This is the first post in our "Behind the Scenes" series where we take a closer look at what it's like to operate our t-shirt printing business.
One question we have heard frequently upon opening up shop is, "how did you come up with the name?" Oftentimes it is from people we know, who happen to know full well that I am allergic to caffeine and would have no interest in coffee. ;) So "Java Jess" sounds like an oxymoron.
This story starts back in October of 2007, when I was laid off from a temporary position at a brokerage firm. I was terribly upset - when I had first been hired by the agency to go to the firm, they stated that I would be "rolled over" and become a full time employee after 3 months. 3 months came and went very quickly, but no such luck. I was outperforming most of my team by then, and had even been given additional responsibilities, but nothing was done to make me a permanent part of the firm. I continued to wait, as patiently as I could, but by month 6 had figured out they really had no intention of making me an employee. I tried applying for a position in another department, but did not get it. At that time, our team (which had been leaderless since I hit month 2) got a brand new team leader. I approached him to ask about becoming full time. A week later, myself and several other temps were laid off. It would have been fine if it were just a case that they didn't need us, but truthfully they did. And it would have been ok if it was because we were not good at our jobs, but we were GREAT. They just didn't want to pay us what we were worth, and would rather keep a stream of temps coming in and then being fired rather than paying people what they are worth. Not only that, but they made up stories about us, saying we were "poor workers".
I was shocked, needless to say, and infuriated. I stewed for several days in a deep depression, because this was not something that I was used to. And during that depression, I made up my mind that my dream of becoming a small business owner someday had to become my priority if I ever wanted to be treated like a decent person.
So, I looked into franchises, thinking that was my "safest" bet. I looked at so many business opportunities, and only found a choice few that I truly could see myself doing. One of those was a business called Coffee News. Some of you may have them in your hometown. They are a free newsletter with positive news, and the owners make money from the advertising. I began the process of trying to set up a territory, writing out the business plan, even taking some classes at the local SCORE office. My husband and I had been tossing around what I should register my business name as, since we wanted it to tie into my name and the coffee theme. We came up with "Java Jess Publishing." We registered the name, and were close to getting things set up when we were told that we would not be eligible for the loan we needed to pay for the territory. See, they charge you a pretty hefty fee per territory, and since we lived in a metro area that is a bit spread out, just to buy two territories we needed around $15k. Not bad for a business startup fee, unless of course you are like my husband and I who are working class Americans who don't come from a background of wealth.
We had to give up that dream, but since I had already paid for the name, I still had a registered business under "Java Jess Publishing."
I let it stay just a name for a year while I increased my role at the part time job I had picked up at a local small business called Arts & Minds. I had started there part time to "supplement" the income I'd be making as a Coffee News owner, but it ended up being the best job I have held to date in my life! I was able to start from the ground up there - they had me start working before the store was opened, helping to set up shelves and unpack merchandise. I got to see what it really takes to set up a retail store, and gained lots of valuable insight. I moved up to full time, then shift supervisor, within a matter of months. I got to dabble in all areas of the business, from advertising to customer service to staffing. I don't think I would have ever left had it not been for several factors that began to work against me.
Namely, my health and the economy. See, a small business can't really afford to pay a manager's salary, so I was working as a manager at only a couple of dollars above minimum wage. And the store was a 35 mile round trip drive daily, 30-60 minutes each way depending on traffic and weather. So when gas started hitting outrageous highs, my "true" earnings were somewhere around $3-4/hr with the rest going to gas, maintenance, and insurance. In the meantime, I had been battling a joint condition for almost 2 years at that point. While doctors had said it "should" heal, it was becoming worse and worse every day, and for some reason had begun to spread to other areas of my body. The pain I was feeling every day was so intense that I knew I couldn't stay there, working on a hard surface floor and spending so much time unpacking and stocking merchandise.
I took another couple of jobs after that, but my health issues became so interruptive that I finally found myself facing the choice to get fired due to health absences, or find a new way to earn money without working a set schedule. I knew it was finally time to start a business, even if I didn't have money for startup costs.
Since I still had the business name, I began using it on Etsy, which is an online place where crafters can sell their wares. In the meantime, I began to start intensely focusing on what I wanted to do with my life, and what I was good at, etc. I also looked around at various things that I thought I might like to do. I even began making up a business plan for a wonderful home for sale in our neighborhood, which I knew would make a great bed and breakfast! But then it came down to money again, and I also decided that with the pain I felt it may not be a great idea to have to tackle flights of stairs several times a day. ;)
When I stumbled upon the tshirt making industry, I knew I had found something right! It allowed me to express my creativity, and gave me an outlet to raise money for charities, which is close to my heart. When the economy sours, charities seem to suffer the most because they have increased demand for services but fewer donations to meet those needs. And my business name could still work! It would also give me a chance to continue writing my many started-but-not-finished novels during my "off" times.
There you have it! I think I may have made the story unnecessarily long, but I wanted to make sure you were really getting a close look at what all goes into getting a business named and started. Sometimes, you end up taking several detours before you find the right path.
Jess Buike is the owner of Java Jess Publishing. To find out more about her business, check out her store here.