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Small Business | LEARNING CURVE: WILDFIBER

Hire Calling : Adding an Employee Paid Off

September 10, 1996

After Cassie Tondro opened Wildfiber, a fiber arts store in Santa Monica, she realized she couldn't run the entire business by herself. Although money was tight, she made a key hire--and learned that an employee can more than pay for herself. Tondro was interviewed by Karen Kaplan.

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Fiber arts had always been a hobby of mine. When the company I used to work for as a computer programmer was sold, I took my severance pay and started Wildfiber.

It's a niche in the art supply world. We sell textile paints, fabrics and dyes, plus materials for knitting, weaving, spinning and crocheting.

I think most people who go into business for themselves have no idea how much work it is until they actually do it.

Initially, it was just me and I did everything. But the store got to be too busy for me to take care of customers and do the administrative work at the same time.

I was feeling really alone in this, and I needed someone to be with me to contribute some input. There was never anyone to confer with or get feedback from or bounce ideas off of.

The first person I hired started out at only 10 hours a week, but it made a huge difference. It makes me feel like all the responsibility is not just on me. I know I am the one who is responsible, but it makes me feel like I can afford to take more risks.

Hiring someone was really a leap of faith. Even though the money wasn't there, I felt that a new employee would allow me to bring in more business and pay for herself, which she did. Now I have more time to work on the class schedule and other projects.

I started offering classes to show people how to use the materials we sell. They aren't the kinds of things we learned how to use when we were kids, like crayons and watercolors.

The classes have been successful, but they've turned out to be more work than I expected. You've got a great class schedule, you've lined up some good teachers--but you still have to come up with something interesting. The new classes are important so that old customers will have a reason to keep coming back.

The bottom line for me is that there are times when you can't afford not to hire someone. It may seem like the money's not there, but in my experience, they can bring more people in and ultimately pay for themselves.

AT A GLANCE

Company: Wildfiber

Owner: Cassie Tondro

Nature of business: Offers fiber arts supplies and classes

Location: Santa Monica

Year founded: 1993

Number of employees: 3

Annual sales: Expecting $200,000 this year

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