Launching a Small Woman-Owned Business
A period of great adversity has a way of revealing hidden strengths and passions, and if you listen carefully, you can end up on a life path that is much more true to your heart. Something artist and single mother, Tina Calloway, found to come true in her life. In the height of the recent recession she found herself jobless, soul searching, and looking for a way to provide for her daughter. Five years later, she has a thriving, unique, and highly respected green design business. I sat down with her to gather her thoughts on that journey of growing a small business from scratch.
Who are the Urban Farm Girls?
The secret benefit of going to tradeshows is there ends up being great relationship building and collaboration among the vendors. We shop each other’s booths during down minutes, forming alliances, and doing trades. You can quickly decipher who is the best: who has the best product, who is the best with people, and who is a gold mine of raw talent.
That is why we were so excited to meet the Urban Farm Girls at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show last spring, because they were all 3 of those things. Tina, the owner and founder of Urban Farm Girls has an unbelievable heart for her craft, for people, and for being a force of positive change in her community.
Tina likes to have her hands in lots of different “pots”, and her business offers a diverse amount of services and artisan products. Urban Farm Girls define themselves as “makers of gardens”. They offer a client-oriented, hollistic approach to each garden installation. Tina is a designer-builder. She and her team offer design services, do their own installation, and on-going maintenance. In addition, they also sell several artisan products. Tina invented a unique type of pot, called Pozzola, that is earth friendly and porous, perfect for the needs of succulents and drought tolerant plants in her SW region. Pozzola pots are hand-made for specific installations, or sold wholesale to 15 different retailers. Urban Farm Girls also sells succulent arrangements on wreaths, walls, and in planters. As if that weren’t enough to keep them busy, they are starting to develop their studio into an educational and community resource for urban gardening by hosting events like “Pints and Pots” featuring guest speakers.
The process of turning a hobby into a small business
The road to becoming an independent business owner happened very organically for Tina. Her educational background is in fine art, not business or landscape design. When the recession struck in 2008, Tina was working as a teacher and a studio artist. Then schools went through cut backs and a huge amount of studios were closing their doors. It was her family and friends who helped encourage her to find her current path. The grand daughter of avid gardeners, they told her she should try and do something that would utilize her green thumb. She started out by taking horticulture classes at a local Jr. College, but it was in a pot-making class that her new passion really blossomed. She fell in love with this new material she developed and the process of creating pots. She took her pots and started selling them at a few local farmer’s markets, and everything happened organically from relationships she formed there. She started by just helping some friends redesign their garden spaces. Soon she found herself offering design services to customers who bought her pots at farmers markets, and now she has a wide variety of clients ranging from high-end, to extremely small spaces, to commercial. Most of her clients are interested in supporting sustainable, green, local products. Tina’s garden designs have all the detail of a well executed painting, and her background even through it is not in business or landscaping, is an asset that sets her apart. Some times you end up in the right place even when your journey started in an off-beat way.
Drawing Inspiration to Keep Moving Forward
Every small business owner has at one point to decide to take the leap of faith to devote their full energy to their enterprise, and trust it will grow to sustain them. Something that is very hard for most people to do. I asked Tina how that process was for her, and she answered honesty about how it had been quite challenging. She had to “boot strap it” for the first few years, but she is a stick-her-heels-in-the-mud kind of gal and she motivated herself to stick it out. Now her business is starting to take off and she is reaping the benefits of that perseverance. She comes from a family line of artisans and small business owners, so having the example of following your dreams was instilled in her at a young age. In addition she joined local groups of small business owners, such as San Francisco Made and Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, that have proven to be very educational and helped connect her to new clients. Reading articles about other women entrepreneurs, and business books such as Growing a Business by the founder of Smith and Hawken, have helped her gather her courage in hard moments. Ultimately what keeps her going is her deep-rooted conviction that what she is doing is good for the community; that she is creating beauty and inspiring spaces, using sustainable practices, and growing a local business. Now, seeing her clients joy with their new garden spaces is the most treasured reward.
Being a Woman-owned Business
When I asked her if she thought being a woman shaped her business model at all, she thought it was hard to determine. She said she ended up with a lot of women working for her, and clients often say one of the reasons they called her was she was a woman-owned business and a sole proprietor. Her style is very relationship-oriented and nurturing, with both interns and clients. She is a great listener and her clients get to know her on a very personal level, she is the person they speak with from the beginning through the end of a project. She says, “It’s such a personal thing to green someone’s space because it’s an extension of their home. I value those relationships & listen carefully to what they want. I assess their home & lifestyle really thoroughly.” You can see on Urban Farm Girls website how each garden installation is different and specific to her client’s styles. So, for those women out there who might be toying with starting your own business, being a woman might give you a unique edge in communication and relationship building in a competitive field.