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25 Posts authored by: Bank of America SB Team




The Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Community is dedicated to empowering small business owners with the expertise and tools they need to thrive. The newest addition to our resources is a new podcast series, brought to you by Bank of America and ForbesBooks.


The Heartbeat of Main Street delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.


The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear monthly on the Small Community. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.






Sharon Miller (intro):  We are consultants. We are advisors. We're providing advice and guidance. We serve 3.1 million small business customers. There are 29 million small business owners in the United States, so we do see clients coast to coast. We can offer insights, which is why what we do is so important to the local economies because, when our small business owners are winning, so are our communities, and you can feel it as you go into these local markets.


Narrator:                     Welcome to the Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks at and Bank of America at


Kate Delaney:              Always a pleasure to have Sharon Miller on the show, Bank of America Head of Small Business. She's a managing director, so we have some great news here at ForbesBooks. We're very excited to be launching this radio and podcast partnership with you and Bank of America's small business. Sharon, what are the goals for these radio interviews, the podcast, and for all the people that have been listening?


Sharon:                        Well, Kate and Greg, first of all, thank you so much. This is an exciting partnership for us here at Bank of America, in particular small business. I hope that we can provide a forum for small business owners to have access to content about the economy, what's happening in the business world, trends, what are we seeing across the country because, as we know, small business is a very local business. What's happening in one community may be different than another community in a different area, so every small business is unique, and geography plays a big part of it or type of industry. We'll discuss all of that together. To me, it's just a very, very exciting topic.


Gregg Stebben:           I'm glad you brought up so early in this discussion the idea of local businesses and how sometimes they're dealing with different things, and sometimes they're dealing with similar things. You must travel around the country a lot and talk to business owners around the country a lot in every corner of the country, and what kind of things do you hear them talking about today in 2018 that has you excited and that has them excited?


Sharon:                        We continue to hear from our small business owners that they're optimistic about the future. We take surveys twice a year at Bank of America to understand how our clients are feeling around their business prospects, so do they think their revenues will grow or are they coming down? Do they feel they're going to expand their business or are they going to let go?  


               Related Content: Spring 2018 Small Business Owner Report


                                    All of these different items that small business owners contemplate over the course of a day, a week, a month, we ask them about that, so we continue to hear optimism in the air for our small business owners, and we just had the recent tax reforms pass. We know that there are some considerations for small business owners, and those are some of the things that they're talking about. How will I hire more employees? How can I get qualified employees? There's a war for talent out there, and small business owners are competing at every level, so that's something that I continue to hear.


                                    The other thing is around technology and online and mobile and how do they make sure that they have the latest content, information, and access to information so that they can provide information for their customers but, more importantly, how do they use that to run their business and to gain efficiency. These are all the conversations that I'm having, no matter where I'm sitting, if it's in San Francisco, California or Tampa, Florida. These are similarities, and you do feel the optimism in the air.


Gregg:                         It's so interesting, Sharon, to hear you talk about, first of all, from where you're sitting as Bank of America Head of Small Business, and we're talking with Sharon Miller from Bank of America. It's so interesting to hear from where you're sitting you bringing up tech and mobile, in particular. First of all, I mean, we all know that the world is going to mobile, and it's going very fast.


                                    Yet, as you were describing those conversations with small business people around the country, I realized that the more data is accessible to a small business person, especially the financial information, which is exactly where Bank of America and Bank of America small business comes into play. The more small business owners have access to that information, the better they are able to do all the things that make their business a success. Can you kind of walk us through the journey of Bank of America when it's come to having mobile access for their customers to their financial information?


Sharon Miller:             You think about five years ago where we were building as a company access for clients to get on their computer, just online to go to bill pay, to go to online banking because people were sitting in front of their computer. Today, we think about mobile first, so it's still for the mobile because everyone has mobile in the palm of their hands, and this is how people prefer to bank today, so that's the consumer industry in general. I think about myself as a banker, but I also bank with Bank of America. I want to make sure that I have access to that and I don't have to be at home sitting in front of my computer.


