Buried in the corner of every thrift shop is a hidden gem, waiting to be found. The same could be said of Treasures Thrift Shop of St. Stephen’s Church in Armonk. Established in 1968, Treasures has managed all these years -- the store is open three days a week and run by volunteers. But neither the volunteers nor church staff had the opportunity to make changes (such as capturing customer information, creating a brand identity) that could maximize the store’s revenue and impact. Church leaders believed in Treasures but they also believed it could be much more and play an essential role in the community.
Treasures has a two fold mission: to raise funds for the church and equally important to raise funds that St. Stephens can direct to expanding its own outreach programs to other local non-profits including the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry and the Hudson Valley Ronald McDonald House. The store also serves as a resource for the community. Its patrons include those on a limited budget, teachers finding items for their classrooms, and teenagers looking for something ‘cool’. And since what is donated one year becomes trendy the next, Treasures helps keep discarded items out of the landfill.
With a clearly defined mission and a belief in the store’s potential, the rector of the church reached out to TAP (through the Armonk Chamber of Commerce) to help bring a new dynamism to Treasures. We began by spending time at Treasures to study the store’s merchandising and operations. We also looked at other thrift stores in Westchester County to understand their pricing, store experience, and online presence, including social media. To address branding, we worked with Treasures to develop a consistent message surrounding their mission and create a brand strategy. We delivered an Action Plan that covered most aspects of the business, including a recommendation to hire a store manager, how to improve store operations and merchandising, what effective marketing (both traditional and digital) might look like, and how to better solicit donations. We offered a sample policies and procedures manual as well as a job description for a part-time store manager.
Today, if you walk into Treasures, you’ll meet the new store manager and see a wide variety of well-priced, well-displayed merchandise and a vital small business in Armonk. At Treasures Facebook page, you can see new offerings and notice of sales. You will also see photos showing just some of the hidden gems in the corners of Treasures that are no longer hidden.
What TAP has taught me:
Any successful project requires multiple perspectives. I've learned as much from my clients as I have from my TAP colleagues, and I'm a better consultant because of that.
Greatest TAP moments:
One of my favorite TAP moments was in Detroit while we working with Chase Small Business. I was consulting with a client whose company manufactures and sells bathroom stalls. I enjoyed our conversation because her product and her business was fascinating!
At my very first TAP training session, the women in the room introduced themselves and talked about their backgrounds. I was impressed by how smart and accomplished they were, and also impressed by their diversity of experience. After being home with my kids for several years it was exciting to be able to use my professional skills again.
Words to live by:
“Carrying as we climb” - women have to help each other along the way, at work and at home.
My role model:
My mother, a retired professor who is still researching, writing, lecturing, traveling and learning, in her 70s.
When a child is given a special education designation, it can be overwhelming for the parent. Every parent’s first concern is getting the proper services for their child as they navigate what can be a complicated system. The end goal is to end up with the right services and the right provider. For children in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Yonkers and Katonah, Smile A While, founded by Joanne Oates, is a valuable resource.
Joanne started Smile A While in January 2018 in Mount Vernon to provide occupational therapy (OT) services to preschool children. At the time, Joanne was still working as a hospital-based occupational therapist. She had a vision for a local facility (based in what traditionally has been an underserved area) and the goal of expanding into physical therapy (PT) and speech therapy as well.
A provider offering a community-based service has the same concerns facing any small business - costs, capacity, revenue generation, building a business. But once you get past the fundamentals of running a business, the concerns diverge because special education services (at least in New York State) are arranged through local school systems, with funding coming from state, county, and local agencies. To complicate matters, one acquires clients by referral from local CPSE (Committee for Preschool Special Education) chairpeople, and reimbursements often lag provision of services. This is not a walk-in off the street, pay-as-you-go business. Joanne also hoped to expand into the K-12 market, managed by local CSEs (Committee for Special Education).
