Creative and artistic students often have difficulty seeing where they fit when going to a polytechnic school like Cal Poly. Students always know when the Big Four will be recruiting on campus, but rarely hear about designers or local small businesses that are seeking interns. With that in mind, the Wire wanted to find an example of success that isn’t traditionally corporate. After searching for a local illustration of the abundant options a business degree could afford you, we found unique “women in business” in business partners Erin Stuck, Joeli Yaguda, and Jillian Waters.
The women met while working for a local olive oil producer, and quickly became close friends. When that business was sold, Erin, Joeli and Jillian were forced to plan their next career moves. They knew after working with each other for over four years that they wanted to continue to do so. With one Cal Poly alum on their team — as well as tons of on-the-job experience — they began going over business plans and decided to open the General Store in Paso Robles. The General Store carries what you think it would, and more. They have locally-made soaps and candles, as well as house brand olive oil and spice blends. On January 17, the store owners sat down and spoke with the Wire to share what it it takes to be small business owners in the SLO area.
The first question we wanted to answer was what the hardest part of opening a local, small business. Joeli explained that the women had all had experience in handcrafted and artisanal products and understood the challenges of bringing those types of products to market. Their collective insight helped troubleshoot problems before they arose, and gave the team a competitive edge in a somewhat unpredictable market. Along with the logistical challenges of operating a small business, they also admit that the financial processes were difficult at first.
The General Store Team stressed how important it is to have a trusted financial advisor on your side. They encountered issues when they tried to do everything themselves — especially accounting, which none of them had much personal experience in. By contracting this aspect of their business to an industry professional, they were not only able to feel assured that the work was being done correctly, but also were freed up to pursue their respective business strengths.
After discussing the logistics of the business model, we spoke about their work environment and how the women keep it healthy and forward-looking. With a laugh, Joeli informed me that not only is the General Store owned by three women, but their entire staff is female as well. Interested in the all female dynamic, we investigated the distinct advantages and disadvantages of their team. Almost immediately, the women responded that they fostered a familial and nurturing atmosphere with the employees in the store. They were clear that they were not opposed to hiring a man to be a part of their team, but that it just hadn’t happened yet. They believe that because the environment and culture of their store is so distinctly accepting that there would be no issues, no matter the gender.
A parting piece of advice the women had to college students was to find a mentor. Mentorship has been shown time and time again to benefit both the mentee and mentor, and is something Women in Business strongly believes in. Erin highlighted that it is very helpful to find a mentor in the same field or has done what you are trying to do. You will not only gain a supportive friend, but you will avoid making the mistakes you could have otherwise made.
The women of the General Store highlighted what we sometimes forget when being inundated with tech-based careers: being a woman in business is not singular or definable. Going to a polytechnic school can sometimes feel limiting based on the paths that seem most readily available to us, but let Joeli, Erin, and Jillian be an example of an alternate choice. If there is one thing to take away from this interview, it is that passion is an important factor in the equation for success. In conjunction with having a well thought-out plan, and truly dedicating your time and energy to your pursuits, the potential definition for a “woman in business” is really whatever you decide it to be.