By Austin Crosier
Four female business owners in the Granville area sat down at the bar at On The Rocks Pub for a “roundtable” discussion about the joys, hardships and personal successes of operating in a small town.
Susan Knapp of Slate Town Brewing Company, Lisa Brill of Pine Grove Diner, Vicky Hale of On The Rocks Pub and Heather Thomas of The Gold Trout Boutique all respectively own and operate their businesses on a daily basis.
All four women spoke about how they have been challenged by the circumstances associated with COVID-19, as well as normal everyday owners.
“The most difficult thing was the constant pivoting. We’ve had to change our business model three or four times since this [COVID-19] started . . . Adapting constantly is a big challenge,” Knapp said. “There’s definitely a sense of fatigue that we all have and worrying about what’s going to happen when the weather changes. We’re at 50 percent capacity, the bills are still coming in, they’re not at 50 percent.”
While Knapp, Hale and Brill have been able to open their doors to the public with a limitation on occupancy, Thomas has been the outlier. Since COVID-19 hit in March, The Gold Trout Boutique has allowed only curbside pickup and deliveries for the safety of customers.
“It’s definitely been very challenging,” Thomas said.
With the items she sells being physical objects, Thomas wants the customer to have peace in the fact that what they purchase hasn’t been contaminated or touched and could put the customer in danger.
The “lingering fear” Thomas has is the “what if” question of not being able to open her doors for one of the busiest and financially crucial times of the year.
“Twenty percent of our sales come in December,” Thomas said.
COVID-19 has created a general feeling of inconsistency for all four owners. Not knowing how to plan for a week or even the next day generates a high level of stress.
“People were trying to support us with the take-out and curbside pickup,” Hale said. “It was a little scary at times because people were afraid.”
When asked about what it’s like to be successful in what is often referred to as a “male-dominated society,” Thomas and Knapp had different answers.
“I haven’t really thought of things in those terms,” Thomas said. “I just try to collaborate with people.”
Knapp spoke about the recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and how Ginsburg along with countless other women fought, scratched and clawed to earn the opportunities that the four women at the bar have today.
“As a woman brewery owner, there wasn’t many of them,” Knapp said.
Knapp continued to say when she was first introduced to the ownership scene, many men assumed her business partner was her relationship partner, diminishing her credibility.
She is proud of her ability to expand and create Slate Town Brewing Company in her vision, as well as continue to learn and gain knowledge by taking an online course for women in business ownership.
“I knew how to run a business, not start a business,” Knapp said. “The creative aspect of it, it’s growing. Just being able to create the branches that need to grow.”
Brill and Hale mentioned the perspective of managing their businesses as similar to their duties as a mother.
“We tend to be multi-taskers as mothers,” Brill said. “We’re all trying to survive the best we can.”
“People don’t notice the fact women have a different outlook on how to be successful,” Hale said.
Brill, Hale and Thomas are extremely grateful for the bond of community and family that has been created over the last couple years among their customers, employees and themselves.
“It’s a very family-oriented business,” Brill said. “It can add a level of stress . . . but they [employees] know you. We have a lot of numbers tucked in our calendar . . . they [customers] become an extended part of your family. They’re the reason you’re doing it.”
Thomas’s greatest joy of being an owner was the little girl sitting in her lap, Alice.
“That’s an easy one for me, I’ve been able to have my daughter with me,” Thomas said. “It’s been a sad time for mommy.”
Hale has been blessed to work with the kids she brought into this world at On The Rocks Pub for the last four years.
“I get to work with my kids,” Hale said.
Brill made it clear she’s proud of the women sitting at the bar finding success in each of their lives, but explained she wants to see every business owner thrive, regardless of gender.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female . . . the more [businesses] you have in town the more people come into town,” Brill said.
Establishing these connections and getting to know customers is what it’s all about for Knapp.
“It’s the heart and soul of our business,” Knapp said.
The four women gave different pieces of advice to those who are considering creating their own business in a small town like Granville.
“Do the math and know what benchmarks you need to hit. You don’t open the doors and you’re not necessarily thriving. Vicky’s an exception,” said Thomas, getting everyone to laugh. “It’s really important to keep supporting all the small businesses in Granville.”
Knapp said she wants prospective business owners to be like a sponge and soak in any and every piece of knowledge they can get.
“Do your homework before,” Knapp said. “Get as much advice and help as you can . . . know what you’re getting into.”
Hale stressed the importance of being active in the business and to constantly keep looking for ways to improve.
“You have to be present. It’s important to keep yourself in the game no matter what,” Hale said. “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”
Brill closed the discussion with a powerful and easily connecting statement.
“You gotta be grateful for everything, especially right now.”