Kristie Johnson and the business of formal wear

Weddings and formal events mark important life milestones.

Kristie Johnson, owner of Annie’s Room formal wear boutique in Kingsport, knows the right dress carries everlasting memories for a bride. Johnson spent a recent morning talking brides and business with some budding entrepreneurs in Dr. Garry Grau’s small business finance class at Northeast State.

“When the business is your baby, it truly becomes a part of you,” Johnson told students.
“I want to provide a bride with that full experience on her important day. It comes down to what the customer wants and how they want the day to reflect you they are.”

Johnson’s grandmother started Annie’s Room business in 1980. Johnson took over the operation several years later when she was only 19. She quickly learned the competitive bridal and formal wear industry was not for shrinking violets. Online competitors offered cheaper prices but not that “say yes to the dress” personal connection.

“A wedding is important and planning is different to everyone,” she said. “For many brides it involves selecting the dress with family and friends being a part of it.”

Johnson explained how smart financial planning helped dealing with merchandise vendors. Her business required balancing the industry’s busy season between January to May to the leaner times in fall and winter. Smart buying and trust built with vendors kept a business in the black and problems easier to solve, she said.

NeSCC alumna Kristie Johnson breaks down real world business lessons.
NeSCC alumna Kristie Johnson breaks down real world experiences for business students.

Johnson moved into her new location on North Eastman Road in Kingsport in 2010 after customers urged her to expand. The larger space accommodates more merchandise and fitting areas.

Due to the personal nature of formal events, Johnson also discussed how social media played an important role in marketing a big day or night for her clients. Drawing on a demographic of teenagers, college students, and new brides, she stays online using business and friend platforms of Facebook as well as new merchandise previews on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

“You have to keep your finger on the pulse of social media,” she said. “People want to see what dresses you have and what is out there online.”

She also advised students to stay involved in the day-to-day operations of the business. A smart business owner knows every piece of inventory and every day’s sales receipts, she said.

“Turning your back on your business is very dangerous and you have to know what is going on with your business every day,” she said. “At the end of the day, no one is going to care about your business like you do.”

Johnson earned her associate degree in business management at Northeast State. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree at King University. She told students her college education gave her the tools to deal with unexpected real world issues.

“My grandmother gave me some great advice: Your college education is important but the real world experience will teach you every day,” Johnson said. “A college degree proves you can meet deadlines and goals and that you can accomplish something.”

Business professionals and experts frequently visit Grau’s classes to give students insight into the practicalities of the modern business world.

“Connecting students with the business world means bringing business world professionals into the classroom,” said Grau. “The students’ education includes encounters with the people they will interact with as professionals and business people.”

Taxation details critical for business students

(Northeast State professor Dr. Gary Grau welcomes workforce professionals, small business owners, and entrepreneurial thinkers from around the region to meet and interact with his business students during the semester.)

Death and taxes.  While both are inevitable, business owners should not have to fret over taxes when they have the right information.

Charles Archer, a tax auditor with the Tennessee Department of Revenue, visited Dr. Garry Grau’s business management classes during the current academic year to talk taxes and answer questions from students/budding entrepreneurs.

Archer fielded questions about subjects ranging from 501© non-profit organizations to interstate commerce regarding tax levies from state to state. He talked about sales and use tax, the primary revenue generating source for the state.

Students take note of tax issues business owners face.
Students take note of tax issues business owners face.

“When an entity has ‘nexus’ – or a physical connection with our state – that entity is subject to our state tax laws,” Archer explained.

The state’s sales tax rate covers retail items purchased in the state.  The use tax is applied to “tangible personal property” purchased from outside the state and imported into Tennessee for use or consumption.

Grau frequently welcomes professionals from sectors of business and regulation into his classes to engage business students with real-world scenarios.

“Connecting students with the business world means bringing business world professionals into the classroom,” said Grau.  “The students’ experience must include encounters with the people they will interact with as professionals and business people.”

Charles Archer explains a few intricacies of the state tax system.
Charles Archer explains a few intricacies of the state tax system.

Cities and counties may impose a local option sales tax rate of up to 2.75 percent.  These municipal governments report the local option tax collections to the state.  Archer explained the state used a complex formula to return those local option sales tax revenues to the municipalities for use in their public administration.

The department of Revenue hosts free tax information workshops to assist small business owners encountering business-related taxes for the first time.  The department’s Johnson City regional office hosts informational workshops each quarter.  These workshop discussions can focus on business tax, sales and use tax, unemployment tax and tax enforcement procedures.  Archer noted business owners could find their best answers through the website.

“I don’t think anyone goes into a business blind today,” said Archer.  “Our department works with every small business to spell out their responsibilities for reporting taxes.”

Grown locally, eaten happily

(Northeast State professor Dr. Gary Grau welcomes workforce professionals, small business owners, and entrepreneurial thinkers from around the region to meet and interact with his business students during the semester.)

Think globally, but eat locally.  An area farmer’s market gives consumers the option to do just that by purchasing food online from the farmer down the road.

But what’s the business appeal for a farmer’s market?  More than meets the plate.

“It is a much different quality of product,” said Karen Childress, coordinator of the Jonesborough Farmer’s Market and Online Market. “People are out there buying locally grown (produce) because they care about what they put in their bodies.”

Karen Childress explains the Online Farmer's Market to Northeast business students.
Karen Childress explains the Online Farmer’s Market to Northeast business students.

Childress visited Dr. Gary Grau’s small business management class this week as guest speaker to discuss with students the successful cooperative market and its social significance.

