Story and photos by ALEX HARRINGTON
How does something as gut-wrenchingly difficult as starting a new business ever get off the drawing board?
The people who make it happen have a dream.
Oftentimes everything is riding on this dream, which can be as different between business owners as the stars are from the sun. But the common thread is the hope that they can succeed in the unforgiving world of business.
If there’s one person who knows that success in the business world can come from just a dream and a liberal amount of elbow grease, it’s Ann Marie Thompson, the program director for the Women’s Business Center.
It’s Thompson’s job in the WBC to turn prospective entrepreneurs’ lofty, seemingly unreachable dreams into reality. The Women’s Business Center builds dreams in every way it can, from its “Jumpstart” business essentials training to the expert advice it gives on the direction a budding business should take. Thompson described her organization’s mission of making hopeful small business owners “start small and think big.”
However, even with the help that the Women’s Business Center provides, dreams can seem unreachable when so much is at stake. Though Thompson said she frequently advises her clients against quitting their jobs or taking out a big loan, the enormous dreams that her clients hold often demand a lot from their dreamers.
She pointed to “Utah’s cultural aversion to risk” as one of the many reasons that many women and men never pursue their dreams. Thompson said a dream or idea for a small business has to have the potential to make money and to fill a need.
However, not every dream has these qualities. She has witnessed a score of disappointments amid the successes, and seen dreams that weren’t able to come to fruition.
But why does this have to be? Dreams like starting a small business often need more than wishing stars and fairy dust to succeed. While almost anything can be turned into an opportunity to make a quick buck, this need that Thompson describes is much trickier for some small businesses to meet.
Though starting a business from these tiny dreams can be a terrifying and difficult prospect, it is not impossible. For
For Michael Morrissey, branch manager for a video game retail store called Game Changerz, his small business does its best to fill a need that sets it apart from other larger retail stores.
During a phone interview, Morrissey said, “[Our store] is free to do whatever we want for our customers.” He recalled many instances where his store worked with customers, adjusting prices and even throwing in free games, in order to make their experience more positive.
Fulfilling these needs can create something new in the business world. “We offer the best customer service in town,” Morrissey said. From anyone else it might sound like an empty boast, but his willingness to work with customers on a personal level gives it much more weight.
For people like Morrissey, the dreams they have are about making a new and wonderful experience that the customer has never seen before. He is filling a need that many people didn’t even know they had.
But what does fulfilling this need mean for small businesses? Kristen Lavelett, executive director of Local First Utah, said “[Small businesses] keep the American Dream alive.”
The meaning of the American Dream that Lavelett talked about has been debated for hundreds of years throughout U.S. history. But this dream is almost always thought of as the ability of a single person to find a way to start with nothing and to rise to be as great a business figure as they can be.
But for many small businesses, this big, majestic concept is simply a way of life that they strive to achieve every day. Morrissey described other larger retail stores, like GameStop, as being “very corporate.” In a world cluttered with mega stores that often limit their interests to the contents of their customers’ wallets, small businesses like Game Changerz create a bit of personality and individuality that sets them apart.
Morrissey described in a subsequent interview what he believed makes his small business important to his customers. Game Changerz carries many games that bigger retail stores don’t have, like games for older systems like the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis. Morrissey said “people want to relive their childhood.”
Our world would be diminished without the individuality that the dreamers provide. The dreams are a big part of what makes small businesses so special.