With so many variables and considerable uncertainty, Joanne sought out TAP for guidance. Joanne noted that, in the past, other therapists in the area had not been able to build a sustainable business but, she believed she could. After an initial conversation to understand Smile A While’s unique business model, TAP and Joanne agreed to focus on three areas. 1. Creating a system to monitor payment for services,, cash flow and profitability; 2. Networking with gatekeepers who assign cases; and 3. Hiring occupational, physical, and speech therapists.
TAP worked with Joanne to develop a financial spreadsheet that would capture current revenues and expenses and track cash flow. This template has given Joanne a clear way to monitor her current business and to project growth. TAP consultants also created a goal setting worksheet to pair with the financial spreadsheet, helping Joanne crystalize her objectives, including increasing her caseload/students, hiring additional therapists, and marketing her services to CPSE and CSE coordinators.
One of the hardest things about being a sole proprietor is not having the time to do things that will help grow the business. TAP consultants served as an extra set of hands, conducting research into the industry, reporting on trends and issues facing Smile A While’s competitors, and obtaining some of the critical information that Joanne needed to take her next steps. Part of this process was facilitated by leveraging TAP’s network of consultants. Something as simple as setting up face to face meetings with CPSE/CSE coordinators has helped Joanne develop relationships with those individuals responsible for matching students with service providers.
Joanne began in 2018 with 8 cases. By the fall of 2018, her caseload had grown to 15 cases. Now in March, 2019, Joanne has 23 steady cases and contracts with a number of other therapists. As she seeks to grow her business, she continues to balance caseload with staffing but with financial guidelines and a marketing strategy in place, she is poised to continue to grow her business and equally important, provide much needed locally-based services.
A successful not-for-profit organization often starts with the vision of one person. In the case of My Money Workshop, Dick Yaffa noticed that young people were entering the working world without any understanding of personal finance. These young adults had no idea about budgeting, saving for retirement, or the dos and don’ts of using credit cards.
Personal finance is just that – it’s personal and it affects each one of us. And yet, for many of us, it is is complex and overwhelming.
So in 2009, Yaffa created a financial literacy workshop and tested it with one group of seniors at Sarah Lawrence College.
Almost 10 years later, with its team of tremendous volunteers and partnerships with high schools, colleges, and community organizations in the tri-state area, My Money Workshop has introduced thousands of people to the world of personal finance. But despite the number of people who have taken the workshop, Rob Yaffa, chairman of the Board of Directors, was frustrated by the pace of growth. As the founder’s son, he was deeply committed to his father’s vision and he wanted My Money Workshop to be able to reach more individuals.
The problem was that like many nonprofit organizations, My Money Workshop’s nimble staff wore many hats and handled all of the workshop scheduling, client outreach, volunteer coordination, fundraising and social media. The overwhelming daily workload prevented the organization from focusing on long-term growth strategies. In spring 2018, when Rob Yaffa reached out, TAP was ready to help.
What did TAP do? We listened. And we learned. We learned that My Money Workshop needed help developing their corps of volunteer instructors. They wanted a better way to get feedback from the people who participated in their workshops. They wanted more people to know about them.
TAP helped My Money Workshop by thinking about how they could accomplish these goals with their limited staff and budget. TAP provided research on how My Money Workshop could target new volunteers and wrote a Volunteer Handbook to help bring them on. TAP also created survey templates that My Money Workshop could then develop for use with their participants and identified tools to help them understand the survey data. Finally, TAP recommended ways to reach more people through social media and by using the expansive network of My Money Workshop’s board members. Net result? My Money Workshop is positioned to continue Dick Yaffa’s legacy well into the future.
Injera*. Wat*. If these words are unfamiliar to you then you probably have never tried Ethiopian food. And you certainly have not tried Lalibela in Mt. Kisco, NY. Lalibela is a small neighborhood restaurant established in 2010. Before that, it was the dream of Selamawit Tesfaye, known to her customers as Mimi, who emigrated to the United States in 1995 and began her life here as a nanny. At night, she took ESL classes and then she began the slow but steady path that led not only to Lalibela but also, in December 2018, to the opening next door of Mimi’s Coffee House, a coffee bar.
