The Entrepreneurs

Five women entrepreneurs tell us how they forged ahead with their Island businesses in the time of COVID.

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India Rose
The Sideline Brand
49 Main St., Vineyard Haven
508-685-0484
sidelinebrand.com

Tell us about your new business — you opened in November?

We opened on Black Friday in this year of COVID. “The Sideline Brand, Luxury sports apparel and streetwear,” is my own brand: It really bridges my passion for business and for sports. I am a former basketball coach, a former basketball player — also a football mom. (My son is starting his first year entering D1 football in the fall at the University of Rhode Island.) Even though I’m based on Martha’s Vineyard, my line is really not necessarily a Vineyard brand. I look at Sideline as my own Nike, my own Adidas — it goes a little bit beyond the confines of the Vineyard.

The perfect sports bag, then COVID. Did that help or hurt you?

Basically, the inspiration for Sideline was brewing in my head for a long time. While a football mom, I was always looking for the perfect sports bag, but never found it. Traveling to football camps with my son the athlete during the summertime, I was carrying four or five different bags with drinks, snacks, and gear he would need for the field. When COVID hit, I was worried about how it would affect sports — seeing all the games lost in the spring season. I felt devastated for my son, with all his plans canceled; his recruitment trajectory was impacted as well … I had the time and needed to do something productive, so the business took off from there: How to create this sports bag? My needs as a football mom got me going; I decided to put all my energy into the development of the brand. I started working with a product development specialist who helped me design the bag exactly how I wanted it; we got the prototype down, and I said, “OK, I’m moving forward.” Creating the bag then inspired my whole line. I don’t know if I would have gone full speed ahead without COVID: my concern for my son, concern for these kids, my concern for sports in general.

Are your customers for the bag football moms or other folks?

The sports bag itself is really multipurpose. It’s the perfect bag for any sport, but also it’s classy-looking and a conversation piece. It has a mini cooler insert, a USB charging component on the side (we always lost power on the field), and then the many different pockets to hold a bleacher cushion, an umbrella — for a day at the courts or on the field.

It could be used as a diaper bag or a travel bag for trips … personal trainers find it beneficial.

The Sideline name?

Sideline is a motivational, inspirational sportswear brand. It’s all about the echoes from the sideline: the cheers, the support system that comes from the sideline. It’s not necessarily just sports-oriented — we have people who are cheering us on throughout life. Whether it is having a baby, buying a new house — all those life events prompt different support systems. All the people who are there, cheering you on, providing that positive encouragement for whatever it is you are doing, like being that football mom on the sideline. My logo is the 30/40/50 from the actual numbers on the football field.

How did you figure out how to manufacture your line?

By day I’m a business consultant; I work with small businesses both on the Island and off.

I was familiar with some of the processes of manufacturing. I always tell my clients, “If you don’t know how to do something, surround yourself with people who do.” I sought out people who could help me with those things, sampling different types of fabric blends for sportswear from manufacturers until I found exactly what I wanted.

Your biggest seller?

“Ambition Fuels the Journey” is my tagline printed on my hoodies, men’s and women’s Ts, and long-sleeved Ts. It is definitely my biggest seller. My logo snapback hats that come in a snazzy Sideline logo hatbox sell really well also.

Male and female products?

Yes, everything is inclusive. My sizing goes from XS to 3XL, and it’s one price across the board, regardless of size. My son is a lineman at 6 foot 3 and 300 pounds; my husband, too, is a big guy, at 6 foot 5. When you are talking about different sports, size is important, and I don’t charge extra for the larger XL sizes. My 3XLs go out very fast.

Do you enjoy the retail shop?

I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to have the retail shop as well as the online store.

I love being in this type of element, where I’m talking to people, dealing with customers — my perfect combination of business and sports! I’m excited about getting ready for the summer — long days don’t feel like long days. Reaching out to different people, introducing people to my brand … then the feedback makes my day! Customers say to me, “Hey, I was wearing my Ambition sweatshirt …” When everyone woke up on Christmas morning and took photos of their new outfits and put my products on social media, what a thrill to see my brand! It was great being part of everyone’s holidays.

 

Aubrey Maria Sirois
Juniper
18 North Summer St., Edgartown
508-939-4098
junipermv.com

What’s the history with Juniper, your newest venture?

