Beth provided some insight about launching a startup in West Hartford and discussed some of the challenges she’s experienced as an entrepreneur.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: How has your background helped shape you as an entrepreneur?
ELIZABETH BOLTON: I worked for a major retailer for 25 years. I started as a sales associate and then I became an executive working in operations and human resources. I worked with many talented people who taught me about sales, budgets, payroll, and all aspects of human resources. I’ve been able to take bits and pieces of what I learned from those individuals to help me today.
IDH: When and why did you start the company?
EB: I opened A Little Something Bakery in 2009—I believed I had an excellent product and the town of West Hartford needed a good bakery.
IDH: What makes your bakery unique?
EB: A Little Something Bakery not only provides awesome products, we also create an experience. We become part of families’ traditions. We watch families grow and come together for special occasions where our cake is at the center.
At A Little Something Bakery you get personalized service. You are getting a product that is made in my kitchen using the best ingredients I can get. Our products are as close to homemade as they can get. We don’t use any preservatives or additives.
IDH: Tell us about some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a startup.
EB: That’s a tough question. Looking back, I’m not sure I would be where I am today if I hadn’t gone through what I did.
In 2011, Connecticut experienced a Halloween blizzard that left us without power for 11 days. I lost everything! I didn’t have the right kind of liability insurance. I wasn’t aware of the options available to businesses in the event of something like this happening. Lesson #1: Make sure you know and understand what insurance you need.
I did payroll myself and got confused with all the taxes involved—all the what, when, to whom, and how. There was payroll tax, sales and use tax, withholding tax, business entity tax, and property tax. I had an accountant, but she was not proactive—she was a referral from my insurance company. That ended up being a $70,000 mistake. Lesson #2: Have an accountant who doesn’t sugar coat anything!
I had a prime location on Park Road in West Hartford. I was at one of the busiest intersections in town where my storefront had a lot of visibility. I also paid a premium rent with equipment included. Once the landlord realized the location they once held with an extension of their business was working for me he wanted that location back. The bakery was having trouble paying the rent during a slow summer season and he capitalized on that. He ended up serving me with eviction papers. I had to be out by Halloween 2014. I ended up missing out of sales for the entire holiday season that year. Lesson #3: The best spot on the corner may not be the best spot to be.
IDH: If you could go back and change anything about the startup journey, what would it be?
EB: I learned so much about myself and about business during this time. I could have closed my doors so many times and I could do it now—but something keeps me here. An internal voice tells me I’m not done with this journey yet.
I love what I do. I make people happy and that makes me happy. I have carried a huge burden on my shoulders since my husband lost his job. I’ve been trying to balance home and business and some days I don’t do a good job.
But I wouldn’t change anything about my entrepreneurial journey. Yes, I would like more money to make life easier, but in the end, it isn’t about the money. It is about happiness. We have a sign hanging in our bakery that says “Happiness is where you find it.” I find happiness in my bakery.
IDH: How have Connecticut’s business resources help to shape your company?
EB: I obtained a small business loan from HEDCO, Inc.—they were sent in to help me after the blizzard in 2011. Everything was very rushed. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on since I was reeling and in survival mode. I had gotten behind with all my bills. It was a terrible time, but I knew others who were going through the same thing. HEDCO got me the money, but then I was behind the eight ball and I stayed there—in fact I am still there.
IDH: How did you become involved with the Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Hartford?
EB: I sought out the Entrepreneurial Center for help and guidance. There I learned how to deal with the hand I was dealt. I learned how to do small things that would better me as a business woman and better position my business to stay competitive. I learned not only who I was, but where I wanted my business to go.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet women who have helped me in ways that they do not even realize. Just a small comment or suggestion. A different perspective.
I’ve taken every class I could take to give me the tools I needed to make better business decisions. The Entrepreneurial Center has been a life line.
IDH: What is the best thing about working in the Greater Hartford Region?
EB: My bakery is located within The Shops at 485 New Park Avenue in West Hartford, which is on the border of West Hartford and Hartford. I live in this part of town, I’ve raised my children in this part of town, and I am proud to call it home. I do not need to be in West Hartford Center, Blue Back Square, or even Park Road, this is where I belong.
Where we are, there is easy access to I-84. You can get to us with ease. We’re also close to CTfastrak, giving our area access to others who want to come via public transportation.
There is so much good happening around us. We have a couple new breweries in the area, we have the proposal of the Gastro Park food truck park, and new apartments at 616 New Park.
The New Park Corridor is changing and I’m grateful to be a part of it all—it’s such an exciting time.
IDH: Any advice to other women business owners?
EB: We are mostly women business owners in the building where my bakery is located. We have learned to bond together to market ourselves as a group—to help each other with whatever needs to be done. No questions asked.
I would tell other business women who follow that dream to believe in that dream, but do so with all the knowledge you can get.
Have a great team in place—accountant, lawyer, banker, insurance agent, and support system. They are invaluable to your survival. It is your dream, but they are there to see things you don’t see. If one of the players doesn’t work, it’s okay to change. It’s your dream, it’s your business—you are the bus driver of this journey. You make all final decisions.