With the new year comes the possibility of reinvention of not only yourself but also your future. With many of us charting new paths thanks to the pandemic — even if it’s just in our slippers to our home office — you might have gotten the bug to start your own business. In Las Cruces, there are various avenues, whether through the City of Las Cruces or New Mexico State University, to get your ideas off the ground.
For Ellen Jaffe Castello, her 2020 was about reinvention after retiring. She planned to dive back into the creative side of ad design, something she loved before she worked her way up into marketing management after coming to Las Cruces from working with ad firms in Manhattan.
“I’ve decided that I still want to do some work even though I’m retired,” said Ellen. “I want to focus on my creative side in the design industry.”
Ellen had done freelancing before but knew that it might be different in New Mexico. “I was kind of spoiled because I lived in the tri-state area of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey; there were more businesses,” she said. “But I do know there’s potential here.”
She decided to take advantage of the BizSprint, a program run by New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center. The free eight-week course allows her to thoroughly investigate what it takes to build herself into a brand and a business by contacting industry experts in different areas like accounting, marketing, and website design. It also allows participants to take stock of what they bring to the table.
“It’s a guided process where there are steps you take. For example, the first one is to kind of take a look at what your strengths are, and then it’s to go out in the marketplace,” Ellen said. “It’s a discovery process where we just talk to potential customers, finding out what their needs are and being very open to listening, because it might be very different than what you think. You may learn how to tailor or just say, do I need to rethink what I’m doing? Do I need to tweak it?”
Arrowhead Center plans various sprints throughout the year, and even some that focus on specific industries like agriculture or clean energy.
“Arrowhead Center is a great place to start when you even have that first idea and want to investigate what it takes to start a full-fledged business,” said Kathryn Hansen, director of Arrowhead Center. “We’re called an incubator precisely because we have the resources, programming, and connections to industry leaders and experts who can help guide you and even find ways to seek out funding to get your company launched.”
Advice from Two Business Owners
Arianna Parsons and her husband, Tyrell Thacker, former owners of Beck’s Roasting House and Creamery, current owners of Beck’s Express on Main Street, which opened during COVID in June 2020, and are gearing up to launch their new venture, Willow & Blaine, a bistro, in the next few months.
“I think now is kind of a great time to start looking to open a business. COVID taught us that you have to be prepared for anything, and I am not sure we really had that mindset in the past; this caught most of us off-guard,” Arianna said. “But knowing what we know now is such a gift — businesses getting started now can work disaster management into their core business model and will be better off for it.”
Fortunately, their expansion helped them during the shutdown. “The Express is a walk-up, and we were able to open earlier than we opened the Roasting House, so we felt good knowing our staff and customers would be a little better protected and at least some revenue coming in,” said Arianna. They also pivoted with home delivery of their coffee beans.
“Our regulars really supported us and stuck with us through it all, which was a very rushed process and wasn’t always very organized,” she said. “I don’t think we anticipated how many people were willing to make that switch with us, and we had had to furlough most of our staff, so it was just a couple of us, in our home kitchen, trying to figure out a delivery service.”
She explained that funding dried up for Willow & Blaine, and it “struck a blow” to their plans.
“At one point, we had just a couple of us trying to set up the Express, roast and deliver beans, trying frantically to finance our portion of the restaurant with two little babies running around — it was a really hectic time,” she said. Arianna credits her brother Sam and friend Michael who moved in January from Austin, Texas, to run the Willow & Blaine kitchen.
“I don’t even know how we would have made it through the year without them. Also, our team of baristas made all the difference. I can’t wait for things to return to ‘normal’ so they can have a little more stability — they truly deserve it,” Arianna said. “Our customers are the other factor. I say it all the time, but I sincerely think that we have the best customers on the planet.”
Similarly, Sara Armijo, co-owner of Lucky Dog Billiards with her husband, Alán, explained the hiccups in her starting a pool hall — a social activity — during a time of social distancing.
“The plan was in full motion when COVID began to impact the United States,” Sara said. “Years of work, investment, commitment to lenders, contractors on retainer, and the community pleas for a new pool hall, it’s not that simple to walk away. Taking responsibility can be hard, but I felt like it was the correct thing to see through my commitments rather than just give up and quit.”
“Starting a business in the best of circumstances is challenging, and while right now might seem like the worst time to start a business, it could in fact be the best time to start a business even if it’s just dreaming and planning,” she said. “My advice: get help. There are great local advisors out there, places like Small Business Development Center, WESST, Arrowhead Center, SCORE.”
Sara explained that sometimes advice could be hard to hear. “Be warned; advisors are there to advise you, even if the advice is that your business idea is terrible because there is no perceived market. If you believe in your idea, be prepared to fight for it.”
Lucky Dog Billiards got help from the City of Las Cruces initiative Renovate Main Street, but Sara said to be aware that bureaucracy can be a slow process.
“When starting a business, there are critical steps that are often time-sensitive. It was difficult to put on hold some of the critical expenses that were depending on this fund,” she said. “However, the funding helped pay for exterior and interior modifications to make Lucky Dog Billiards a standout cornerstone of downtown, adding value and opportunity to the growing downtown area.”
How the City of Las Cruces Can Help
Renovate Main Street isn’t the only initiative that the City of Las Cruces Economic Development department has available to residents, explained its director, Dr. Griselda T. Martínez. She’s excited about a new retail and business incubator for mini storefronts downtown.
“It serves as a new way to create synergies among business owners, entrepreneurs, but also connect them to this network of resources,” Griselda said. The department’s goal is to assist each new or growing business on a one-on-one basis and then adapt programming to cover needs. Early in the pandemic, the city partnered with Arrowhead Center to make a sprint that would allow brick-and-mortar businesses to get a crash course in online marketing and e-commerce that would enable them to shift their business during the crisis.
“Our job is to fill the gaps of education and connect them to the network of resources that can best help them,” Griselda said. “We are working towards inspiring anyone, from those wanting to start a grocery store or those wanting to start a high-tech company.”
The Economic Development department has a business concierge program to help those getting started. “It’s almost like an ambassador dedicated to troubleshoot their issues and get answers instead of having to go to four or five different departments for those answers,” she said.
Griselda explained that the city could connect businesses to microlending and extended resources through its city-wide partners.
“We’re working very closely with the chambers [of commerce] to make sure that we are working all together,” Griselda said. “It’s not only about sharing information but creating new programming and making sure that we bring down the barriers to business growth by providing solutions to their needs and adapting as needed.”
Her advised first steps: get on the Economic Development email list at [email protected] or start asking questions at [email protected].
Written by Cassie McClure • Photography by Olivia Belcher
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2021
Posted by LasCruces.com