When it came to starting a plastic-free lifestyle, Marilla Gonzalez’s first switch was soap and a cotton soap bag. After three years of repurposing home furnishings, Gonzalez wanted to make earth-friendly products more accessible to everyone in the community.
Gonzalez is a Geneva native who has worked in the health food industry for over 10 years. Because of her passion for sustainability, she was frustrated to see that the earth-friendly stores she frequented continued to use single-use plastic. And in 2018, Gonzalez began researching and imagining what it would be like to open her own store with little or no plastic packaging.
“Planet-friendly ethical products shouldn’t be hard to come by or difficult to understand,” she says on her website. “That’s why we’ve done our homework behind each item and feel confident in the wave.” impact of every purchase.”
Here’s an interview with Gonzalez, who gives us an inside look at what it’s like to start your own business. His answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
You started researching in 2018, but when did you decide to open your own store?
I worked for over 10 years in a health food store that was very similar to a traditional Co-Op situation. I was helping them close the store because the owner was retiring. When we closed that place, I knew I wanted to continue something like this. And we explored the takeover. However, as I looked at the model, I was annoyed by the amount of single-use plastic traditionally found in such places, so we decided it was easier to start from scratch. Then, once I started doing research, it really reinforced that it was 2017, that we kind of made a decision, and that further research helped make us who we are today.
How did you prepare financially to start your own business?
We didn’t really have any funding, we had saved up and we were ready for it, so we started putting together what was the lowest starting budget we could get for this kind of open space, and we had a lot of options. community interest. So we started researching some of the grants that are out there for small businesses in New York State. And we landed on a downtown revitalization grant that goes to a lot of small cities and towns in upstate New York. The only tricky part about many of these grant programs is that you usually have to show that you have a certain amount of money that’s meant to get the money. So we had to save up a little bit and take a little bit out of our savings and things like that. But finally we were able to show enough that we were eligible for the grant. And in that first year, we won a grant to open the business.
What financial advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
My advice is to keep it as simple as you can, keep it as affordable as possible and plan for the lowest numbers as opposed to the highest numbers. It helped us a lot because even the grant we got was very small, so it helped us come in with a very small budget because we had a little bit of money at the time. You can get things second hand, check out who’s getting off their shelves and stuff like that.
How did you overcome the challenges mentally? What kind of things or maybe people helped you during those times?
I came to my work first with a lot of experience from my family, many people in my family owned their own business. So, growing up, I was able to live in a house with my parents, who owned a small business, and watch them mentally navigate the ups and downs. They were really good at keeping a clear head and a calm head through the ups and downs, but then I had family members who were constantly stressed about it and I could see how it affected them. So when I started my own business, I decided to really focus on my mental health and carve out something that was really important to me. And when I needed to take some time off, I would tell the customers: “We’re closed today, it’s a wedding.” I’ve got to be there,” And then there’s a little bit of joy around that. So for me, the three things that have helped me the most are taking time out when you need it, including people in the inner workings of your business, and making sure you leave your job as well as possible.
Did some of the resources you found in the community help you grow?
I think first and foremost, other business owners need to be completely honest. There are tons of resources out there for small businesses and startups. These are like small business organizations, there is a great organization in the southwest suburbs. Geneva has a very nice chamber, the Chamber of Commerce and Visit Rochester is another that is helpful as a small business. But first, get to know your neighboring businesses, find out who they are, how long they’ve been there, what helps them, what their pain points are, and what they love about your area. These kinds of friendships and connections have been more rewarding than any organization I’ve ever been a part of.
When it comes to outsourcing help for your store. What do you look for in a person when hiring?
A good work ethic and versatility are definitely key, but especially for Marillas, our attentive approach to service is of utmost importance to us. I’m always looking for people who have the heart to focus on people and care for that person so that plastic-free products, off the planet, that person comes first. A person who cares well is able to take care of other things like the planet. So there’s a very, very personal and focused aspect to our hiring process, because that’s what’s so important to me. When people come in here and feel important, they leave feeling important. And that’s really the biggest, biggest component.
If you could pick one lesson you’ve learned so far, what would it be?
Probably don’t sweat the small stuff. You know, everything is small with a small business. So it’s kind of funny to say this, but if you’re constantly adding your value or the value of your work to these daily totals, it can be very mentally draining; numbers, traffic, those little things going up and down. Some days you’ll have a Gangbuster day and you can’t believe how well you did. And the next day you might have a negative dollar. I would say it’s something I’m not perfect at, but the lesson I’m always trying to learn and get better at is not to sweat the small stuff and to know that you need to step back and look at things as a whole. Believe me, a bad day does not mean a bad job.