Guidant: Tell us about how you got your small business started – what made you decide to start a tobacco shop in Springerville?
Terri: I’m a W2 employee. I work a really demanding job full-time, in a town where I don’t actually own the smoke shop. My son acts as the general manager for the store.
I found Guidant through Advanta [Advanta IRA, a firm for self-directed IRAs] because I originally looked to be able to use my 401(k) funds from other employers. I went to Advanta to initially be able to buy the building, which we did ultimately buy to put our business in, which is our first business. We call it our first foray into this little town, Springerville.
Back in March 2020, just a little bit after COVID kicked off, we were sitting around the dinner table. I manage real estate for a financial firm, and I’ve managed real estate for large companies for many years; I retired from GE, for example. So, I have a lot of commercial real estate experience.
When COVID hit, at my company, we sent all of our employees home. From my experience, seeing what was going on, I really felt strongly that working from home would be a permanent solution for many companies. Working from home offers work-life balance, flexibility for top talent, the ability to hire that top talent from anywhere in the world, and getting that top talent without having to pay relocation fees. I recognized right away there would be urban flight. I’m in Phoenix, which is the fifth-largest city in the country. And we saw that almost immediately, there were around 350,000 Californians coming into Arizona and another 150,000 into Nevada. We’ve seen this urban flight manifest ever since I said it when we were sitting around the dinner table. Back then, I said, “I think there’s going to be a real resurgence of rural communities.”
My son, who is a smoker, said, “Hey when I’m up at the cabin, I can’t get my tobacco needs met.” I have a summer home in this little rural community in Arizona that sits in the White Mountains. We bought this cabin in this community where we used to take our kids camping and where my husband’s family actually happens to be founders. We have a very strong alliance in this community of Springerville.
We started doing research into tobacco shops in the Springerville area. We found there were three smoke shops in a community that’s much larger than Springerville, but they’re all at least 45 minutes away – and the next closest after those three is 195 miles away.
Next, we checked out the nearest shops, and while they’re doing the best they can, the business owners are somewhat cash poor. That means they all carry different products or focus on something different. But no one is providing a Circle-K-like inventory. In rural Springerville, Circle-K is the only place that provides vape and tobacco users a selection – but it’s still nothing like what you’d see in a smoke shop in a major metro area like Phoenix.
There was no place to lease in Springerville that was on the main drag. I-60 that runs through the main street, and we wanted to be on Main Street – not any of the strip malls that service that area; we wanted to be on the main drag. We looked at every possibility and ended up buying a building that was abandoned for two years and needed a lot of work. The build was also important in the community – it had a huge legacy from being Western Wear and Work Wear, which was a business that had run successfully for 45 years in Springerville.
Springerville has grocery stores that service all of the areas around us – so people come into town to get their groceries. In some instances, these shops are where the pharmacists and even doctor’s clinics are. So even though it’s a small community, it’s still servicing even smaller communities around it.
Guidant: So Springerville is like the community seat?
Terri: Exactly. And they don’t have a lot of services, and of course, it’s very depressed. They have a few places for decent employment, so their median income isn’t bad, but at the same time, they still have an enormous amount of poverty, homes that are old and not being cared for, and are very agriculture driven. Their town government is working hard to change things, but it’s always difficult to do.
A lot of this is why stepping into this community to provide products that weren’t available has worked out really incredibly well for us.
Guidant: How has Guidant been able to help you with your small business?
Terri: After talking to Advanta, I realized I couldn’t do some of the things I really wanted to do, funding-wise. I got a recommendation for Guidant. I did some research, of course, and landed on Guidant.
Plus buying the property, getting the business funded and opened, hiring an employee – all of that. Guidant has made it all super simple for me. I couldn’t have managed all of the things I would have had to learn without Guidant holding my hand.
And believe me, if you talk to Alex [Client Success] or Phil [Guidant Payroll and HR], they’ll tell you they held my hand! And Phil, in particular, was huge from a payroll point of view because I really had no idea what to do.
When Guidant Payroll and HR said, “You can get all of this handled for you, so you don’t have, for a monthly fee,” I was like I’m in!
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Then Phil just made it so incredibly easy. I can’t begin to tell you how easy it is for me to deal with my payroll now. I think it’s just so important to note how amazing of an experience it’s been while I still have a very demanding W2 job.
Guidant: We’re hearing more about people who want to do both – own their small business while still working their full-time jobs. Would you mind walking through the process of starting Guidant Payroll? What made you go for it? How’s it being managed since there?
Terri: You know, I’ve managed real estate for 40 years. I have an MBA. I know what I’m doing in these areas. But I’ve never had to do payroll! I never had to figure out how to run a small business; I never had to figure out how to hire someone, how to pay them, how to do withholding, unemployment taxes, and all of that. But all these payroll and HR needs come inclusive with Guidant Payroll and HR, where I have the ability to have a simple handbook, simple forms, and a lot more.
Guidant said, “You don’t have to figure it out. We’ll figure it out for you, and we’re going to charge you (what I believe is a pretty reasonable fee) on a monthly basis to make sure you’re completely covered.”
Then I had my first one-on-one meeting with Phil, and we just connected right away. He was just so personable and so able to make me comfortable that Guidant was going to take all these tasks over, do the right things, keep us compliant, and make sure our employees were properly paid.
Phil truly held my hand with every step. I can even show you emails flying back and forth that spelled it out so simply – “Now do this, then do this,” and so on. All I had to do was what Guidant asked me to do. And none of it was very time-consuming.
If I didn’t go with Guidant, I would have had to figure all of that out on my own! Clearly, I don’t have the time to do that, and frankly, I’m not sure I want to!
Guidant: Who wants to take all that extra time when you’ve already done so much work to get your small business started! That was our whole design philosophy behind Guidant Payroll and HR – to make sure you could focus on what’s important, which is running and growing your business. There’s a better way to do Payroll and HR, so you’re not micromanaging all of that. We’re so excited to hear it’s working out so well for you!
Terri: Yes – very, very well. Phil just goes above and beyond. And it’s not just service. You know right away that he’s competent. I had a really instant trust factor and knew that he was going to make sure I was doing the right things and that I was compliant. It’s huge when you have that personal above and beyond touch that he, and now his team, really give.
Guidant: Do you feel like part of your trust was knowing that you were working with someone who was so experienced and a team that really knew what they were doing? Did that lend to your level of comfort?
Terri: Yes, no question about it.
Guidant: When did you open your doors?
Terri: Oct 12, 2020. Five weeks in [at the time of this interview], and we’re already profitable if you remove paying for initial inventory.
Thanks, Terri, for taking some time to talk to us about your experience in starting your small business! We’re so excited to hear about your plans for expansion and ventures into new businesses – we can’t wait to see where your journey takes you, and we’re thrilled to be part of it.