Support for Women Entrepreneurs in Arkansas

by Winrock International
Ribbon cutting for Brush & Canvas, Sept. 2015
Ribbon cutting for Brush & Canvas, Sept. 2015

Brush & Canvas started from a dream and a prayer and grew into a new downtown business in South Arkansas, owned by Arkansas Women’s Business Center (AWBC) client Christina. After a series of challenging life events like recovering from a disappointing educational experience, divorce, and unfulfilling career, Christina decided to pursue her passion with a “go big or go home” attitude. Art was an extracurricular activity Christina’s whole life, as well as for her children. While raising her daughter, who now has an art degree, she would make road trips to buy art supplies or order them online. One day, Christina saw a window of opportunity. She realized the small but growing town of El Dorado needed an art supply store and a place for novices to come and be introduced to the world of art.  

Upon deciding to launch a new business and having no retail or business ownership experience, Christina reached out to the AWBC for assistance. Christina was looking for direction on how to get started, what the process is, how she should file as a business, and what the viability of a store like hers in El Dorado would be. The many homework assignments from AWBC business counselor John Riggins made Christina feel like she had entered college again. But she was grateful to learn how to project cash flow, analyze feasibility, and other helpful tools. Christina mentioned “I didn’t have support like us letting me know I could do it and was so appreciative of the positive reinforcement.”  Together, the AWBC and Christina developed a solid business plan, and that reassured her that the art supply store could be a successful retail operation. The business plan also helped secure  loan from a local bank, which was crucial for starting her business. Christina shared this February “I left the AWBC with realistic expectations about how things could turn out for me and my art store and that has really helped me in the beginning months of opening the store.”  

After Brush & Canvas opened its doors in September, 2015, John Riggins continued to counsel Christina, and assist the store with its events and marketing efforts. When asked about how much profit the events generated compared to retail, Christina said “Had I stuck with retail supplies alone, I would not have made it.” In the first six months, Brush & Canvas expanded their services to include art workshops with various mediums, private parties, groups painting classes, character building workshops, and other fun events. The biggest challenge now is finding cost effective marketing. With continued support from AWBC, we look forward to watching and helping Brush & Canvas grow into a successful operation!

Shoppers at the 5th annual Mistletoe Market
Shoppers at the 5th annual Mistletoe Market

This November the Arkansas Women’s Business Center (AWBC) held its 5th annual Mistletoe Market in El Dorado, Arkansas. The market is a growing holiday shopping tradition that provides over 65 small businesses the opportunity to sell holiday and unique handmade products to the public. This year the event grew to new heights, maxing out every square foot of the conference center with vendor booths and experiencing the highest customer count yet with over 1500 shoppers. Several vendors participating have recently completed our Operation Jump Start business development training program in 2015.

One of the returning vendors, owner of Backporch Reflections, shared that “This one day beat any other one day of any show this year. I am willing to drive 4 hours and spend 2 nights in a local hotel to be able to participate. The customers were so nice, not one complaining customer in the entire bunch. This all makes me want to design new exclusive products for this market. Thanks so much for being such gracious hostesses. We love working with you guys and look forward to next year.” 

We appreciate your continued support to make dreams of business ownership a reality for women in Arkansas. 

AWBC client 3 in One Design at Mistletoe Market
AWBC client 3 in One Design at Mistletoe Market
Products from the Lamb
Products from the Lamb's business

James and Rita Lamb are in the bee business. As the owners of Southwest Arkansas Beekeeping Supplies, the Lambs make and sell a variety of products ranging from scented candles, candies and soaps – to name a few - made of honey and wax from their bee farm.

The Lambs were looking for ways to expand their business and boost their marketing efforts. So they signed up for Operation Jumpstart (OJS), a six-week hands-on microenterprise training course for business owners and operators. OJS is designed to educate and empower entrepreneurs by providing business development and support opportunities.

Earlier this year, the Lambs successfully completed the OJS training program. As if there wasn’t enough to celebrate, they also won the Operation JumpStart Class 3 business competition, receiving a grand prize of $1,200, seed money the Lambs say will go toward further developing their business.

The Arkansas Women’s Business Center partnered with four community colleges across the state to provide the OJS business training. So far this year, 18 participants have graduated from the program in Arkansas. The Lambs say they discovered there’s so much more to learn. “We gained marketing skills through the course and realized we need help with accounting. We liked the small class size, which allowed for more one-on-one time with our speakers.”

The Lambs also took advantage of the one-on-one counseling provided by the Arkansas Women’s Business Center. They were set up with a business coach, who advised the Lambs on website enhancement and effective marketing ideas, some of which the Lambs have already started using. Said the Lambs, “the course taught us what we really needed to improve on, and gave us direction.”

OJS is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and sponsored by community colleges with the help of Winrock International’s Arkansas Women’s Business Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

The Lambs won the OJS Class 3 business competition
The Lambs won the OJS Class 3 business competition

Farmers Markets and locally grown food are increasing in demand, while new farmers markets are being established and existing markets are growing and expanding. The Arkansas Farmers Market Vendor & Manager Training was held in Hope, Arkansas recently. The training was aimed at educating farmers, vendors, and market managers. To ensure longevity and sustainability of the farmers markets and local food systems, the vendors and managers who participated would in turn be able to increase the profitability and success of the farms and the markets they sell through.

