Homework, hard work key to opening business on island

KALAHEO — Before opening up her pie business seven years ago, Sandy Poehnelt made sure she had all her ducks in a row.

“Do your homework and meet with someone. You can’t do it alone. Have a mentor. Have an adviser,” said Poehnelt, owner of the Right Slice in Kalaheo. “It doesn’t have to be a business that’s the same as yours — just someone that’s gone through what you’ve gone through.”

One of Poehnelt’s first steps was to attend a business class offered by the Hawaii Small Business Center on Kauai.

“It really opened your eyes to all the behind-the-scenes stuff that you wouldn’t know until you ran into it,” she said. “Getting your business set up with the state, getting your taxes set up, your GE license — the basic startup things.”

John Latkiewicz, Kauai Center director for SBDC, spoke at the class Poehnelt attended and said the SBDC helps about 150-200 people each year interested in a startup or have an existing business.

“I certainly go over all that information and then I focus on one particular aspect of business planning to get them get started with the idea of developing a business plan,” he said.

Having the technical skills, business skills, the right characteristics and attitude, and having a good business concept is important for starting a business on the Garden Isle, Latkiewicz said.

“A lot of what I do is working with people to help them develop their business plans,” he said. “We don’t write business plans for them, but we work really closely with them and give them a lot of guidance on a detailed basis.”

Of the 200 people the SBDC works with yearly, Latkiewicz said about 15 percent start their own business.

“Persistence is the number one thing and coming up with a good idea and really understanding what the market is, what people are really wanting,” he said.

In the beginning stages of opening a business, Poehnelt said it’s important to have some guidance from a business person with experience.

“Small businesses are busy. We work 80 hours a week sometimes,” she said. “Be respectful of their time, but don’t be afraid to approach a small business that you’ve seen grow. Take them out to lunch and pick their brain for an hour.”

One of the places where businesses fail is coming up with a product and searching for a market, Latkiewicz said.

“Ideally, what you’ve done is explored the market and the market suggests what the product ought to be,” he said. “I applaud anybody that starts exploring an idea. They may conclude at the end of it that they don’t really want to start a business or it won’t make the kind of money they’re looking for.”

If you think working 40 hours is hard, Poehnelt said expect to work at least 50 hours a week at your startup.

“Get ready to work. You’re never going to work as hard for anybody else as you do for yourself,” she said. “You’ll have to be ready to put the time in.”

She also thinks it’s a good idea to be ready to fill in for employees when the time comes.

“Your dishwasher may not show up one day or your cleaner won’t be there one day and you’re going to be scrubbing the toilets or washing the dishes,” she said. “It’s important for business owners to do everything. Don’t tell (their) employees to do anything they wouldn’t do themselves. It’s a challenge.”

Even if your business may not be successful, it’s an incredible learning experience, Latkiewicz said.

“Most of the folks that are in business and tend to be in business have a passion and have the satisfaction of doing it,” he said.

It’s gratifying for Poehnelt to have a business that creates jobs for the community.

“I think that was one of the biggest benefits for me: help somebody else in the community support their family,” she said.

The SBDC will present “How to Start a Business on Kauai” workshop on Thursday. The registration fee is $20.

Info: 241-3148.

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