Don’t give up, small business owners say

03/31/2014 8:59 PM

04/01/2014 12:44 PM

Don’t give up at the first sign of difficulty.

Be prepared to spend on marketing.

Surround yourself with smart people.

Those were among the tips shared at Noda Brewing Co. Monday by the founders of three small businesses started in Charlotte within the past five years. The owners of those businesses participated in an event put together by ShopTalk, the Observer’s weekly feature and website for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Husband and wife Todd and Suzie Ford of NoDa Brewing; husband and wife Danny and Amy Leon of CKO Kickboxing; and Glenn Burkins of all took center stage to offer their advice.

All three were started by people looking for a career change. But all said starting a new business was daunting.

Among their suggestions for getting through the tough, early years:

• Glenn Burkins, owner of, an online news site, said business owners just starting out will “have some difficult moments,” but they shouldn’t give up.

A former editor for the Observer, Burkins launched in 2008, “right into the teeth of the worst economy since the Great Recession.” He said he had to go back to school to teach himself new skills and he recalled mornings when “I opened my eyes and I said, ‘I can’t do this another day.’ ”

Last fall, his business celebrated its fifth anniversary.

“I would like to tell you that I’ve survived for five years by being smart and being brilliant, and I did all the other things right,” he said. “It wasn’t. It was just sheer determination.”

• The Leons, also former journalists, opened a CKO Kickboxing franchise earlier this year on Prosperity Church Road.

Danny Leon said it’s vital to market a new business. Case in point: the advertising sticker that’s wrapped around the couple’s car.

“You really do have to spend a great deal of money on marketing,” he said. “We had to do it in a sort of layered effect. We’re still sort of, I guess, wading through what works and what doesn’t.”

So far, he said, marketing is working, and the franchise is breaking even.

• NoDa Brewing Co., a microbrewery that opened in 2011, faced challenges early on, Suzie Ford, a former banker, said. For one, the business had to learn to make craft beer in large batches, as opposed to the smaller ones her husband knew well.

“You surround yourself with great people,” she said.

“It’s important to realize you don’t know everything, and go to people and ask questions and be willing to learn new things.”

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