With strong reviews from the New York Times and Westchester Magazine, among others, Lalibela has become an integral part of the Mount Kisco restaurant scene. Mimi’s vision and energy got Lalibela to its current place. Lalibela is unique, certainly for Northern Westchester (If you haven’t yet sneaked a glance below, injera is the spongy sourdough flatbread served on a large tray that serves as both bread and utensil. It is used to scoop up ‘wat’ (stew) and other wonderfully spiced Ethiopian dishes that are served on top of the injera).
Mimi went to Community Capital (a non profit alternative community lender in the Hudson Valley and Fairfield, CT) seeking a loan that would allow her to to open Mimi’s Coffee House. Before approving the loan, Community Capital introduced Mimi to TAP, asking TAP to advise her on how she could both grow Lalibela and start Mimi’s Coffee House.
TAP focused on marketing strategies and financial analysis for both businesses. For Lalibela, TAP consultants worked with Mimi to develop marketing strategies that she could pursue, in both the near and longer term, to build her clientele. TAP and Mimi discussed brand development to distinguish Lalibela, increased marketing to gain a larger lunch business, advertising at the nearby Mt Kisco train station to increase takeout business, and outreach to local corporations for catering or private parties. TAP believed that Lalibela and Mimi’s could also benefit by looking for opportunities to collaborate in the community (e.g., the Chamber of Commerce, local sporting events) to help increase visibility. TAP and Mimi also went through the menu, item by item, to ensure that Mimi was maximizing her revenue.
For Mimi’s Coffee House, TAP helped put together detailed revenue and cost assumptions. TAP consultants worked with Mimi to “stress test” the assumptions under different business and financial scenarios. They even sent Mimi on a sleuthing assignment to the nearest competitor to gather intelligence on how many units were sold of drinks/food as well as peak times throughout the day. With a five year plan in hand, Mimi was able to demonstrate the viability of her coffee house to Community Capital and secure a loan.
Mimi notes that without TAP’s guidance on the financial aspects of Mimi’s Coffee House, she would not have gotten the loan from Community Capital. Furthermore, Lalibela has seen 20 percent growth since working with TAP and Mimi’s Coffee House just got a terrific write-up in Westchester Magazine online.
Both Lalibela and Mimi’s have become go-to destinations. Mount Kisco residents are delighted to have an alternative to chain coffee stores and they continue to flock to Lalibela for its food and ambience.
*injera: a spongy, sourdough flatbread
*wat: a spicy stew or curry like dish served on the injera
HudCo was born to fill a need. While co-working spaces are a common site in cities, finding the right place in the suburbs is not as easy. More than just a shared workspace, HudCo is also a shared wellness space and a space committed to creating community in the river towns of Westchester County.
HudCo’s membership runs from accountants to herbalists, from florists to business strategists, from landscape architects to leadership coaches. What makes HudCo unique is not just the diversity of its membership, nor that it offers a range of business memberships to meet individual needs. HudCo has taken the co-working model further by offering a wellness membership, which provides space for those in the business of helping others live their healthiest lives. Yes, that means you can take your Pilates class at your co-working space. In addition, HudCo offers a rich array of programming such as speakers on diverse topics, movement workshops, and author talks. In other words, there is a place for everyone at HudCo.
HudCo was founded in January 2016 by three entrepreneurs who wanted a co-working space. Friends told friends and soon thereafter the seven invested founders leased more space. In time, the opportunity arose to lease even more space in the same light-filled building, with its exquisite views of the Hudson. The founders were in a quandary. As creative types (including an architect and designer), they understand space and environment. They all liked the concept of more space but weren’t sure how they would finance it. As entrepreneurs, they had developed a business plan, but they weren’t completely comfortable with their financial projections. They also realized that as partners, their objectives (and contributions) had diverged.