The training featured two tracks: one 6-hour training for market managers and a separate 6-hour training for market vendors. Over 65 attendees participated, coming from the local Southwest Arkansas area to as far as East Texas, Cabot, Jonesboro, and Little Rock. The manager training including speakers presenting topics on market management, grant writing to source funding for markets, utilizing the SNAP program at market, promotion of markets through the web and specific social media programs, state legislation surrounding markets and food safety, and incorporating activities at market to involve the community and bring in more customers. The market vendor training also utilized experience speakers from Arkansas and Texas to cover topics including state legislation, post-harvest handling, marketing and profitability, beautifying your market display, increasing sales at market, branding your local food, and food safety. The primary goal of the training was to help markets and market vendors attract more customers and increase profitability at their local farmers markets. Door prizes such as a large chalkboard easel, cash boxes, market display baskets, chalkboard paper, a logo design for one winning farmers market, farm profitability books, money deposit bags, and more. The training was hosted by the Arkansas Women’s Business Center, Winrock International, the US Department of Agriculture, and the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope/Texarkana. Participant evaluations were overwhelmingly positive and encouraging, and a follow-up evaluation will be conducted with participants in mid-summer to determine the value of the training on the market season.

Brenda G., Genesis Childcare Learning Center
Brenda G., Genesis Childcare Learning Center

Be a “BIG DEAL” (Bring Innovation and Growth by Delivering Enterprise Assistance Locally) is the mantra of Winrock International’s Arkansas Women’s Business Center (AWBC). For the past four years through a partnership with South Arkansas Community College to locate the Center in El Dorado, the AWBC has made significant strides toward providing training and technical assistance to area women (and men) entrepreneurs. To date, the AWBC has delivered 144 business classes and provided one-on-one business counseling services to over 300 clients statewide. Here’s a look at a few AWBC client success stories.

Brenda and Odis G., Genesis Childcare Learning Center, LLC | 301 ½ Cordell Road, El Dorado, AR

One of the AWBC’s first clients, Brenda G. and her husband, Odis, launched Genesis Childcare Learning Center in April 2011. Their goal is to serve the growing community while meeting the needs of children and parents. Their daycare provides a balance of “home-like” care and appropriate development activities while nurturing children and encouraging them to grow to their full potential.

Starting with an idea, the AWBC helped them prepare a business plan, develop financial projections, market the business, and more so they could get the business started and file as a limited liability company in Arkansas. Genesis employees 12 full-time employees and cares for over 50 children in the local community.

Liz Young, AWBC Director said, “We are proud of and supportive of them as they gear up to pass the 4 year mark as a small business, a difficult task to achieve. They have turned Genesis into a successful, growing local business that serves the needs of the community.”

Andrea S., Simon Says, LLC, | 704 West Faulkner, El Dorado, AR

In November 2011, El Dorado native Andrea S. launched Simon Says, a children’s clothing consignment shop, after returning home. The inspiration developed out of a class assignment during her last semester of college at Tarleton State University in Texas. In the town she was living in, consignment stores of all types thrived on every corner.

Simon Says sells gently used and ‘like new’ clothing for newborns, teens, and expecting mothers. They also sell books, baby equipment, and the largest selection of hair bows in town.

Andrea worked for a year and a half planning the business before opening. She first started consigning her own family’s clothes after being strapped for cash with four children and working two jobs. After moving home, she began to bring her business plan into fruition. She contacted the AWBC for help with her start-up business. AWBC staff assisted her with a business plan that helped gain a loan for the business.

Opening her own women-owned small business has naturally come with a set of challenges. Encouraging the town to shop locally has been one of those. Traditionally, there has not been a children’s clothing shop in town consistently, and Andrea has found many parents and grandparents often have the mindset that shopping for children’s clothing requires a trip out of town. However, Simon Says has everything from everyday clothes to smocked dresses for special occasions such as Easter or photo sessions. 

Simon Says has been a personally fulfilling experience for Andrea by providing a service for parents in a community she grew up in. It has also been very rewarding for her to be able to recycle quality, conditioned clothes so that they do not go to waste and those in need can receive benefits of clothing. Every 90 days Simon Says donates truckloads of clothing to three different local ministries, who then give away the clothes to those in need like fire victims, foster children, and others. The shop also donates shoes to mission trips. For one mission trip to Africa, Simon Says donated 120-150 pairs of shoes that were then given to local cobblers as materials to teach them a trade, therefore teaching their own entrepreneurship through the mission. Through challenges and triumphs, Simon Says has successfully stayed in business and celebrated its three year anniversary this past November. Andrea looks forward to growing the business and providing children’s clothing at an affordable price to the community in the future.

Wes W., Wes W. Tutoring, LLC

Just short of his 17th birthday, Wes W. was looking forward to another South Arkansas summer with his horses and then returning to school to start his senior year. A diving accident changed all that.  Paralyzed from the neck down, Wes’ prospects were bleak at best. Wes spent the summer at Arkansas Children’s Hospital recovering and working through an exhaustive rehabilitation program.

Fast forward to now. After earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, Wes searched unsuccessfully for ways to use his education. Wes had been working with Innovate Arkansas client InvoTek on technologies to help him become more independent. That’s when he met John Riggins, a business consultant with the AWBC.

“Mr. Riggins introduced me to the AWBC and I became a client,” said Wes.  “He and the AWBC helped me identify something I loved doing and was good at – tutoring. I decided to create a tutoring service helping junior and senior high students and college students in math, English, and science.”

The Center worked with Wes to create a workable business model and a marketing plan. InvoTek helped Wes find funding from the State of Arkansas Vocational Rehabilitation for needed technology.

Wes W. Tutoring, LLC launched in July 2013 and has grown rapidly. Today, Wes works with students from the surrounding area as well as students at Southern Arkansas University and nearby community colleges. Not surprisingly, his students are doing well in their courses and getting better grades, but they are also more self-assured and less intimidated when starting new subjects.

The AWBC continues to serve the community and be a “BIG DEAL”. To learn more about becoming a client go to www.winrockusprograms.org/arkansas-womens-business-center.

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Organization Information

Winrock International

Location: Little Rock, AR - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.winrock.org
Project Leader:
Liz Young
Little Rock, Arkansas United States