Several years ago, Valerie Safran was a Spanish teacher who was waiting tables for extra money. Today, she and her partner own three successful Philadelphia businesses and hope to open more. Jean talks with Valerie about following your entrepreneurial dreams.
Valerie says she had been teaching for a few years when she realized she wasn't happy with her career. While moonlighting as a waitress, Valerie became friends with the chef, Marcie, and the two decided to go into business together. With $20,000 in savings and four 0% interest credit cards, Valerie and Marcie became co-owners of Open House, a home furnishings store. Valerie says using credit cards to buy inventory was a risk she understood. "For me, I was young—had no responsibilities as far as children go," Valerie says. "So, either try it, or be miserable like I had been the past year."
Despite being located in the red-light district of Philadelphia, the store was a success. "It took off from the beginning, thank God, because we didn't have any employees," Valerie says. "I was working every day, trying to pay off those credit card bills, because I had never paid an interest fee on a credit card bill."
Valerie says the store helped revitalize the neighborhood. Soon, with the help of a private investor, Valerie and Marcie opened a Mexican restaurant on the same street called Lolita. The restaurant used the concept of BYOT (Bring Your Own Tequila) to interest customers. "You don't want to open a business that is just another business," Valerie says. "It has to have something that will draw people to you." Now, along with a gourmet food store called Grocery, Valerie and Marcie are looking to open more businesses.
Here is some advice Valerie has for anyone looking to open their first business:
- Research the market. Make sure you are offering something unique to your area that has worked in other markets.
- Save your money. Valerie says you will always need more money then you think. Items customers don't see, like appliances, can be bought secondhand.
- Be flexible and listen to your customers. Customers offer important growth areas for your business.