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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, July 26, 2014

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In Marketplace Commentary

The Waxwing owner Steph Davies (center) says location is everything.

Milwaukee business owners share sage advice


Have you ever thought about starting your own Milwaukee-based business? It's a big decision and certainly one that requires a lot of soul searching, planning and research.

Bouncing ideas off of different people whom your trust and hearing a few words of wisdom from those who have walked the path before are most likely a good idea, too.

With that in mind, OnMilwaukee.com recently checked in with Brew City business owners to share their top piece of advice with hopeful future business owners – and some shared more than one nugget of wisdom. Feel free to add your advice via the Talkback feature.

Joann Anton
La Perla, Walker's Point

"Have enough capital to remain open and operate for a minimum of six months, if not longer, with absolutely zero expectation of revenue / profit to offset your financial position. It's similar to the advice financial planners give people about having enough in your savings to sustain six months of your life's budget in the case of job loss or some other unexpected situation. Another piece of advice would be do not overhire. Do the work yourself – and then do more."

Steph Davies
The Waxwing, Shorewood

"Location, location, location. Choose a neighborhood / street that is in need of the business you're offering. Also, it's important to choose a space that is the right size at the right rate for the plan you have in mind so that you're not stressing about making rent and you have plenty of space for all your big ideas. Also be ready to make a life commitment, it takes a few years to build awareness of what you're doing and to make a profit – and in so many ways, it's like having a kid."

John Dye
Bryant's Lounge, Walker's Point

"Talk to the neighborhood including the neighbors, other businesses and the local alderman before investing too much in a business. I have had some business heartbreaks that could have been prevented had I talked to the right people in advance. While Milwaukee is a city, it can be more like a small town when it comes to getting approval for a business, especially one that requires the city government's seal of approval."

Lincoln Fowler
Alterra Coffee Roasters

"Failure is nearly a requirement for success. (Alterra co-owner and Fowler's brother) Ward and I founded 'Fowler Audio.' You don't know that name or business because it failed, but in the process we met our current partner, Paul (Miller) and we would probably not have created Alterra if it was not for the speaker business, Although, I'd still have my left thumb! (It was amputated with a saw doing the speaker gig.)

"The young should have confidence that they can make a difference and they can teach the entrenched new tricks. Sometimes it seems like the younger set feels like the game is being played by older folks who have business pretty well locked up. Not true. The old are simply preserving what they have and are unlikely to be disruptive and innovate. Innovation is the purview of the young and hungry. Try early, fail early. It is much easier.

"Going from nearly broke to totally broke is not far to fall. If you wait until you have kids and a mortgage, the risks are too great for almost everyone. Go for it while you are young, single and have plenty of time to recover.

"Work like a dog. Few people succeed by calling it in. I don't know anyone who has succeeded in business that has not worked like a dog, at least in the beginning. It takes hard work – another reason to do it when you are young. You've got more energy!

"Plan for success, not failure. My partner Pull pulled Ward and I aside early in creating our first cafe. This was when Ward and I were carefully counting the dollars going into the cafe and worrying what we would do if we failed. Paul said something like, 'We're not doing this planning on failure. We need to invest like we're going to be really successful.' This was a different mindset I needed to adopt. It worked."

Stacy LaPoint
Fresh Is Best, Riverwest

"Join Local First Milwaukee!"

Jon Anne Willow
North Avenue Grill, Wauwatosa

"If you intend to own and operate your business in the long term – as opposed to selling it off – the first thing you need to figure out is how much it will cost to start up, of course. What a lot of folks neglect to do thoroughly, and I have made this mistake myself, is to accurately and fully understand how much it will cost to operate day to day, including every little thing.

"Once you have that number you have the power. You know how much you have to make to survive, which in turn tells you how many 'units' you have to sell and how to price them. Also, don't fall into the bargain pricing trap. If you don't think people will pay what your product is worth, it might be the wrong idea, place or time for you."

Talkbacks

jjrakman | Sept. 18, 2012 at 11:58 a.m. (report)

Heh, the best advice to give is to not start your business in Milwaukee. Just ask Palermo.

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