                                    I can just have my phone with me, log in, get on, understand what I have in my account, move money, pay bills and, now, we've launched Erica for our consumer clients and coming for small business, it’s a virtual assistant. Just like with your Amazon Alexa where you can ask, "What's the weather?" "What date is whatever event they're looking for?" You can find all this accessed information.


                                    We now have Erica, which is a clever way of shortening Bank of America, so we just took the 'Bank of A" out and it's Erica, so it's, "Erica, pay my bill," "How am I doing on my budget?", "Should I invest money?" All this is going to be available for small business clients, as well, so this is on your mobile phone. I think that's the difference is, today, it's mobile first. We do build for online and to be able to be in front of your computer, but the world is becoming increasingly tightly knit, global. We're all there together, so I think that mobile is the way we've got to position going forward, and that's what our consumers are asking for.


Kate:                            Yeah, Sharon, you nailed it with this Erica. I'm sure people that are listening are now super drawn to this. Tell us a little bit more about that. I can imagine you probably had a think tank or you were flushing it out, or how did that all come about to get ahead of the curve?


Sharon:                        Artificial intelligence, it's gaining insights to behavior and being in front of our customers and giving them what they need, but they may not even know what they need. We're trying to anticipate their needs and trying to understand, you're spending a thousand dollars more each month than you make. Maybe we need to talk to a financial advisor about a budget. All of these things that we can understand of our customers' behavior because we understand what's happening in their account, and we want to help them. We want to be their financial partner and say, "Look, maybe it's time to get a checkup for ... You have two children. We can see, and you probably need to start a 529 plan for them." All these insights from a virtual assistant in the palm of your hand, it's incredible. I would've never guessed we'd have something like this available. It's the first of its kind in the industry and, quite frankly, it's what our customers want.


                                    Today, this is what millennials are expecting. They want to wake up and say, "What's the weather?", all these things. My son has one of those Dots sitting on his bedside table. "What time is it?" "What's the weather?" "Is it going to rain today?" You can find this out just by talking. That's the same concept that we used for Erica.


Gregg:                         If I wasn't talking to you now, Sharon, I would be Googling Bank of America, Erica, to find out more about it. Can you tell us what stage it's in? Are there some who can see it today? Is it in beta or when we can expect to see it if it's not available?


Sharon:                        No, we had it available for all employees, and our employees were testing it. I was part of that test group so I, of course, kept getting every time I'd log into my mobile banking, I'd get this flag, and it'd say, "Do you want to use me?", Erica. Now, all of our customers are gaining access to this, so it's there for them. You just click on, "Hi, I'm Erica," and then it'll start interacting with you, so it's available for our customers.


                                    It's something that, if you haven't checked it out already, it is so cool and just the most innovative thing that I think we've done when it comes to the artificial intelligence, launching it for our employees. It gets smarter as you use it. That's what artificial intelligence does. It can understand your behaviors as you're interacting so that it can anticipate your needs.


Kate:                            You can tell Gregg and I are just enthralled by this. This is amazing to hear about Erica, but one of the things that you also said is, you talked about the war for talent. That is real, that is big, and that's a problem that you know you're trying to solve and help people with, right?


Sharon:                        Absolutely. We hear this all the time that business owners, they want to expand. They want to replace, because you're going to have attrition. Even if you're not increasing the number of people you have in your company, someone's going to leave. They're going to go to a competitor. They're going to decide to go back to school. They're just going to do something else and make another choice, or maybe you have problems with that employee. You're going to have to replace. If you have ten employees, two leave in a year, you're still going to have to hire two people just to keep it ten.


                                    In our business owner reports, what we hear from small business owners are that they're either going to maintain their existing staffing levels or they're going to increase it. With that being said, it would be unheard of for every small business to have no turnover, so we know we've got to hire. What we're doing is working with our Merrill Lynch partners to make sure we have our financial advisors out there that can help small business owners set up retirement plans, set up benefits because this would attract employees. It might differentiate a small business from another just because I have access to a 401K and the competitor down the street doesn't. People care about that today. Employees, it matters.


                                    We want to work with small business owners, get them connected to the very best thinking on Wall Street around setting up retirement plans, setting up benefits. All these different considerations are really important in today's economy, and that's how we partner with our small business owners.


