Small businesses find niche as friendly neighborhood stores

As Katy continues to grow, its residents continue to find ways
to maintain the small town feeling.

Local small businesses have discovered that making the most of
such close-knit community connections is key to keep customers
coming in.

“They want to like you. They want to know their money is
supporting someone they like, and that’s really important for the
longevity of the business,” said Jennifer Marker, marketing
director and buyer for Mimosa Rose. “If you have a bad experience
at a small retailer, you tell all your friends you had a bad
experience and you never go back.”

Mimosa Rose, a gift shop in southwest Cinco Ranch, has gained
loyal customers by continually seeking new, unique products and
providing such perks as complimentary gift wrap. However, with a
current staff of three — Marker, her mother and one part-time sales
associate — Mimosa Rose can be short on employees.

“Hiring in a small business can also be really tricky because
they are direct representative of you and your company and what you
believe, so you want people who are going to love on your customers
the way that you would and provide great customer service even when
you’re not looking,” Marker said.

A Brookings Institute study on the current state of American
small businesses, released on Feb. 1, lists the struggle to find
skilled workers as one of the most common complaints among business
owners.

Vanessa O’Donnell, owner of Katy-based Ooh La La Dessert
Boutique, knows this too well, especially with a third location
recently opening in Memorial, bringing her total full-time staff
count to nearly 25.

“Being a business owner you have to understand that on some
level, no one else is going to love it as much as you do because
it’s your dream and you’re trying to realize it,” O’Donnell said.
“It’s a struggle, but when I do have to hire, it’s a long process
of finding that person.”

It can be difficult for small businesses to entice potential
qualified employees because larger retailers can offer more work
hours or more employee benefits, Marker said.

Paying for employee benefits is often cited as one of the
biggest financial burdens of starting up a small business.
According to a report from Demand Media, the costs for basic
salary, employment taxes and benefits are typically 1.25 to 1.4
times the base salary range.

“One of the reasons we opened a Houston store is to have more
customers to be able to provide those type of benefits for our
employees. We do have some benefits available, but I hope to better
those options,” O’Donnell said.

To bring in revenue while still paying for employees and above
average Katy ISD property taxes, small business owners seek
affordable marketing options to attract new customers. For both
O’Donnell and Marker, the answer has been social media. Online
outlets such as Facebook and Twitter allow them to promote new
products through the network of the Katy community.

“Facebook’s like the new word-of-mouth. You might not
necessarily have a whole conversation with someone about how you
much you like a shop, but by writing about on Facebook or by liking
something, other people will hear about it,” Marker said.

To keep customers coming back, the two business owners make an
effort to give back to the community. Mimosa Rose had a one-year
birthday bash this past November and donated all proceeds from the
entrance tickets to Lunches of Love, to provide lunches to children
who don’t have them outside of school.

“We do a lot with the schools,” O’Donnell said. “Next week, a
lot of the elementary schools are buying cookies from us, just
plain iced cookies, and then the kids will decorate them. We’re
giving them to the schools for half off.”

In short, Mimosa Rose and Ooh La La don’t just want to be
another gift shop or another bakery. They want to be your Cinco
Ranch gift shop or your Cinco Ranch bakery. It’s a difficult task
to rise to the challenge, but like the majority of small business
owners, Marker and O’Donnell do what they do because they love it,
and that drives them forward.

“I do think having a small business, you work a little bit
harder. The larger businesses have the capability to hire someone
to do the hiring and the accounting and HR, and until you get to
the point where you can hire those people and put them on payroll,
you are doing a lot of work,” O’Donnell said. “But I truly believe
that’s what makes a business successful.”

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