Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Anna Portnoy, Owner of Hav-A-Cigar, located in Edmonton, AL, CA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
If you are looking for a huge selection of cigars and related accessories, we house Edmonton's largest walk-in humidor and all the cigar toys you will want. Whether you are a rookie cigar smoker or a seasoned aficionado, we have such a wide range of products it will be difficult to choose just one! Cigar varieties come from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, the USA, and more!
Tell us about yourself
I worked as a restaurant cook for most of my life and eventually moved on to caring for children at a playschool. My daughter, Shelly, asked if I could help at her cigar shop when it first opened in 2001. I never worked retail before but thought it might be a good change from cooking and changing diapers. I started learning about the different cigars and tobacco products, which became my part-time job next to my full-time job. Then one day, Shelly's other business was getting busy, and the store became hard for her to manage. She asked if I would like to buy the shop, quit my other job, and have this as a full-time career. At first, I was scared; I did not know how to manage a store. After a year of further training to purchase goods, pay the company bills, and look after banking, I got the hang of this and started to enjoy it. I love dealing with the public; we have many customers supporting us from day 1. I know many customers by name and situation, and some have become good friends. The human contact is really what keeps me going, especially since my husband passed in 2018.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
When I bought this shop, my husband and I were not well off financially. While I worked at the shop, he kept working his job so we could pay our bills. We could only purchase the business with a small downpayment, a loan from Shelly, and a small line of credit from the bank. We worked hard to build the business up. We paid bills on time, constantly reinvested into the inventory, and added more and more products. A few years later, after my initial fears, we were able to pay off debts, we purchased a new vehicle for driving to the shop, and we bought our first ever home. I don't feel I have complete financial freedom, but I certainly feel that I have everything I need for now. I can help my kids or friends if they are short, which I was not able to do before, and I am grateful for that.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
In the beginning, I constantly worried about being able to pay the bills. The steady paycheck from my job was gone. As a business owner, I was responsible for EVERYTHING. There is no boss to complain to or go to for help - because that's me. When the shop was still new, I had to work all day from open to close because I couldn't afford staff, and I had to learn to sell the products better so that we could increase the sales. I was married to the business; there was no holiday or taking a sick day. Years later, thankfully, the shop is running smoothly, and I can afford some help, but the learning curve is where some owners possibly give up. Not everyone can handle the loss of a steady paycheck, which was my biggest fear.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- For a retail business: Devote total full-time commitment or rethink. I would have never been able to build my business if it was a casual interest of mine.
- Excel at customer service. If you say you will call a customer back, call back. If you say you'll do something, follow up. Sometimes I get new customers because another shop failed to get back to them. Customer service is underrated, and people are really feeling it.
- Always think of fresh ideas for your business; getting complacent can be costly. Customers develop "product blindness" when they see the same things and nothing changes. I regularly move products around, add new items to the line-up, and keep shelves stocked full no matter what. We try to post many new items to our social media for even better exposure.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Owning a business is like constant learning. I am in a business where the government constantly has a grip on me, be it new tobacco packaging requirements, taxes, and display regulations. I had no experience when I started my journey and just learned my butt off so that all this could be a stable operation. If I can run a heavily regulated business at the age of 69, I hope this will encourage others that they can run a business too - especially if it is in a much easier sector.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.