As a music lover and performer, Pennsylvania native Nicole Carey found her way to Vermont via the folk music scene. While visiting, she got a sense that “Vermont is a place where someone could easily start their own business.” I spoke with Nicole at her recently opened second Birdfolk Collective storefront in Waterbury. The shop is filled with hip and indie apparel, jewelry, handmade bath and body products, and many other fun and inspiring collectables and gifts. Elegantly decorated in pastel tones, the shop positively hums with a vibrant wave of entrepreneurialism and uplifting folk music. “It’s as if Esty was a retail shop. I get that all the time,” Carey grins. In contrast, what I found was a communal gallery for likeminded artists such as herself – a place for dedicated craftspeople who make their unique products by hand with a care and attention to detail that mass-produced items simply cannot replicate. It’s as if Carey discovered that retail could also have soul.
In a world grown cynical with big business and corporate homogeny, the indie culture has taken hold of every aspect of commerce, especially in a place like Vermont. That is what first drew her to this area. Her artistic sensibilities allow for Carey to curate some of the area’s top artists, which is an art form in itself. It’s also what drove her to open up a business and take a chance. But it wasn’t without some initial caution on her part, or without guidance. Carey attended the Women’s Small Business Program at Mercy Connections. While there, she gathered some invaluable insights about what the operational side of this business should look like. This is also where she first met Greg Huysman of the Opportunities Credit Union, who was giving tips on financing and lending.
I think that they have a reputation for being a great support to small local businesses…”
“After meeting with Nicole and reviewing her financials, I was very impressed with her business acumen. In a time where retail, in general is trending downward; Nicole was able to identify a strong niche which has continued to grow year after year. Her decision to expand the business beyond its original footprint seemed like a wise and prudent investment,” says Huysman.
After their initial contact, it was time for the nitty gritty. She then met with Steve Densham at the Vermont Small Business Development Center. Carey called Densham her “small business therapist”, and, with his assistance, created what would become a viable business plan. At first, Carey was understandably reluctant to take out a loan, but, between the support and advice of the Mercy Connection Women’s Small Business Program, and the well-regarded Steve Densham, Carey grew to believe that
she had all the knowledge and confidence to properly command a loan for working capital, inventory and fixtures.
The core philosophy behind Birdfolk is to stock and sell unique inventory to everyone. In keeping with the indie mindset, Carey also loves supporting local producers and makers. To her, it’s a source of considerable pride that it’s hard to find something in her store that isn’t made by hand. This makes for very special and distinctive gifts for all ages and occasions. Plus, indie makers now have a physical space and location to sell their goods, thus making the Birdfolk Collective a win-win scenario for the creators and the buyers alike. Everyone can walk away happy!
Carey also makes her own clothing, and fully realizes the struggles that producers face on a daily basis. That’s where we suspect the character of Vermont comes into play. The resilience of Vermonters and the entrepreneurial spirit that we attract here allows folks like Carey to fulfil their dreams. Our small community has many opportunities, you just have to have the courage and tenacity go out and find them. Carey saw a need in the community, in her own maker/producer/artistic paradigm, and created the solution for herself. Vermont needs more of what she has in spades: the drive, the passion and the confidence to bring new solutions and new soul to old ways of being.
After she met Huysman at Mercy Connections, Carey was continually recommended to work with the Opportunities Credit Union. The name kept coming up, whether from advisors, friends or other business owners, as being somewhere that is known to assist start-ups and small businesses. They take the time to learn your entire situation. They study your business plan and make sure you have the all right tools and training. Unlike other larger banks or credit unions, they look beyond formulas that easily quantify perfect situations, their philosophy is more organic and real. These are real human beings that take the time to learn about your business, and to allow you improve your plans if needed. Most of all, Opportunities Credit Union doesn’t treat its members like another number on the list, but like living breathing individuals with unique quirks, qualities, and flaws, and embraces the whole package to see whether or not there is potential.
“Our analysis of her business plan, financials and projections only reinforced my original notion,” says Huysman.
“I would definitely use them again, and totally recommend using them. They were highly recommended to me, and I highly recommend them in turn. I think that they have a reputation for being a great support to small local businesses as compared to working with larger firms, who might be, shall we say, less understanding,” Carey smiles and laughs as I pack up the camera gear.
Finally, I ask, “Why Birdfolk?”
“Because I’m a bird nerd, and I like birds”, she giggles. Maybe, birds of a feather (I thought)… well, you know.
You can stop off at either the original location in Winooski or the recently opened Waterbury store and find the perfect handmade gift for any age or occasion. The gifts are made by artists and makers in the region, but also you get a sense while visiting that the procured items tell a story, a story about the Birdfolk, and it’s a magical one!
Finally, where would we be without Greg Huysman, Steve Densham and the Mercy Connections; please see their contacts below. If you’re a small business owner or if you’re thinking about starting a business reach out today, and let’s work together.
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