SELLERSBURG — A group of local professionals offered advice on starting and running a business during a recent event at Silver Creek High School.
Silver Creek’s 25th annual Panel of Entrepreneurs took place Friday after a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic. The event is presented by the high school’s Academy of Finance.
The panel featured four entrepreneurs working in the Louisville and Southern Indiana area in sectors ranging from hospitality to auto parts. The speakers throughout the event answered questions from students about their business journey and overcoming challenges.
Jennifer Glaser, a teacher at Silver Creek, said the panel provides motivation to students as they consider their careers. She is the director of Silver Creek’s Career Academy program.
“There are some in this audience who probably want to start a business, and they may be inspired by all this,” she said.
One of the speakers was Elizabeth Kizito, who owns Kizito Cookies on Bardstown Road. She is from Uganda, and she started her business more than 30 years ago after moving to Louisville. She discussed her time working as a street vendor saying, “you can start with nothing and make it.”
“When I first started my business, I had no money,” she said. “I couldn’t get no loan — nothing,” she said.
But she “didn’t quit,” she said, even though it was “an adventure” when she first started.
“A lot of people gave me direction what to do,” Kizito said. “I went to festivals, I was new to the area in Louisville — I didn’t know what to do and I’d never been in business before.”
As word spread about the business, she became known in Louisville as the “Cookie Lady.” In addition to running her Louisville Bakery, she is also known for carrying cookies in a basket on top of her head at events such as Louisville Bats baseball games and festivals.
One of the panelists was restaurateur Kevin Grangier. He is the founder, president and CEO of Belle Noble Entertainment Group in Louisville, which operates local restaurants such as Le Moo Fine Steak House, The Village Anchor, The Sea Hag Pub and Grassa Gramma.
Grangier graduated from Silver Creek High School about 40 years ago. He started working in marketing and communications in the area, and he eventually began his own communications agency in Los Angeles, which grew quickly and opened offices across the country.
He discussed challenges such as risk-taking, saying it’s “important to have your ducks in your row” and have a “plan in place so you can weather the storm.”
“I started out from a laptop computer in a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles and I was the producer of the product,” he said. “The more I worked, the more product I could produce, and the more I worked, the more customers I could maintain.”
He eventually returned to the area and began opening restaurants in Louisville. This was an “extension” of his career in brand development and product development, he said.
Panelist Ashley Porras is the owner of Simply by Ashley, a boutique at Bolt + Tie on Main Street in Clarksville. She is a college student who graduated from Silver Creek High School in 2019, and she started her business with online sales.
Her family has been involved in business for a long time, particularly in the health care industry, she said. Her experience as an entrepreneur started in high school.
“When I was at Silver Creek doing pop-ups and flea markets, and I was selling bath bombs…,” Porras said. “I was making that, and then eventually, I was like hey, you know what? I like the idea of fashion and home goods and bath items and beauty products, and I combined them all into my boutique.”
When she started Simply by Ashley, she was working four jobs, she said.
“I was a caregiver, I was a server, I was a chef, I was working at an outpatient clinic — and I was running my business,” she said. “And every paycheck, I would get 50% of my paycheck and just put it on my business. Seeing that grow, it made me so happy, so when I bought my first wholesale inventory, I was like, man, I‘ve made it, this is it.”
When the pandemic began, she was able to make money from her online shop by selling face masks, and her business continued to grow as she “made whatever was trending at that time.” Help from her family helped give her the capital she needed to launch her own storefront, she said.
She had to give up a few of her part-time jobs to make it work with her business, she said.
Mike Lee, founder of Total Truck Parts, also spoke at Friday’s event. The company buys and resells parts for semi trucks, and it has locations in Louisville, Clarksville, Indianapolis and Glasgow, Kentucky.
He worked for a variety of auto parts companies in the area, and while working for a local business, he was one of four workers who branched out on their own to form Total Truck Parts.
“We didn’t know if we would make it or not, but 21 years later, we’re on top of the world,” Lee said. “It’s a good business…I got there by having good employees.”
Lee said when his business began, there were many competitors in the area, and he discussed the company’s journey as it grew.
“We had to go out of town and find supply to get the product to sell,” he said. “We’ve done that, after that, they started coming to us, and we started growing…In 2006, we joined a buying group for truck parts, which gives us more buying power.”
Lee discussed the role of his company’s employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) in retaining employees.
“Now, myself and my brother both earn about a third of the company, and the employees own a third…it’s an ESOP, and it goes into their retirement, and it helps to retain employees,” he said.
The panelists offered plenty of advice for young entrepreneurs.
Grangier emphasized the importance of gaining experience, building relationships and the need for flexibility.
“I’ve been doing this for like 25 years and every day something new presents itself — that never goes away,” he said.
He discussed the current labor market situation, saying his company “has not sacrificed the quality of person that we hire,” and the business has adapted to meet the challenges, including expanding the benefits package to attract employees.
Kizito advises entrepreneurs to “know what you’re doing before you borrow money” to avoid struggling with debt.
Lee noted the knowledge gained from working for someone else for 15 years, saying, “if you want to be in that business, just learn it from the top to the bottom and hire good people to help you.”
Porras said networking is essential, and she encourages entrepreneurs to “research as much as you can and ask help from people.”
“Get lots of help from people who know what they’re doing,” she said. “Definitely branch out, because me personally what I wanted to do was always in health care, and I never saw myself doing something like this — branch out, save (money) and network. That’s very, very important.”
Glaser said the event provides networking opportunities for students.
“A lot of the times the students will go to these businesses, they’ll recognize these business owners…I just love the networking it provides,” she said.
Silver Creek High School senior Katie Bishop is vice president of the school’s Academy of Finance. She asked panelists the question about “advice for young entrepreneurs.”
“I’ve kind of considered it a little bit, and it’s just interesting to hear the advice they had to offer for myself and my fellow classmates as well,” she said. “I really like to hear what they kind of messed up on when they were starting their businesses and then advising those to not make those same mistakes, so that was what my takeaway was.”
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