Juniper was supposed to be opening last May as a floral and plant store, with a few gift items from Chilmark Coffee, and Linda’s [Alley’s] jam. Prior to that I had been exclusively floral, running my own floral event business for five years, Aubrey Maria Designs, and earlier I worked at Donarama’s for seven years, getting great training. I opened Juniper in Edgartown since I had outgrown my workspace on my friend John Moffet’s property. I began using his shed at first, then I extended to his porch, then I was filling the whole house with flowers! At which time he suggested I look into a lease, so that’s why I’m here.

What changed for Juniper due to COVID?

COVID hit, and out of our 60 weddings booked, about 40 postponed and/or canceled. I was sitting in my apartment and thinking how we will pay our bills. I had met photographer Lisa Brown, and she mentioned she had some dishtowels and other items featuring her photography, so I asked her to bring her work into the shop. I had been collaborating with Jessica Kovaks of JK Design, who makes lovely vases, each with a 22-carat shape of the Island on them, so I invited her to bring in her vases. I started contacting other women artisans to fill the store on a commission-based model, and it went really well. At one point we had more than 30 artisans in the store, almost all female. We do have work by Liz Ragone and Brad Tucker — amazing woodworkers — and a few wire sculptures by Steve Lohman, and Todd Christy’s Chilmark Coffee; but other than that we feature mostly female artists.

Flowers and art

We opened Mother’s Day 2020 — with COVID regulations — so sold mostly flowers, about 200 orders, with contactless delivery. It was great. We did weekly floral subscriptions all last season, delivered to the customer’s house; it was really popular. We started taking on some businesses, doing their flowers, and we had some small weddings in the fall. We did a huge promo for arrangements and pumpkins in October and for Thanksgiving. People came into the shop and bought lots of art — the framed art has been flying! We discovered some new artists who hadn’t shown on the Island before. With the pandemic, we found people stayed on-Island spending much more time in their second homes. And we’ve been getting a lot of private commission work, just by people coming into the store. It’s been very exciting.

For Christmas we did a huge push for holiday presents and centerpieces. We had a tiny wedding event on Valentine’s Day, small, within the guidelines, and perfectly spaced. Plugging on through.

Flowers for weddings

Weddings here on the Island are pretty extravagant. We do full install for weddings, as we go onsite to the event. Our first event will be May 8; then we’ll have two events every week through November. And the shop will be open, five or four days. We’ll see what works and what doesn’t. Our flowers come from Morning Glory Farm, some local farms in New England, and we bring flowers in from Holland, California, Ecuador, and Japan. We will have 5,000 to 10,000 stems in the store in season, starting in May, with 200 to 300 different varieties. All these built-in units in the shop will hold flowers in drop buckets. When you walk in, you are hit with a wall of many flowers.

As an artist, why flowers for you?

I think that’s just my medium: flowers. I feel that’s how I can create, and it’s so important for me to have an artistic outlet. That’s what stayed with me. Working with art in the shop has made me love flowers more. I love color so much, and texture, and it’s really beautiful if it’s done well. I like creating what that couple or client really wants, especially a bridal bouquet. A lot of people think about their bridal bouquet for a long time.

You had to reinvent your business this winter — any surprises?

I really love selling art and paintings. I never thought that I would be in retail. I’ve only been in hospitality and the botanical world — I’ve never worked in a shop. Retail was difficult for me until I saw how excited people became placing the art above their couch. Searching for new artists has been really fun. The Vineyard is the only place I’ve lived that can sustain itself. We are really lucky in that way; there is so much to be found here. My daughter was born here two years ago, and having a daughter, promoting female artists is what we need to be doing.

Do you see yourself merging the flower business with sales?

Honestly, I have no idea. Now we can do our floral events again. We will definitely still keep the retail part, but perhaps on a smaller scale. I’m trying to find a balance. I was really stressed about it last year, then everything kind of worked out. I need to just move through this as it happens. I’m hoping we can do it all!

Our floral clients are my priority. Some of them have been waiting three years to get married. But I think we have a good game plan, and we have other exciting new things going on.

We are going to be doing some cross-pollination, collaborating: using the energy we’ve created, but also making sure that our couples that are finally getting to celebrate weddings are taken care of.

Optimistic?

I am optimistic because I got through COVID as a large-scale event floral company. I feel pretty confident. I was a little panicked in the summer, I’m not going to lie, but it all evolved.

I have some incredible employees; they’ll come back full-time starting May — all women, a lot of age difference, a good mix. All the women artists who have work in the shop have other outlets, and have been entrepreneurs for so long. It’s been really great learning from them. Everyone this past year has been just grateful, for a space and to keep going.

 

Marnely Murray and Angela Prout
Shored Up Digital
P.O. Box 9000, Edgartown
774-310-1575 
shoredupdigital.com
@shoredupdigital on Facebook 
@shoredupdigital on Instagram

How did you two professionals get together to form Shored Up Digital?

