Greenville Entrepreneur Launches New Business Venture
By Kirsten J. Barnes
Vesta Taylor had been her own boss for nearly 15 years. She owned and operated a gift shop for 10 years, and nearly five years ago she started an interior design business called Vesta Taylor Interiors in Greenville, Alabama. Taylor knows the key to growth for her small town business is networking and educating herself on new and more efficient business practices.
So, when she found out about the free services provided by the Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network and its center located inside the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce, Taylor was eager to utilize the resources. "When you live in a rural town, businesses like mine take time to grow and build. Interior design is not really a necessity in people's lives," Taylor said.
Taylor said that many people do not think of her business when shopping for curtains, blinds, hardwood floors, tile, and other home accessories, but they should. She said some of her prices are comparable or less to those of local home store giants, such as Home Depot and Lowes.
"Window treatments are my specialty," Taylor said. She loves what she does, but she wanted to come up with another product she could sell that could generate continuous income when design clients are scarce.
"I decided that I would pray about what we could do when there were no calls for design. Candles were the answer to my prayer. I've always loved candles, and I always sold them in my gift shop," Taylor said.
So, she contacted some candle makers and decided to inaugurate her own candle line, the Vesta line, which she launched in November, 2011. Since then, she has scents representing the State of Alabama that are currently sold in the Governor's Mansion Gift Shop.
"Working with Vesta Taylor on this candle line not only allows me to promote Alabama small businesses and products, but it also gives people the chance to experience the Mansion through smell," Bentley said. "This historic home is the people's house, and through this candle line I hope that visitors feel that they are able to take a piece of it home."
Taylor met Bentley after being selected to decorate the First Lady's Parlor at the Mansion. Immediately, Taylor shared her two-week old signature candle idea and Bentley was very interested. "She enjoyed the idea of having her own signature scent as well as scents representing Alabama. She's a very southern Christian woman and her own scent is called cotton linen," Taylor said. "It's a very subtle scent."
Francine Wasden, executive director of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, said she has been pleased to have an AERN Center through which entrepreneurs like Taylor can find business research resources.
"I think it is a really good tool for this chamber. I'm hoping with the economy turning around, we'll be able to find more people to use the service," Wasden said. "I'm seeing people opening businesses and buying old buildings. People are very cautious though."
Wasden said many of her clients or would-be clients do not realize the business assistance is free to those who live in the area. "I try to talk about it with different civic agencies to spread the word," Wasden said. "Sometimes it's overlooked that we have this free service and access to resources at the University of Alabama."
Annette Watters, director of AERN, said not only does AERN want to help entrepreneurs in rural Alabama start businesses, they also want to assist business owners like Taylor to expand.
"She was expanding her business, and although she was very good at the work she does, she was a little insecure on some of the business aspects of expansion," Watters said. "So, we have been counseling with her on cash flow management, accounting procedures, and those kinds of things."
Though the relationship is new, Taylor already values the insight shared by Outreach Coordinator Mary Patterson. "When I met with Mary, one of the key things she asked was, 'Who is paying you this week?'" Taylor said. To continue to build, you have to build funds. It's not that I didn't know that, but the way she explained it to me made me make it my first priority."
Taylor's goal is to design signature scents for a variety of customers. Taylor said she is looking forward to a continuous relationship with AERN as she attempts to expand her business statewide and into northern Florida. "I'm looking forward to learning things that I hadn't even thought about," Taylor said.