Kate:                            Sharon, I think you have one of the coolest jobs in the world, and I'm really curious what the path or journey is in the business that brought you to where you are today as the Head of Small Business at the Bank of America.


Sharon:                        I started my career with Bank of America 22 years ago as a financial advisor and have always served clients, whether it be helping them plan for retirement, maybe they're opening a small business, or they are sending a child to college. All of those issues and just life events happen to clients, so I've served clients my entire career. In my book of business, I did have business owners, many corporate clients, some small business owners, professionals, executives. That is how I started my career. I did go into management probably ten years ago, and I've moved to different areas of the country. This led me to where I am today.


                                    Two years ago, I was asked to take over as the Head of Small Business when my predecessor retired, and at first I thought, "Wow! I'm not sure because I've never directly served just small business because my background has been more on the investment side and wealth management. As I got into this role, I realized that everything I had done up to this point prepared me for this because small business owners, they have the same issues. They have the same worries and concerns that every other person when you think about professionals.


                                    They're human beings. They're people. They are worried about, "What about my home. What about my family? How am I going to take care of my health? How am I going to pay my employees?" All these items, these are just issues that small business owners have every single day, and that's what we're here to do. We're here to partner with them to solve those items and to help them make their vision a reality.


                                    It is an exciting area. It's an exciting business, and I get so energized and just proud when I sit down with our small business owners and I realize that, because of our partnership, we have been able to help them realize their goals, whether it's expanding their business or it's opening a new practice, all these things. These are ways we help at Bank of America.


Gregg:                         You know what's interesting to me, Sharon, in what you just said is, you used the word “partner” and “partnership” a few times. Of course, that was really what you were doing in your early days as a financial advisor and wealth advisor, and it's what you continue to do today, but I think when you're a small business owner, knowing that your bank considers you to be a partner with them and having a partnership and, frankly, one of the most essential parts of a business, which is the financial part of a business because it touches everything else.


                                    You must find that, when you and your team sit down and talk with your small business clients that they are so thrilled to have access to you and the value of the things you're learning as a team from dealing with businesses all across the country. You must just have story after story after story of where you can share with business owners things you've all learned as a team because you're dealing with so many business owners that you're, in a sense, almost serving like consultants who can help them when they really need the help the most.


Sharon:                        That's right. I mean, that's exactly how I view our role. We are consultants. We are advisors. We're providing advice and guidance, and not just for their small business, but their personal, as well. As a small business owner, they're wearing so many hats, so they're the CEO of their business, they're the CFO. They could be the janitor if they need to be. They're serving every role. I mean, whatever it is that needs to be done, they're going to get done, and they put their heart and soul into their business. To me, that's where we come in and say, “You know what? We serve 3.1 million small business customers across the United States. There are 29 small business owners in the United States generally.


                                    At Bank of America, we're serving 3.1 million of them,” so we do see clients from coast to coast. We can offer insights and, sometimes, that is, "You know what? You may need to adjust the way you're doing X,Y,Z, this or that, so that we can get you access to more capital," or, "Maybe it's not a good idea to expand today. You need to get these things in order first." All these conversations are what our bankers are having across the country every single day across the desk, which is why what we do is so important to the local economies because, when our small business owners are winning, so are our communities, and you can feel it as you go into these local markets.


Kate:                            Perfect segue into this next question. Sharon, you're a mommy of a couple of kids, and you're the Head of Small Business for Bank of America, big job. I've talked to a lot of women about this, is work/life balance. Is there such a thing?


Sharon:                        I don't think so. I mean, really, it's ... I feel it every day. You strive to have that balance and, sometimes, you're more tilted toward your home and your family and your children because you know when you've got to be there. You might have to miss a meeting flying to travel somewhere. I mean, I've had that happen before where I've had to go to my boss and say, "You know what? My daughter has a play. I just can't travel this date because, in ten years, no one's going to remember if I was at that meeting, but my daughter's going to remember." That's the reality.


                                    You can't make everyone happy a hundred percent of the time. You just have to be true to yourself, and no one is perfect every single day, and that's what we strive to do, to be better and better every single day and be there and provide as much balance and focus and be the best self you can be because when you're doing that, you'll be able to give to others.


