Great Ideas for your Small Business:
Turn Your Hobby into a Successful Business
Turning your passion into profits is easy when you figure out a way to transform your interests into a business venture. The secret of success is finding others who share your pastime and parlaying their need for supplies into a money-making concept.
For the past twenty-five years, Roz Watnemo and Sue Meier have leveraged their passion for an obscure form of Norwegian embroidery into a successful retail and mail- order business. In fact, Nordic Needle, based in Fargo, North Dakota, is one of the state’s most successful small exporters, honored by state officials and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
College friends Roz and Sue were unlikely entrepreneurs. Looking for something to do, they signed up for a class in Hardanger embroidery, a traditional form of white thread- on-white fabric stitchery used to decorate tablecloths and aprons. Embroidery is especially popular in the Plains states, where winters are long and cold, and people are looking for something to do to pass the time productively.
Tired of driving to Minnesota or sending away to Norway for sewing supplies, the partners decided to sell a few Hardanger necessities. They opened a 400-square-foot shop in downtown Fargo, thinking they’d sell a few yards of fabric to friends.
When they were literally bursting at the seams, about thirteen years later, they built a 9,000-square-foot building in a suburban shopping plaza. The bright, cozy store is a stitcher’s paradise. Nearly every inch of floor and wall space is filled with yards of fabric, miles of thread, patterns, samplers, and sewing kits. Multicolored threads from around the world create a fantasy of rainbows.
Their passion for stitchery is shared by many. Nordic Needle boasts 1,500 wholesale customers in eighteen countries. About 53,000 retail customers buy supplies, mostly via mail order. About 45 percent of Nordic Needle’s sales are generated by their catalogs, 35 percent from wholesale outlets, and 20 percent from their one bustling retail store in Fargo.
Meier and Watnemo, who started their business before they started their families, now have five children between them. They divide the work and profits equally. Their husbands also help out when they can.
Meier, the more outgoing partner, focuses on the whole- sale, marketing, and advertising side of the business. She designed their website and encourages online sales promotions. Watnemo, the quiet partner, designs all the new pat- terns and keeps close track of the retail operation. “I know a lot of partnerships don’t go well, but Roz and I are very different from each other, and we complement each other,” said Meier.
Watnemo, the Hardanger expert, produces about a dozen new pattern books each year. She designs by hand, but relies on a software program to create the actual pat- tern graphs.
Here are some tips for turning your hobby into a small business:
- Find out if others who share your passion are looking for equipment or supplies in your town.
- Attend a hobby or craft trade show to check out the trends and competition.
- Subscribe to all the magazines and newsletters that cover your hobby.
- Find out if their subscription list is offered for “rent” and do a test mailing.
- Start small. Offer a few products to test the market.
- Check with your accountant about the IRS rules on tax deductions for hobbies versus businesses.