Karen Morava’s new business, the Careful Peach Boutique, isn’t exactly off the beaten track. In fact, that’s part of her problem. The Careful Peach is so on the beaten track at 11 Harrison St. that most drivers, either in a hurry to get to the Eisenhower Expressway, or turning west off of Austin Boulevard, cruise right past the quaint two-story red brick building housing her business.
“We don’t get a lot of foot traffic,” said Morava. “People kind of just fly right by.”
That challenge, along with a host of others that confront most small business start-ups, made The Careful Peach something of a textbook study of local entrepreneurship. Which it now is, thanks to Dr. Arvid Johnson and his class at the Dominican University’s School of Business.
The Careful Peach offers an array of personal and household items that are equal parts whimsical and functional. They’re also unique, either one of a kind or limited production pieces of art that cost a good bit more than the homogenized, mass-produced items found in chain stores. Morava refers to her wares as “heirloom quality.”
Those who love what Morava offers really love it, but she realizes that that alone won’t keep her business solvent.
“I have a very loyal clientele, but a very small clientele,” she said. “What’s keeping me in business is weddings, birthdays, Christmas and graduations.”
Johnson said that the weak points in start-up businesses can be boiled down to three main areas?#34;strategy, marketing and financials.
Beyond basic business discipline like cash flow issues, most of the advice Morava received has been focused on marketing, as she terms it, “on how to get my name out there to the type of people who’d be interested in what I have.”
Johnson believes the left side of the brain?#34;the linear, logical lobe?#34;can help the creative, intuitive right side flourish. It’s also a win-win situation. Visiting a store like the Careful Peach, he said, offers Dominican’s students an experience not possible in a classroom.
“They get to see the passion that entrepreneurs like Karen bring to their business,” said Johnson.
Of course, passion only takes you so far, particularly in business.
“The students were able to separate the passion from the challenge,” he said. “The passion is what engages the students. The challenge is what keeps them engaged.”
The Careful Peach, which celebrates its first anniversary next week, shares any number of operational issues with numerous other businesses along Harrison Street. Many of those businesses are run by inspired, creative individuals who haven’t given all that much thought to exactly how they were going to attract an adequate number of potential buyers through their doors.
Morava, who can talk knowledgeably about such things as French pottery, purses and handcrafted jewelry, admits that before sitting down with her young advisors, she didn’t know a spreadsheet from a bed sheet.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “I went into it with the classic concept of, ‘I’m going to offer these great items, and people are just going to come.'”
One of Johnson’s students, fashion design/merchandising major Sara Riley, was attracted to the business on both levels.
“As females, we felt it was quite charming,” said Riley of herself and some of her classmates?#34;though she wouldn’t vouch for her male classmates. She also liked the way that Morava has put the elements of the business together in a complete presentation.
“I feel like she’s really got a vision here,” said Riley. “She’s got the details [worked out] all the way down to the gift wrap.”
As for Johnson and Dominican, Riley is just as pleased with her classroom experience.
“He made the class interesting, as opposed to dry book work,” she said. “He kind of brings entrepreneurship to life.”
Which is exactly what Johnson intended.
“It’s a great opportunity to apply knowledge they’re getting in class,” he said of working with small entrepreneurs. “I’m always worried that our curriculum is relevant both to business and academics.”
One key way in which Dominican helped with Morava’s boutique was to determine those methods of advertising that gave her the least bang for her buck.
“Most businesses think of marketing as advertising on radio or television, or print,” said Johnson.
“We’re trying to find out if radio is worthwhile,” said Morava, who has been advertising on a Chicago station recently. While that can be effective, it’s also quite expensive.
She also mentions a slick local magazine whose readership reflects just the sort of clientele she’s looking to attract. But readership isn’t everything?#34;and at around $1,000 for a single small ad, not necessarily cost effective.
Johnson and his students introduced Morava to another effective and far less expensive from of marketing?#34;”guerilla marketing.” Morava found that more than advertising, cross-promotional and in-store events have proved most worthwhile.
“Putting things on sale won’t necessarily help get people in the store,” she said. “Having a lot of in-store events is really important.”
“We’re doing three or so a year now,” she said. The latest, which began last week, is an in-kind event with the Animal Care League (ACL). The promotion, which ends Mother’s Day, will donate 10 to 15 percent of sales back to the Animal Care League if purchasers mention the ACL.
“It’s great to get really fresh, creative ideas from these students,” Morava said, such as Riley, whose first question after visiting the Careful Peach was, “Where do the women most likely to buy her merchandise congregate?”
“Beauty salons,” Riley concluded. So she and another student went around to six or seven beauty salons around Oak Park and asked permission to leave materials from the Careful Peach in those businesses.
“I never would have thought of that,” said Morava admiringly.
While Morava hasn’t had time yet to implement most of the ideas gleaned from her young volunteer assistants, she’s anxious to start. Riley, who starts her internship at the store this Friday, shares her enthusiasm. Through August she’ll spend around 6 hours a week inside the store, and also be available for other tasks such as the upcoming What’s Blooming on Harrison Street May 19-21.
Another attraction new businesses like the Careful Peach hold for Johnson is their smaller scale, which is far more approachable than bigger firms.
“It’s hard to relate to a $10 million of $100 million corporation,” he said.
Riley concurred, saying, “It’s something I can’t get out of a large corporation. Here I can get down and work at all levels.”
Morava said she’s more than happy to provide that opportunity, and expressed heartfelt thanks to Johnson, Riley and the other students.
“They helped me learn what to do with my money,” said Morava. “How much needs to go back into inventory, and how much into such things as promotion.”
Morava said she now has far more confidence that she’s on he right track business-wise as she plans the future. “They really have been a tremendous help to me. I think it will be a huge help going forward.”
Johnson is so satisfied with the results so far that he plans to split his fall class into two groups and work with two local businesses next semester. He’s also putting out the word to other academics in papers and presentations.
“I want to share this with others,” he said.
Just as importantly, he wants businesses to know that programs like Dominican’s are willing resource.
“We want to be engaging with the community actively,” he said.