The Jonesborough Farmer’s Market offers locally grown vegetables and produce year round thanks to the online market component. The first market start-up happened in the spring of 2007 in the parking lot of the Jonesborough Visitors Center.  Childress said the Johnson City and Abingdon farmer’s markets were major influences on developing the Jonesborough site.

The first year was slow going for producers, she said.  The second year brought more traffic – and regular buyers – intrigued with produce items locally grown by their neighbors.  Today, the seasonal market operates from 8 a.m. to noon May to October off Main Street in Courthouse Square in downtown Jonesborough.  The market becomes an event with live music and a festival feel for vendors and customers alike, said Childress.

There is no off-season with the Jonesborough's Online Market
There is no off-season with the online farmer’s  market concept.

The Online Farmer’s Market started up in 2010 to provide a marketplace for products available during the fall and winter seasons.  The online market operates between November and April. The online version ends once the weekly outdoor Saturday market kicks up in spring. The online market’s February offerings included eggs from free-range chicken eggs, beef and pork, chicken, and lamb cuts to pet treats and goat cheese.

Childress explained that each week that the online market is open, vendors post their items to the “Market” section of the website. From Sunday at 2 p.m. to Tuesday at 11 a.m., customers can browse that week’s products and place their online order. All orders are delivered to the Farmers Market site in Jonesborough for payment and pick-up on Wednesdays from 5:30-5:45 p.m.

“Customers place their order and pick it,” she said. “Growers can check their orders and get a look at what they are selling and which customers are buying.”

A farmer's market brings local produce to local consumers.
A farmer’s market brings local produce to local consumers.

Cash, check, debit/credit/EBT cards are allow acceptable pay pals at the market.  The Farmer’s Market operates as a volunteer organized fair for the direct sale of farm raised produce and homemade products.  Childress also noted the market was a “producer only” market of local growers with no resale of items allowed.

Beyond the festival atmosphere, the market reconnected people through food and community.  No small achievement in a modern world of distant and impersonal communications.

“You have the opportunity to talk to the person who grew your food,” she said, “which is the next best thing to growing it yourself.”

Bakery founder shares story with business students

When Cotton Roberts and his wife decided to open a bakery, the skeptics were many.

Starting a bakery in a down-trending economy was a pipe dream, said some.  But Roberts told students a dream is often the best start to any business.

“It takes a dream first,” Roberts told the class. “But you got to put some feet under that dream.”

Roberts spoke to Professor Dr. Garry Grau’s business management course this week about his experiences doing a business start-up in a depressed economy.

Family Bakery co-founder Cotton Roberts talks cupcakes and tax rates with Dr. Garry Grau’s business class.

Roberts retired from Eastman Chemical Company before opening Family Bakery three years ago in downtown Gate City, Va.   The bakery idea came from Vicky who had experiencing in the catering field.  Needless to say, they received plenty of discouraging words about taking on big name stores with in-house bakeries.

“We wanted to do this a unique way,” Roberts said.  “We didn’t want to offer things that everyone else had.”

What they had were baked-that-day cinnamon rolls, muffins, scones, and the undisputed pastry star of the Family Bakery, the Cupcake.  Not just any cupcake, mind you.  A couple dozen varieties all branded with names to fit the flavors.  Devil in a Blue Dress.  Wedding Cake. The Dark Side of the Moon.  The Dirty Snowball.

“It’s not a cupcake,” said Izzy Leonard, a business management major and would-be entrepreneur who attested to the Family Bakery. “It is a little piece of heaven.”

Armed with knowledge, strong faith, and a pretty sound business plan, the Family Bakery opened in May 2009.  The opening proved a resounding success.  The workforce jumped from two employees to eight including Roberts’ sons and daughter.  The bakery added specialty cakes to the menu.  Lunch service began a few months after the grand opening.

“It is an extraordinary story of doing business right,” Grau told his class. “To make it work in this economy is phenomenal.”

Representatives from a Scott County Economic Development Authority guided Roberts through the drafting of his business plan and advised him on tax and business issues.  He urged future entrepreneurs to draft a business plan.  A business plan mapped out a business operation and future.  It was also a necessity to secure financial assistance from any reputable lending institution.

“Forming a business plan is one of the biggest steps you can take,” Roberts said. “If you don’t have a business plan on how you are going to do it, you will fail.”

Roberts dispenses some advice about starting up a small business.

The business plan enabled Roberts to secure a low-interest loan to purchase equipment and to outfit the bakery. However, he also pointed out no plan was immune from setbacks.   Roberts said the grand opening plans were pushed back several times.  He recalled one of the most frustrating moments occurred when the building flooded when a water pipe burst only days before the scheduled opening.

“Don’t be discouraged,” he said. “Whatever happens you got to be able to push through it, that’s usually the difference in failing or making it.”

Students peppered Roberts with questions about his experiences on everything from advertising to property use.  He explained the finer points of accounting and banking demands for operating a small business.

“He pretty much confirmed the suspicions I had about how hard it would be,” said Leonard.

Roberts also walked students through the necessities of securing a tax identification number with the Internal Revenue Service, acquiring a business license, and get a state and federal sales tax numbers.

“I got a good feeling for how he went about planning for it,” said Bryce Salyers, a small business management major.

Roberts urged future business owners to carve out their niche with a business identity that set them apart. He illustrated the point with a verse from the Song of Solomon.

“There are 60 queens, 80 concubines, and countless virgins,” Roberts said, “but my love, my perfect one, is unique.”