A: I call it a classic Vineyard love story.

M: I said to Angela, three years ago now, “Do you know anyone who would want to start a social media company?” At the time, we had our separate jobs: I was a food writer and Angela was an editor at The Martha’s Vineyard Times.

A: I was intrigued by the idea, but I was full-time at the newspaper, and like a crazy Island person, also working 30 hours a week at the hair salon. We had worked together at The Times — Marnely was the most reliable writer I had as Calendar editor. I could always rely on her to deliver great work. We had some similar skill sets. Working at The Times, I had a good bird’s-eye view of Island businesses and their advertising needs (I worked in corporate advertising for eight years in NYC before coming to the Vineyard). But I discovered through my online research many businesses had messy websites — a broken link, a broken page … Wow I could see a lot of potential for change there.

M: As a food writer, I was trying to connect with local restaurants, but found sites without an email address, and many websites that were nonfunctional. I realized the need for improvement.

What are your strongest assets?

A: Our two strongest assets are being resourceful and our follow-up. We figure it out if we don’t know something. Most small businesses have limited resources, and don’t have a lot of time. When they contact us, they are giving themselves the headspace to strategically think about their digital marketing and engage with us. We try to harness the momentum when we get it … and continue to follow up, as the return is there if they will invest in it. Clients who contact us respect the digital space, and recognize the value to help move the needle for their business. It’s a necessary channel — you have to have a digital presence these days — owners realize that at the end of the day it will help them get more business.

M: We ask our clients, “Have you done what we told you to do?” We’ve invested our time and energy into these businesses, and we want to see them develop and grow. We tell them, “You don’t have to be good at everything — you can delegate social media, marketing, writing, copywriting.” We offer a variety of services. When we deliver our initial audit and they see the amount of work, they understand the value of a social media strategy.

A: Some clients engage us on a monthly basis; we also do web design and public relations. A client asks, “How do I make sure that everybody knows about my product and/or service?” In addition to being resourceful, we have a lot of connections to people who are listening and talking. We try to leverage that as best we can … especially on the Island, where it’s all about community and word-of-mouth referrals. With social media, people forget the social part of it. In reality it’s that social aspect that we try to translate to the digital space.

Connecting with people

A: We really thrive in person-to-person interactions; we love meeting with people, walking down Main Street, popping into stores and connecting with store owners — we’ve gotten a lot of our business that way.

M: We are big on batching our time: Prepandemic, we used to sit down at Rosewater from 8 am until 6 pm, and in one day, have meetings scheduled every hour on the hour. Talking to clients, we saw so many people a day it was crazy. Now with COVID and working remotely online, I don’t have to get out of my bathrobe for Zoom meetings.

How did COVID change your daily life — help or hurt it?

A: When COVID first hit, Marnely and I were planning an all-day digital conference in April 2020 at the Vineyard Arts Project. We were really excited about it, bringing other marketing professionals from off-Island to do panels and discussions. We had to make the decision to cancel the conference, and that was devastating. But then, we got busier over COVID.

M: We are so blessed; few businesses can say they are busier after COVID, but we definitely have grown in our business. We’ve had a lot more clients reach out to us, clients who didn’t have a website and could get by without one previously, but with the pandemic, that changed.

A: Last year our business was up about 20 percent over the previous year. We hired freelancers to help us. Our brand awareness on-Island has steadily increased, especially since last year, when there were a lot of businesses that needed help. People recognized the importance of digital last year — there’s a whole other world here. They asked, How can my business be part of it?

How do you see the business growing?

M: Looking toward the future, we actually just had a strategy session where we talked through growing pains, discussing how we see the business growing. Trying to replicate the goals we have created in our minds is the hard part. We need to clone ourselves.

A: Moving forward we will give freelancers more work. We’ll be more consultants, help strategize with the bigger picture. We are trying to develop a collective of other local creative marketing professionals. That points to one of our other side projects: a directory of people who work in the business. Our working title is: The Vineyard Creators’ Collaborative. Because there is so much work here to refer to other professionals as trusted resources. We want to work alongside younger people who can be the next generation of this kind of work.

M: I’d like to see this with the trades: Does anyone know who cleans chimneys? Who lays tiles? To put together a trades directory.

You want to have it all.

A: I have another business cutting hair; Marnely is a pastry chef at the Vineyard Golf Club, and she has a food blog. Those things are important to us too, we went to school for them, invested our time, we also value those skills. And for me, I need time away from the computer. I really appreciate having a balance: being physical, connecting with people in person, I’ve always wanted to do marketing and hair since I was a kid. Variety is the spice of life.

