Laurie Brown spent 30 years in corporate management for major automotive companies in Detroit. But when she and her husband moved to South Carolina in 2014, she was inspired to do more to fulfill her long-standing passion for helping people with special needs.
She developed an all-occasion gift-basket delivery company that brings together the skills of many individuals. “The baskets themselves are handmade at the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Center,” Brown explains, “Then assembled and shipped by disabled clients going through job-skills training.” Many of the products that fill the gift baskets are made by companies that employ individuals with disabilities. Brown says that each gift basket assembled and shipped not only helps people learn work and life skills, but also makes them feel more productive.
“Managing costs is a huge challenge,” Brown says. “The cost of marketing, advertising, web support and social media, and [maintaining] inventory is hard. Everything costs more than expected, yet a business owner cannot do it all alone.” Brown keeps a close eye on inventory for Aunt Laurie’s and spends a lot of time networking to get the word out about her business.
Brown contacted SCORE for help focusing her initial business ideas, determining her goals, and identifying her strongest skills. She attended several workshops, both locally and online, including Simple Steps for Starting Your Business. She was matched with mentor Rod Casavant. “Rod helped me with refining my business vision and then preparing the business plan,” Brown says. With SCORE's help, Brown learned how to apply for business licenses and take the first steps to formally initiate her business. “We still meet, as he helps me to keep moving forward.”
Brown says she struggled in the early days of the business to establish repeatable processes and take time to gather and analyze data to improve business operations. "I now take time to document, track, and analyze sales to help with forecasting and budgeting."
"Remember, it is confidential," Brown advises other business owners. "Build that relationship, as you'll find trust is important in business."
With Casavant’s guidance, Brown launched her business on target with the timing she had planned. She has also refined her pricing and product offerings to increase her profit margins. “I tripled my sales in the last quarter of 2015, which was a stretch goal we set,” Brown reports. In 2016, she doubled her sales.
Brown now serves as a SCORE mentor.
Aunt Laurie's was named Outstanding Community Impact Business at the 2017 SCORE Awards.