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New Westminster businesses team up to help each other
Victoria Lambert and her brother Bradford started their Fat Paint business in a Kitchen-Aid cake mixer.
Less than a year later they're getting ready to move from the kitchen countertop in her Sapperton home to a 3,200-square-foot studio/storefront/production workshop on Front Street, equipped with a full-size Hobart commercial mixer that will allow them to produce 20 quarts at a time for their customers, who are as far away as Tennessee.
It's a scary step for any fledgling business to take, from countertop sideline to full-on commitment. And it's one that fills her with anxiety and trepidation every day, says Lambert.
"My stomach still does flip-flops."
But with the support, encouragement and mentorship of a group of like-minded independent business people and entrepreneurs in New Westminster who've come together in recent months, she's confident her vision is a formula for success.
B2B New West formed over beer and snacks at the Dublin Castle neighbourhood grill last October. That's where Robyn Murrell of Robyn's Vintage Nest and Zhoosh Fitness By Design convened a gathering of New West businesses she'd managed to sign up to participate in Small Business Saturday, a Canada-wide promotion by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.
It turned out they were all women.
As they got to know each other and share their stories, they realized they had even more in common.
"We were all fairly new businesses," says Murrell. "At first it was just social, but then we started sharing ideas."
"I left so energized," says Lambert. "I got it in my head how cool it would be to be a part of this community."
In fact, that very weekend Lambert talked to her brother about shifting their search for a studio from East Vancouver to New West. Her new contacts at B2B helped find the space on Front Street, and shared advice on negotiating with the landlord.
"They helped frame what our business will be like," says Lambert.
Murrell knows how important that kind of support can be for an independent business just starting out or expanding. As she and her sister Heidi Clarkson worked to establish her furniture refinishing businesses out of her basement suite in Queen's Park, and lay the groundwork for her personal training business, she was also juggling temp gigs as a dental assistant to pay the rent.
"There were lots of times I'd like to have thrown in the towel," she says. "But knowing others are working through the same issues is encouraging, it keeps you going."
So far B2B's 19 members represent 15 businesses from a wedding planner to a property stager to an esthetician to a pub to three home décor shops. There are two mother/daughter teams and two sets of siblings. Even though some of them are competitors, they see the value in working together to improve their chances for success; according to Industry Canada more than half of new businesses fail within the first three years.
"The bottom line is business, but it's helpful to work together," says Clarkson. "We're almost like a sounding board, exchanging ideas."
Already some members are collaborating on things like promotions, advertising and designing store windows. Murrell will be displaying some of her industrial vintage lighting and furniture, which she refinishes using Fat chalk paint, in Lambert's new studio.
Clarkson says the group is excited to tap into the energy new development is bringing into New West. And they want to be proactive about attracting new businesses to empty storefronts that will enhance the city's retail mix.
"We're ready to move forward as an entity," says Clarkson.
Which includes welcoming men.
Murrell says the group didn't intend to be all women, it just worked out that way.
Lambert's just glad to have the support.
"It's about community and connecting with others who have similar experiences," says Lambert, who hopes to be in her new studio by the spring. "By working together it gives me that added bit of enthusiasm to keep going. It gives me something to smile about."
For more information about B2B New West, contact Heidi Clarkson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out more about Fat Paint, go to http://edinshouse.blogspot.ca/p/fat-paint.html
The members of B2B New West include: