MyTalk 107.1 Entrepreneur of the Month for May
When Audrey Matson moved from rural Minnesota to the Twin Cities to attend Hamline University, she always thought she would return to her farming roots someday. She went on to marry her college sweetheart and she and her family settled comfortably into an old Victorian home in the city. Audrey eventually came to realize that she could still enjoy the things she valued most from her country upbringing—growing her own produce, raising chickens, beekeeping, preserving food, and a sense of community among others who also wanted to live a simpler life.
When the youngest of Audrey’s three children was in middle school, she started thinking about re-entering the workforce. She began to create a plan for a small business that incorporated her passion for the traditional skills used by homesteaders. Audrey envisioned a neighborhood garden center with a focus on organic and sustainable growing methods; a place that offered seeds, plants and all of the necessary tools for urban farming. As she was developing her concept, she enrolled in a graduate program in horticulture at the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Sciences. The program allowed her to integrate her business plan with her coursework and fine-tune it.
Audrey first came to WomenVenture in 2009 to find out if her small business idea was viable. “My WomenVenture consultant gave me the best advice that I hadn’t previously considered,” Audrey said. “She suggested that I get a job at a garden center to see if owning a business like it was the right fit.” She took the suggestion seriously and began working at a local nursery where she quickly took on a management position. She fully immersed herself in her new role and found the day-to-day operations very rewarding. Audrey enjoyed all aspects of running a retail venture—buying, merchandising, and interacting with and educating customers.
Next, Audrey began to develop a financial plan for her business. Her knowledge of cash flow forecasting was limited, so her WomenVenture consultant helped her to project sales, set goals and create contingency plans. She also learned about financial management like understanding profit-and-loss statements, balance sheets and financial ratios. With the fiscal piece of the puzzle in place, Audrey was ready to make her dream a reality, and secured a loan from WomenVenture and one of its local bank partners. She opened the doors to Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply in a charming Selby Avenue storefront in Saint Paul in early 2010.
Audrey admits that the first year of owning and operating her small business was challenging and stressful. In the early days, she was the shop’s only employee and she often relied on family members for help. The business expanded slowly and steadily, and one of the keys to her success was Audrey’s ability to be flexible with her vision. She has changed and adapted to meet the needs of the community. In addition to offering hard-to-find gardening items that customers requested, she added a variety of traditional skills building classes on raising backyard chickens, growing mushrooms, cheese making, composting and more. In its second year Audrey was able to hire a part time staff, take time away from the store and pay herself a salary. In the fourth year she added a full time store manager.
“Egg|Plant has continued to grow by 20 percent each year,” Audrey said. “We are practically bursting at the seams!” She is maximizing her current space and expanding to include the 3-car garage at the back of the property. But Audrey does not measure her business’ success by its growth alone. She feels extremely fortunate that she has been able to incorporate so many of the things that she loves into a career that allows her to help support her family and contribute to the success of the local economy.