I was on the ski lift last weekend and met a 22-year-old who is in business school preparing to enter the family business, one that was founded in 1933 and now run by his father and uncle. I thought, well this is a lucky guy who doesn't have to face the uncertain job market facing millions of grads. I also thought, I wonder if graduates, even if they aren't fortunate enough to be in a family with a business know that this is still a great direction to look. These companies aren't recruiting at universities, may not pay the big salaries, but they do offer unparalleled experience that often allows you to take on more responsibility than at a big company and in this economy, they offer opportunity. And, if you are ever thinking of becoming an entrepreneur yourself there is absolutely no better experience than working or even interning for a small business, better than anything you could learn at school.
One of our Collective-E members Alexandra Chauss also had that fortune, to go into her family business Room It Up, founded by her father. Here is her story of leaving college and going into the family small biz:
What did you study in college?
I went to college at Miami University in Oxford, OH and graduated in May of 2008. My degree is in Strategic Communication which basically encompasses an emphasis in PR & media relations, copy writing, journalism and interpersonal communication. My program really allowed me to touch on a few areas of interest within the vast "communications" field. After taking all of these classes and gaining all of that experience I was able to decide what sort of "path" i wanted to take after graduation. In my final class at Miami, a group of students and I worked to create two full public relations plans. That gave me some incredible experience in working with other personalities and styles, which was great practice for my job now.
Were you always planning to go work with your father?
After my experiences at Miami (classes and social experiences alike) it made me realize that I liked the whole idea of PR, but that I didn't want to just go work in an agency where I would sit in a cube and pump out press release after press release and not really have much interaction with clients and the overall company vision. I decided that instead I would rather be a part of a small company where my ideas could be heard and implemented. I also wanted to work for a place where I would have multiple tasks, which would allow me to view more aspects of the business other than just PR, like sales and marketing. I knew that if I went to work for my dad I would have a lot of responsibility and a role that I would basically get to grow and evolve myself. I knew that i wanted to move closer to my family after traveling so far for school, so it just turned out that working for my dad was a great option on multiple fronts.
What are you learning working for a small business?
I could really go and on and on about this one. However some of the biggest things I am learning surround responsibility and accountability. There are so many things that go into running a small company as I have seen through living and working with my father. I fully understand the need to help out when needed even if it means an aspect of the company that you don't usually work with. My role is constantly evolving and changing everyday. Some days my time is devoted to trade show planning, sometimes its writing press materials, updating our two websites, answering sales & customer service calls, etc. In other words, my primary role is to handle the press inquiries, but it also encompasses a lot of different things and keeps me on my toes! I also travel a lot for this job. For instance, I have traveled to about 15 trade shows around the US and Canada since I started in May '08. I had the awesome opportunity of going to Hong Kong and China on a 2 week sourcing trip with my dad last October/November. I have also learned the need to be passionate for whom and what you work for. You really need to believe in what you are selling/making because that positive attitude will transfer to everything you do.
Have you ever worked for a large business?
Working at Room It Up has been my first full-time job. Even in High School and College I always worked for small local businesses. I have not worked at any large corporation.
What are you learning?
I am learning everyday that I am in a great situation to know that I love my job and the company I work for. I am learning that I am very lucky to have the situation to have a real impact on the company I work for and am not just another number in a large corporation.
How are you shaping the direction of the business?
I am definitely leading our efforts into social media (Twitter and Facebook) and the whole blogging environment. We recently created a blog which is sort of a work in progress right now. My hope is that it will become a place for people to learn not only about our brand, but also a great place for people to see and read about things that are pertinent to some of the industries where we are involved i.e.: gift, accessories. I am slowly helping us to get some bigger press to help grow the branding of our business and to drive some great word of mouth about who we are and what we're doing/what we have to offer. It's going to be a long process but I am prepared to see it for the long haul. We offer such great products there really is no reason that everyone shouldn't know about us!
Do you think that if you went to work for a corporation you would be having the same experience?
I often think about that. I just think it would be so much different. Here I have a lot of flexibility with work and experiences that I would not be given if I worked for a big company. I do not think that I would have as big of an opportunity to make a real impact on daily business activities. I feel as though I would just think that I was just another number, another cube, not really something I would be passionate about.
What are the cons in working for a small business, with your dad?
Well for a while I was actually living with my dad too so it sort of felt like my work was 24/7 as our conversation at dinner and every other time always seemed to center around work! On the bright side, I did get a greater feel for the inner workings of the company and how he sees things as being the CEO. My dad gives me a lot of responsibility so I am constantly thinking I don't want to let him down. I guess if anything it just pushes me to be a better worker.
What is Room It Up doing to face the current economic conditions? What opportunities do you see?
We see a great wealth of opportunity in these current conditions. We have seen so many competitors scale down their efforts, whether it means offering new products, not showing at major trade shows etc today you need to be on top of your game and consistently deliver new products with value. All of our products are perfect for this climate, high value and function paired with budget friendly prices and a feel good look. Our retails are extremely affordable ranging from $8-$60. We are continuing to take more inventory risks by coming out with new products and prints. This back to school season we ordered more from our factories than ever before and we rewarded with a great number of sales, even selling out of a lot of products.
Do you feel lucky?
Yes, I feel lucky. Most of my friends who graduated with me either moved to Chicago or NYC or went to work for large AD/PR agencies, or my friends who are accountants went to work for the big accounting firms, most of them are constantly in fear of their job security! And then another big number went on to Master's programs.Especially in times like now it is good to know that I have a certain sense of job security and that I actually like and believe in what I am doing and who I work for. Some of my friends I do not think could be able to say the same.