Opportunities abound in the business community of the Snoqualmie Valley, where Down to Earth Flowers and Gifts enjoys its status as the only full-service florist shop in the area, and where Wildflower Wine Shop is poised to capitalize on the huge growth in wineries right here at home.
Yet there are also challenges that every small business owner faces daily. We asked a handful of local businesses, some established, others within their first year or two, what it’s like to do business in the Valley, and what advice they might offer other aspiring business owners. Here are the answers from Pet Place Market, about to celebrate its 10th anniversary in downtown North Bend, and Wildflower Wine Shop, about five months away from its one-year mark.
Pet Place Market
Most small business owners encounter a surprise or two as they get to work on their ventures, even if they’re getting into established businesses. Chris Creighton, the owner of North Bend’s Pet Place Market for about 10 months now, was no exception.
Semi-retired from the tech industry, Creighton said he hadn’t known a lot about the pet care industry when he bought the business from Brenna Shoultz March 1 last year but as the owner of a pet with many allergy and skin problems for the past 10 years, he’s done extensive research on pet nutrition.
Besides, he said, “I grew up in small country towns (in Canada, New Zealand and Australia) and fell in love with North Bend the first time my family and I visited.”
North Bend’s natural beauty, plus its close-knit community were big attractions for Creighton. It also appealed to him that Shoultz worked at the shop only three days a week.
However, “as fate would have it, I’m here about six,” he said, but that’s fine with him. “Frankly, I’d rather be here, because it’s fun.”
Creighton learned a lot about pet care, and the industry over the course of the last year, and while he does have concerns about competing with Internet retailers, he tries to keep his prices similar to theirs, and he’s confident in his customer base.
“It’s a really cool community… they expect you to participate, and they’re loyal,” he said.
Observant, too. Creighton is preparing to expand the business on Bendigo Boulevard into another section of their building, to increase the amount of freezer space available for higher-quality raw pet foods, because his customers are asking for more of these products.
“I think pet owners of all walks of life are starting to appreciate the better the nutritionally balanced diet they feed their pet — and this could be any pet — the less money they spend at the veterinarian,” he said.
Creighton enumerates the benefits of a raw-food diet, which include excellent teeth and better breath, shiny healthy coats, and less waste to pick up after them.
“The same is true of a high-quality kibble,” he added. “It’s really an awareness now that, ‘if I can figure this out nutritionally, my furry loved one is going to be happier.’”
Pet Place Market also carries pet chews and toys, clothing, bedding and some small-animal supplies, and offers three do-it-yourself pet-washing tubs. The self-wash and spa was the original component of the business and still brings a lot of regular customers in, so there will be no changes to this section as the planned expansion starts. Instead, Creighton hopes to remove a wall in the additional space to add several more freezers for pet food.
He’s also looking forward to, outside the building, having an expanded parking area some time in February, when a neighboring building on the property is demolished.
All of these changes are perfectly timed to coincide with the business’ 10-year anniversary celebration, scheduled for the end of April. Learn more about Pet Place Market and its upcoming events at www.petplacemarket.com.
The small staff at Pet Place Market in addition to Creighton manager Wendy Beerbower, and five other staffers including two high school students — will also see changes specific to them in the near future. Creighton plans to offer some additional employee benefits in the coming year.
“I’m going to make sure that employees that we want to stick around get competitive benefits,” he said.
His own plans are to stick around too. He’s already begun talking about opening another shop “when the dust clears” from the updates to his North Bend venture.
The city’s business environment is very supportive, he said, although most small businesses struggle with the same similar issues of attracting and keeping excellent staff people (although he adds that Pet Place Market has been extremely fortunate in that regard), balancing the benefits and costs of staff development, competing with online retailers, the rising cost of employment the rising cost of accepting credit card payments and, particular to North Bend, the increasing traffic congestion.
Creighton adds that he has no complaints about the city government.
“I contacted the city offices upon purchasing Pet Place Market and found the staff and management there to be very supportive and helpful. I have experienced no restrictions or constraints up to this point.”
Wildflower Wine Shop
One of North Bend’s newest businesses has a vision to buy local, as much as possible. Wildflower Wine Shop’sKimberlea Miller, who co-owns the little restaurant on North Bend Way next door to Base Camp Fitness, said it’s asmuch about helping all businesses in the Valley as it is about building her own.
“The economic growth of the wine industry is picking up here in the Valley,” she said, standing behind the bar of hershop, which opened in June.
To demonstrate, she walked to the wine racks, then pointed out the general area of the many local wineries in hercurrent inventory. “This is North Bend, this is Carnation, this is Fall City, we have Cherry Valley, we have Sigillo, wehave Pearl and Stone, Piccola, William Grassie, Pleasant Hill…”
Most of the wines are from the Snoqualmie Valley, a few come from other parts of Washington, but none from anyfarther away. “We have such beautiful, wonderful wines here, there’s absolutely no reason to go across the border,”Miller said.
The food coming out of the kitchen, staffed by co-owner Denise Romary, is just as local, coming mainly from Carnation farmers, Miller said.
“We support the Valley whole-heartedly,” she added. “It’s very important to me.”
That support extends to the people who live here, too. Miller has opened the shop up for various community events,including a recent personal supplies drive for homeless youth.
Miller has lived in the Valley since 1973 and as a well-known wine blogger (find her at sipinwashington.com), she’sbeen immersed in the industry.
“I wanted to, with my background, be on the ground floor of the wine industry in the Valley,” she explained. Herplans for a wine business didn’t fall into place until she met Romary, then her personal trainer at Anytime Fitness inSnoqualmie, and they found a cozy niche in North Bend.
The shop is long and narrow, with bench seating along one wall, the bar and wine racks along the other, a small butwell-equipped kitchen in the back and smaller more intimate tables, by the front.
“It’s very European, a lot of my customers say, and it kind of fit our bill,” said Miller, “but it’s hard, too, because thebuck stops at the light.” The shop, on the west side of the Bendigo/North Bend Way intersection, doesn’t see a lot offoot traffic.
It’s one of several challenges the Wildflower women have worked to overcome as they opened shop in North Bend.
Another was “There’s a lot of things you need a permit for,” Miller said, including liquor sales, plumbing andelectrical improvements to the building, signs and basic occupancy.
Miller is also a registered paralegal and was able to figure out the requirements for opening a new business herself,but she encouraged other prospective owners to “Be very well prepared, get all your ducks in a row.”
For example, Miller noted that the city of North Bend charges a B&O tax, based on square footage, but she candeduct the space taken by her inventory. Also, she notes that “Washington state is extremely expensive to dobusiness in,” but that being able to live here makes it worth the expense.
Learn more about Wildflower Wine Shop, and their upcoming events, at www.wildflowerwineshop.com.