Selling gelato in winter is a tough business – just ask Tory Chiappelli, who opened O’ Sole Mio in downtown Batavia in April 2013 and had to endure a difficult winter months later.
“It takes the gumption to stay alive,” she said. “We toiled this winter.”
But despite the winter’s persistent snowfalls and subzero temperatures, Chiappelli found a way for her young shop to survive – and even grow. She opened a second location this summer in downtown St. Charles.
Expanding to a bigger, turnkey storefront was, she said, an incredible opportunity.
“I opened this in two weeks,” Chiappelli said. “It’s like someone built a business for us.”
Chiappelli’s experience might not be widely known, but the issues and challenges she faces are likely felt nationwide by tens of millions of other small business owners.
Defined as an independent business with fewer than 500 employees, small businesses are prevalent in the United States at more than 28 million, about 1.1 million of which are in Illinois, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy.
In 2011, the office reported, these businesses employed about half – or 55 million – of the nation’s private workforce. Similar ratios also were reported statewide with 2.4 million – or half – of the private workforce tied to small businesses.
CHANCES OF SUCCESS
Odds, however, are against small businesses. The SBA reports that about half of new businesses hit the five-year benchmark and about one-third make it to 10.
Small business owners acknowledge their livelihood can be challenging.
Tony Cobb, chef and owner of Riverview Banquets in Batavia, said food service can be especially tough, and various factors can affect a business’ fate. For example, he said, owners can get the location right, but a bad concept can put them out of business and vice versa.
“The food service business weeds out its own,” he said.
The 45-year-old is about to experience that for himself. After delays caused by a weather-related pipe burst earlier this year, Cobb hopes to open the Corner Grind, a coffee shop, in downtown Elburn this fall.
Cobb said opening a second business isn’t as much about the money as it is the challenge itself.
“Can you do it and be successful at it?” he said.
‘YOU HAVE TO LOVE IT’
But for many, such as Sharon Harwick and Cindy Butler of The Salvaged Heart Vintage Wares in Batavia, it’s passion for a particular field that drives them to be in business for themselves.
“We’re not making $1 million here,” Butler said of the shop that sells such one-of-a-kind finds as recycled items, repainted furniture and handmade designs. “You have to love it.”
“To me, this is my dream,” said Harwick, who spent 25 years in the corporate world. “We finally got it right.”
St. Charles resident Scott Piner in recent years realized that pursuing what you love doesn’t have to be a pipe dream, he said. Piner, who got his first magic kit at age 9 and was paid for his first show at age 13, is working to grow his entertainment business, The Magic of Scott Piner.
“It feels great,” he said. “Why would I want to do anything else?”
But, he said, it can be a scary prospect, as he has a wife and young child to support. And even though he knows what needs to happen for a business – he earned a Master of Business Administration a few years ago – Piner said putting it in practice “takes another level of boldness and trust in yourself.”
‘TRUST THE EFFORTS’
Piner recently finished a 12-week small business workshop offered through the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Waubonsee Community College. Others in the workshop offered feedback and held him accountable to his goals, he said.
By late July, Piner said, he was on track to meet his goal of 50 shows in 2014. Additionally, he said, his revenues were still small compared to where he would love them to be, but they were five times greater than all of 2013.
“It just takes time,” Piner said. “Trust the efforts.”
And be willing to put in the effort.
Harwick and Butler said they opened The Salvaged Heart in May after about six months of planning, and they continue to market their North Island Avenue shop.
“You have to be willing to put the work in,” Butler said.
“You can’t expect the town to come to you,” Harwick added.
With a shop on St. Charles’ First Street, Chiappelli hopes the city’s fall and winter events, such as Scarecrow Fest and Holiday Homecoming, will help buoy O’ Sole Mio, which morphed into a restaurant out of necessity last winter, she said.
While the first year in Batavia “nearly killed us,” Chiappelli said, she said she was grateful to have a husband to cling to and a now-closed insurance agency to help keep them afloat.
Her advice for small business owners?
“Stick it out,” she said. “Make a decision and stick it out.”
OUTBOX: On the Web
Visit this story at KCChronicle.com to watch video featuring O’ Sole Mio.