It’s quite rare that you call to check on an order you placed at a local business, and get an offer to then buy the entire business. But that’s what happened to Kiersten Hanna. While working at the Mendocino County Museum in Willits she commissioned production of panels for an upcoming exhibit from Braggadoon, the sign-making business in Fort Bragg. When she called to check on her order, she found out the owner had suddenly passed away and his widow asked her if she’d like to buy the business.
While most people might have balked at the idea, Kiersten was looking for a new opportunity and had some savings, so she took the plunge. Her first step? Finding a place to live on the coast, which took about four months. Next up, she had to quickly learn how to use all the equipment in the shop, much of which was outdated. She slowly began to replace it while burning the midnight oil learning how to make it all work. “I worked late into the night, just teaching myself how to use the equipment and I felt alone for a long time,” she recalls.
Enter West Business Development Center. Kiersten continued her struggle on her own until tax time, when she reached out to WestBDC for help. Quickbooks were a mystery and the former owner’s books were left in disarray. West Business Development Company provided a free financial advisor, who worked intensively with Kiersten that tax season and continued to check in every quarter for a year and a half.
That initial help got Kiersten through until a year ago, when she realized she was busier than she could handle. She needed help navigating her contract laborers and her website management. She reached out to WestBDC again, “I was drowning and it was so wonderful to have a knowledgeable person to talk to about next steps and what my priorities were. It was grounding.”
Together Kiersten and her free West BDC advisor wrote a business plan and a job description for an administrative assistant. She was assigned a project manager for her website, and she and her advisor did an intensive analysis of her books. They decided to raise her prices that year, as they saw that her hard costs for paper and materials had been steadily rising. “West BDC gave me what I needed, at the time I needed it. I just had to ask.”
In her fifth year of business, Kiersten has achieved 20-30% growth every year. She says that for the former owner, this was a passion project and he worked at his own pace. Having brought two independent contractors to the production team at Braggadoon, they are now able to work at a much faster pace and offer a wider variety of service to a larger clientele. Braggadoon offers both signage and fine art reproduction, so they are able to serve business owners as well as local artists.
Kiersten’s ambition is focused on a better quality of life vs profits. She says positive reinforcement from the community is her measure of success and she adds with a laugh, “I’ll feel more successful when I can step away more.”
Change hasn”t been easy, but it has been fruitful. “I’m very thankful to the community. They’ve been very kind and patient with me. I felt they were happy I’d taken over and that this kind of business would continue on the coast.”
Braggadoon, 435 N Main St, Fort Bragg, CA 95437, 707-964-5050, https://www.braggadoon.com/
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