We here at GOBankingRates want to help get our nation’s small businesses back on their feet after the COVID-19 pandemic. To do that, we’re highlighting readers’ favorite small businesses around the country, and shining a spotlight on what makes them special to their customers and their towns.
2021 Small Business Spotlight: Check Out Our Small Business Stories, Plus the Nominated Businesses Near You
In this edition of our Small Business Spotlight series, we’re featuring Windy Hills Lavender Farm, a family-run farm in Heber, Arizona. Owners Cindy and Bryan Schooley took over the Schooley and Hunt families’ ranch property and began planting lavender on the grounds in 2009. They now grow thousands of lavender plants each year and harvest their lavender to create essential oils, bath products and more. Here, we chat with Cindy about how her mother-in-law inspired their business venture, why quality is more important than profit margins and how she defines success as a business owner.
Was there a particular moment or experience that inspired you to start your business?
We have 125 acres of land that has been in our family since the ’80s. We always wanted to plant something — other than junipers and tumbleweeds. Bryan’s mother Lois saw some pictures of lavender in France and realized that they have the same type of terrible soil as we do — apparently lavender loves limestone soil. So she talked us into planting lavender. Bryan and I both thought Mom was crazy. What are we going to do with a bunch of lavender flowers? Well, as it turns out, people love lavender.
At the time, we had a little steakhouse in town; we would open in the summer and close in the winters. That year we decided to keep the steakhouse closed due to the economy of 2009-2010. We had our first harvest and thought, “Let’s take these flowers to the restaurant and see if anyone would like to buy them.” Both Bryan and I were very skeptical. We set up a tent on our handicapped parking, and to our surprise, we had a great response. At that moment both Bryan and I thought, “Hmm, this could be a business.” Bryan asked me, “Well, do you want to turn the restaurant into a boutique?” I responded, “And I don’t have to do dishes at midnight and you’re still cooking for me? Sounds good!” So, of course, Mom was right again!
What did you take from past experiences or jobs that you knew you wanted to be a part of your new business?
Quality and customer service are the most important things to us. Both Bryan and I had worked in hospitality for years. Listening to your customers and taking care of them is the only way they will return. Never leave anyone out, acknowledge everyone and make them feel welcome.
Whatever it is we’re making, we make it the best we can! We use quality ingredients. Yes, the cost is higher for those ingredients, but so is the quality. We won’t skimp to save a buck. Sure, we could buy cheaper, lower-quality ingredients and make a larger profit. People will buy it once, but then they won’t come back. We want everyone to be like, “Wow, we love Windy Hills Lavender! The people are friendly and welcoming and the products are amazing! We can’t wait to go back!”
What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a business owner?
The most rewarding aspect is being able to be creative. We’re constantly growing and changing. There is also the reward of knowing that people love what we are doing. People are always so happy and relaxed when they are here. We meet so many people, and they are all so interesting and also interested in what we do.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
People always ask how we are doing with the pandemic. Well actually, we feel very blessed and lucky. We believe it is due to our location and what we’re doing. We are located in northeastern Arizona. It is cool in the summer, so when it is 100 degrees in the Valley we are usually about 80. We have actually been busier during this time.
During the shutdown, we did close. However, since everything is made at our boutique, we were there a lot. People could call and we would put their order together and leave it out on the step for them. The boutique sales did get affected and were down but our online sales went way up, so in the end, it worked out OK.
We know that there are so many businesses that had to close for good or are still struggling due to the shutdowns. We had a restaurant and know that if it’s your season, you can’t afford to “just be closed” — you need that time. You are depending on it.
How can people continue to support your business during this time?
If you can’t get up to Heber, our store is online. We will be happy to ship you our wonderful products. We do offer free shipping with purchases of $50 or more and we always have sales going on. If you are able to get up to Heber, come by our boutique. Take pictures of the lavender and post them on Facebook and Instagram.
Our actual farm is very remote and difficult to get to. It’s 14 miles on a dirt road and the last few miles, you aren’t sure it is a road. Not many people have been able to find the farm, so we have listened to our customers and have been planting lavender at our boutique (our former steakhouse). We are right on the highway in town, so it is very easy to get to. The boutique is on a little more than an acre of land, and we are still in the process of planting more lavender; we do have about 2,500 plants in the ground at the moment. The best time to see it in bloom is during July and August. We have several varieties, with different colors — pink, white and shades of purple.
We are adding a walking path for people to enjoy. We have created over 150 products over the years and everything is made right at our boutique, so there is something for everyone — even Fido. We would love for you to come up and enjoy the lavender.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
Starting your own business can be intimidating and scary. You might not believe in your product or yourself at first. Having your own business is a LOT of work, but when you finally achieve what you were going for, it’s like “Wow! We have a real business!” It really feels good!
Starting a new business doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of hard work, patience (a whole lot of patience), tears, sweat, frustration, joy, and then when you make it, sweet relief. Trust in yourself. Even if you’re not sure, don’t give up on yourself or your partners, even when it gets tough. Sometimes you need to step back to move forward.
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Find what works and do that. Know that there will always be obstacles, but you can work through them to find the answer.
Start small and grow your business. Don’t take out a bunch of loans. A main goal should be to stay within your ability to pay all of your bills in full every month. It can be very easy to say, “Oh, I will pay the rest of that credit card bill next month,” but next month never comes and then it gets overwhelming. The next thing you know you’re taking one credit card to pay another. You will have a lot less stress knowing that everything is paid in full every month.
I believe success isn’t how much money you can make, it’s how happy you are doing what you are doing — but the money does help!
Just take a deep breath and breathe some lavender!
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.