Gregg:                         We're talking with Sharon Miller. She's the Head of Small Business at Bank of America. Sharon, you mentioned, I think you said your son has an Amazon Dot on his nightstand.


Sharon:                        Echo or whatever he got.


Gregg:                         If we could be that Amazon Dot or that Amazon Echo and we could hear the kinds of conversations you have with your kids about money, I'm really curious about how that works in your house because you spend your whole day helping people understand the power of money, and then you go home, and how do you translate the lessons from what you've learned and seen at work into lessons for your own family?


Sharon:                        That's such a great question. I have two kids. My son is 11. My daughter is 9, and my daughter, Lauren, she saves every penny she's ever had. She won't spend anything, and she's just very different. My son, 11, if he's got $40 in his side drawer, he wants to go spend that today. It's just so interesting to talk to both of them about the value of money and to say, "You know, Ryan, you've got to save. You've got to put some aside. Just because you got your allowance doesn't mean you have to just go buy something because you want it. You need to save and put money aside," whereas my daughter, she won't buy anything. It's so interesting. Kids are kids, right?


                                    You just have to have those different conversations and teach them different lessons, but the reality is, we have to instill in our kids a sense of value to money. You just don't have these things. They just don't appear. You have to work. You have to focus and save and, sometimes, you can't get what you want today just because you want it. You need to put some money aside, so those are all the life lessons and just general conversations that I'm having with my kids. Again, just like work/life balance, some days are better than others, and that's with kids. We just try to instill the right values so they can make the right choices as they grow up to become young adults.


Kate:                            Do you talk to them about entrepreneurship because, especially their age group, I think you're going to see more and more of that.


Sharon:                        Absolutely. I have in my front yard on Saturdays, many times my daughter has some friends over and they'll do art work, and they'll put it in the front yard. In fact, my neighborhood has this stand to sell lemonade. They're going to the neighbors, knocking on the door, "Do you want this painting?" They're putting it on canvas. They're selling it. You know what's so amazing, and I just think this is just such the world that our children are growing up in, which is so good, they come in.


                                    In fact, last weekend, they came in. They had made $38, and it was three girls, and they had been selling cookies and lemonade and some paintings in the front yard. Of course, I probably paid ten of that just walking by, and then maybe their grandfather gave them another five and then the two neighbors, but either way, they raised it and they put it in an envelope and they said, "This is for the Humane Society. We want to go down and give that to them," which is just wow!


                                    That just makes you smile and say, "That is amazing!" They're giving back and just the way they're thinking, that just makes you proud as a mother and, just as a human being, it's so nice to watch children and how they're so involved, but entrepreneurism, yes. They can do anything. That's what I always tell my kids, "You can do anything you want to do. If you put your mind to it, you work hard, and you dedicate yourself to it, you can do anything, so you need to follow your passion and follow your dream."


Kate:                            Perfect place to end this. Sharon Miller, Bank of America Head of Small Business. This is why I love these conversations.


Greg:                           I want Sharon to be my mom!


Kate:                            I know! Me, too!


Sharon:                        Tell that to my kids. Tell that to my kids.


Gregg:                         Kate and I do not roll our eyes.


Sharon:                        Exactly! That's what I was thinking. I got the eye roll this morning. Again, some days are better than others.


Kate:                            I love it! Sharon, thank you so much.


Sharon:                        This is great. I appreciate it, and this is going to be really, really ... I think it's going to be a great partnership.


Narrator:                     Thanks for listening to the Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks at and Bank of America at


Check out episodes of the Bank of America Small Business podcast.


This week on the Post Some Live podcast, Steve Strauss interviews Daria Knowles of Hot Skwash. Hot Skwash by Daria is a family business that designs and manufactures high-end home décor. Listen to her story about moms coming together and the importance of positive online reviews.


Listen in iTunes Listen in Google Play



Post Some Love: Hot Skwash Podcast Transcript

Intro music

Steve Strauss:            So, you were a stay-at-home mom at the time?