Two HudCo founders met TAP at a speed-consulting workshop run by the Armonk Chamber of Commerce. They were there for their own individual businesses but quickly determined that TAP might be able to help HudCo as well. And we were --in two significant ways. The first big piece was financial, and TAP helped break it down into smaller pieces. We discussed capital needs, looked at structuring options, and identified third party lenders. We also created a forecast model for HudCo that would give them an easy way to play with their current and future growth assumptions.
The second major piece was the business relationships among the partners. The partners gave TAP the opportunity to meet with each partner individually to better understand what each really wanted. This allowed TAP to step into the role of an honest broker and show the partners where there were synergies in their thinking and where there were gaps. We facilitated a discussion on equitable strategies for ownership and reviewed how partnership documents could accurately reflect each partner’s role and profit participation. We also provided an action plan to move the business forward on all fronts.
Now positioned for growth and the future, HudCo can focus on its mission “to integrate work, life, and being well. “
A conversation with our amazing TAP consultant Seema Jaggi...
Greatest TAP moment:
Working with Community Capital New York and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to develop an innovative assessment tool for small business owners to propel their businesses forward successfully.
TAP taught me:
that I can use my creativity and analytical skills to volunteer my time in a fulfilling way to help passionate and visionary small business owners take their businesses to the next level.
I am passionate about:
making a difference in my local community.
My role model:
I love Michelle Obama, and the graceful and eloquent way she conducts herself.
Words to live by:
I believe that one person can make a difference.
A conversation with our amazing TAP consultant Bonnie Sherman. She’s got some very sound advice...
Greatest TAP moment:
Assisting a business owner to reaffirm her vision and to see a clear path to profitability and positive cash flow.
TAP taught me:
Business owners should not grow too attached to their initial business plan if signs emerge they are not performing according to expectations. Cutting your losses and redirecting your business strategy can spell success, as well and save you money and disappointment in the long run.
I’m passionate about:
fitness, running and healthy living.
Words to live by:
Continually put yourself outside of your comfort zone and seek challenges...don't fear failure.
Tête-à-tête with our amazing TAP consultant Marilyn Blume
Greatest TAP moment:
Helping client open a new business.
TAP taught me:
To embrace my skillset and realize my full potential.
Working with others who can benefit from my input.
Words to live by:
”With every experience, you alone are painting your own canvas, thought by thought, choice by choice." Oprah Winfrey.
Pam was consultant #2 at TAP! She was a key member of the team responsible for implementing Scarsdale’s successful “Buy Local” campaign. Pam has worked with many diverse TAP clients since then and they’ve all been lucky to benefit from the financial expertise she brings to the team. Most recently, Pam worked with multiple partners in a co-working start-up and helped them understand how to finance their company and structure their partnership.
Pam comes to us with two decades of experience on Wall Street. She was formerly a Managing Director at Deutsche Bank in Manhattan, leading their real estate private equity business. For the majority of her years on Wall Street, Pam was responsible for originating, structuring and closing high yielding real estate investments in the US and Latin America. Among her most notable achievements, Pam set up an asset management company in Mexico employing over 140 people. Prior to working in real estate, Pam worked in several other areas of finance at Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Solomon Brothers.
In her words:
“I have loved all my TAP assignments, as they have all been very different. What I enjoy most about each assignment is the feeling that I have added value and made a difference in the business outlook of the enterprise that we are helping. It is amazing what can be accomplished in a small amount of time. I’ve also loved meeting other TAP professionals and collaborating with them. The collaborative process within TAP makes it a great learning experience.”
More about Pam:
When she isn’t busy with her TAP clients, she enjoys playing golf, or a game of tennis. She also enjoys cooking and is an avid reader.
About this blog
This blog features our accomplished consultants who volunteer their expertise to advise local small businesses. This blog also features some of our client engagements.