M: It’s about being organized. In the summer I will get up at 5 am to get so much done — it’s worth it for me. I thoroughly enjoy being on my phone and on my laptop; I love social media as much as I love food. Making a good scallop chowder at the Vineyard Golf Club — I need that, as it feeds me differently. The kitchen gives me the balance of the outdoors and that activity, that instant gratification.

 

Rachel Austin Baumrin
Martha’s Vineyard Made
29 Main St., Vineyard Haven
508-338-2598
marthasvineyardmade.com

Are all the products in the shop made on the Island?

Yes, everything sold here is made on the Island by an Island maker. The items run the gamut of product types — we have Island Bee’s raw honey, Bluewave body wash in various scents, handmade maple serving boards for the kitchen, unique Vineyard-inspired jewelry like Madkel Designs’ bangle wrap bracelet of sea glass and found shells — to name a few.

Initially, we formed the group just to get people connected; the business grew out of necessity, organically and unexpectedly. Having a physical location was not in the original concept; our intention was to be fully remote because of COVID. Then we wondered, Were businesses going to open? Would we have people coming into the shop if we opened? It felt like establishing the physical shop was the right way to proceed.

When did you open MVM to the public?

My business consultant opened my eyes to this space. I’ve found it is actually nice to get out and be somewhere else, other than the home office. We’ve been in this location since Nov. 1, 2020, though it was a bumpy start as a pop-up. Our goal has been to connect people on the Island to who we are and what we are doing. We had a tremendous holiday season. Now with spring here and the busy season approaching, we’ll be open on weekends, and move to a full schedule in May or June. We are doing the baby steps right now to get fully functioning.

What is your history with MVM?

In 2016, with my former partner Heidi Feldman [founder of Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt], we set up MVM as a wholesale repping company. We started by repping the two of us when we participated in a trade show in Falmouth; over the years we took on other product makers.

Is this one piece of your business?

I am the owner of Austin Designs, which is my own product line I started eight years ago. I don’t find myself stepping away from that. Here at MVM we have a lovely team of six amazing people to take care of everything. I don’t have to give up my own business to nurture this one.

We have one male member of the group, Mark Wilkie, a graphic designer who lives in Boston. He saw the vision for MVM. He helped us create our logo, our sign, the graphics on the website. He has been able to bring that vision to a broader market. The rest of us are Island-tied, although we don’t all live here. One member has been stuck in Costa Rica since the pandemic. It’s been a fascinating experience working with a great team of people.

You encourage online orders? 

We are really driving the customer traffic to the website to purchase orders there. We have a drop-off and pickup pull-over spot at the store, if you order online and live locally. Buy online, pick up at the shop. If you’re not local, we will ship any purchases across the country. Shipping is a beast to a lot of artists! They don’t budget for the time it takes, and many despise doing shipping, so we will do that for them. We reduce the cost by working together: Im here to support you, not to take your business. This gives creators an opportunity to stay in the market and have their products be seen, but not have to physically interact. I have shopped more online than ever this year. I found the convenience of it really helpful. I don’t think this will change.

Any events planned?

COVID stopped all event ideas for now, but we are hoping that will turn around soon. We will be setting up a pop-up for our member artists at Point B Realty for Pink and Green Weekend in Nevin Square in Edgartown. We are going to be on a wine-tasting circuit — a group will come here and test wine — and we will be open for First Friday events. We are looking to start more public events of that nature, with some pop-ups possibly parlaying with our next-door neighbor, Tisberry Frozen Yogurt, as we share an outdoor patio space. We’ll have the doors open to help air flow and expand our presence. We are looking to try to incorporate other artistic skills within the site: music, theater, dance performances.

What’s the fun part?

Working in the shop. I enjoy talking to customers about other people’s talents, how they make their work — it’s much more fulfilling than talking about your own product. These artisans do something I don’t do. As I continue to sell products by other people, it’s more pleasing to me at the end of the day. I really like to let people wander around the store, take it all in, and I wait for them to ask me about a certain item. People like to make their own decisions of what to buy. I am here to provide information about the artists we support. A lot of people are looking for that connection to a place, to the Vineyard; they want local products. Particularly visitors who have never been here. Local matters.

I remind my staff and colleagues that each and every item on our website and in our shop should be treated as though it were a person, because each item was handcrafted by a person — someone in our community. By supporting these makers, we are supporting our community too.

 

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