can trust you. Embrace failure but dust off and try again,” Whited said. “Look for ways to continue to grow yourself. Dig deep, some days it will take everything in you to move. Find areas of need and problem solve. Tenacity, endurance this is a long haul. Dig deep into your own heart. You’re not competing against anyone, you’re family.”

Carpenter, who has owned and operated a business in Sharp County for more than 20 years began her presentation by placing a bright hot pink flamingo on the podium.

She didn’t immediately comment on the strange looking bird, but instead spoke about the importance of pivoting.

“When I think of a pivot I think of the basketball pivot. When you turn 360 it gives you clarity. To me, that’s like you’re standing with that basketball and that’s your dream you’re holding and someone’s trying to take it away from you so you pivot. We have all had pivoting moments in our lives. Maybe it was graduating from high school, college, marriage or divorce. We have pivoting moments in our life, but I want to talk to you about pivoting moments in business,” Carpenter said.

During the time in her life when her children were in school, Carpenter said she wanted to do something more outside of being a home maker. She found a small house in the heart of Ash Flat for sale and convinced her husband she could open a little gift shop, keep it small and he agreed.

With a shoestring budget and three rooms to the building, she began purchasing items to put in her store.

After walking back to the podium, Carpenter picked up the flamingo and asked the audience if they could identify it. It was a Beanie Baby, one of the hottest commodities of the 90’s

“In the first years of these, my sales were astronomical. I had people in my driveway at 5 a.m. to see if beanie babies had arrived,” Carpenter said. “The profits allowed me to expand and then I opened decorative accessories and furniture. My jobs kept getting bigger and bigger and I knew at that point, I had to know more than just the fundamentals. I went back to school. It was hard, but I went back to school and got my certification. I had named my shop The Grapevine and I added The Grapevine Home. It served me well for several years and as with any business, there will be some mishaps.”

After some time and working 12 to 14 hour days, trying to care for both businesses, Carpenter said it was time to pivot. After taking a hard look at what she had to work with, she closed the gift shop to focus on design.

“This year I decided to pivot again. I’m re-branding myself to Lori Carpenter Designs. You’re never too old to re-brand…Pivoting is easy but actually going where your dream leads you is hard and sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes in business you have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Follow your dreams and be brave but always be ready to pivot,” Carpenter said.

The fourth and final member present at the panel to speak was Bigger.

She said from where she stood, she was not a business owner, but her job was to help other businesses develop and grow.

Presently, Bigger works for Farmers and Merchants Bank working in community development and marketing. She also serves as the executive director for the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority and in many other capacities.

“I am really inspired by entrepreneurship and business. If you’re even thinking about owning a business, I’m in awe of you and am here to help in any way I can. When I came here, we started the Spring River Innovation Hub in Cherokee Village to help 100 percent of small businesses. Most businesses here are five employees or less. This economy is built by people who are owner operators,” Bigger said. “When we started the innovation hub we didn’t know what it was going to look like. In doing so, we started offering one on one business counseling.”

Bigger said in the short time the hub has been in operation, more than a dozen businesses have received help, four new businesses were launched, jobs were created and the capital investment was over $17,000.

“We’ve had a lot of success over the last couple years. A lot of networking and a lot of number crunching. If you want to be a successful business owner, [the key] is networking and crunching numbers. Get the right people in the room together. Sharp County has more female leaders than most any other area. There are amazing things happening and it happens when you get the right people in the room,” Bigger said. “Know who you are and do it on purpose. Tell your story… If the numbers don’t work it doesn’t matter how nice something looks.”

She spoke of the importance of the upcoming census and the impact it would have on community development, explaining most grant and state funding is dependent on the results.

In her final few moments of advice to those in attendance, Bigger encouraged all to ask for help when it was needed.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If something is not working, don’t be afraid to walk away from it. Work with people who are different than you and bring more people to the table,” Bigger said.

Following her presentation, a video was played from a fifth panelist who could not be present and a question and answer session was held.



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