Daria Knowles:          Yeah! Stay-at-home. Just moved here, had been here for about a year. Met some other mommies at school that loved the pumpkins, and had said “oh, I’d love to go into the field and get stems with you.” And I’m thinking ok… Well as soon as Richard…Richard from Richard Blooms he came back in January with 12,000 dollars in orders, I immediately called my friends and said, “I need help.”



Steve Strauss:            Hi! I’m Steve Strauss, USA Today’s Senior Small Business Columnist. And author [00:00:30] of the Small Business Bible and you’re listening to the Post Some Love series on Bank of America’s small business podcast. This is the series where we speak with small business owners about their journey and share some of their great customer reviews. This episode of Post Some Love features Daria Knowles of Hot Skwash. Located just outside of beautiful Portland, Oregon, Hot Skwash by Daria is a family business that designs and manufactures high-end couture tabletop décor. It was a business that evolved from a modest home-based hobby selling crafts to family and friends, to a 9,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that employs over 20 people, and distributes their home décor to over 500 independent retailers as well as some really big-name clients, like Gump’s and a whole lot more. So, Daria, great to have you on the show!

Daria Knowles:          Thank you.


Steve Strauss:            Why don’t you tell us, just to start with, a little bit about yourself, how long have you been in business, that kind of thing.


Daria Knowles:          Well, I’m originally from the East Coast. And, I was a stay-at-home mom, two small children, and I decided, how can I make a little extra money? Really, just a little mad money, and…


Steve Strauss:            Had you ever been an entrepreneur before?


Daria Knowles:          No, when I was little I used to knit and sew mittens, and I used to knit sweaters and sell them because I’ve always been, sort of, “what can I make?” And my mom taught me to knit when I was very, very little. And I’ve always been in love with textiles, and fabric, and yarn. And honestly, at the time I was living in Arizona with two small kids and I saw this fabric pumpkin with a stick stem, and I was sort of looking at lots of fabrics at that time as well, because we moved into a new house and I wanted drapes, and I wasn’t going to pay a fortune for the drapes. So, I really started admiring all the different types of high-end fabrics. So, when I saw this pumpkin, I thought “wow, this is so cool. What a great idea! It’s so simple, though. Why didn’t I think of that?”


Steve Strauss:            So, obviously you’re a crafty person.


Daria Knowles:          Yeah, I am.


Steve Strauss:          You’ve done that for fun at home, things like that.


Daria Knowles:          Yep, yep. I do have an art history background and growing up on the East Coast my father would take me to the museums and the MET all the time. He was definitely a lover of the arts. And, I do think that that was sort of influential. So, as I saw this, I’m thinking “how could I play with this?” And so, I sort of experimented and created this velvet pumpkin and got a real pumpkin stem. And you know, “wow this is great, I love it, it’s so fun” and my friends thought they were the coolest thing. So, I just started making them and doing little home shows by collecting stems that were on the ground in October after the majority of the pumpkins had been collected. And so there was the first pumpkin, really. And once I moved to Oregon, some of my friends here said, “you should put them in a store.” I’m thinking, really? And, so I did, and then I went to one little teeny, tiny farm and the owner said “you should really take those to R Blooms” and I’m thinking what’s R Blooms? You know, I’ve been here a year. And so, I did, and I brought in a little book and a couple samples and said, “oh, I have these pumpkins, it’s just a little home thing,” but I was told maybe you might like them. And they loved them. Richard Bloom came to the house, and at the time, I had pumpkins all over the table because they were in one store and they said “these pumpkins are the hottest thing ever.”


Steve Strauss:            So, I got to say, I was telling you this off the air, my wife is an interior designer and she loves your product. And if people want to know what we’re talking about, because it’s a little hard to imagine it if you haven’t seen it. You should go to Daria’s website which is, which is, and then you can see a picture of her incredible designs. Because they’re really, very beautiful. They’re velvet pumpkins, and corn, and cashmere and different products like that. And so, it’s really evolved. So, you start out with one store…


Daria Knowles:          One store…


Steve Strauss:            And I wonder because a lot of people might see a pumpkin in an art store, and maybe think “oh, that’s a beautiful pumpkin” and maybe even make one at home. But, what was it that compelled you to try and turn that into a business?


Daria Knowles:          Well, initially it was there was no intention to start a business. It was really, like I said, just a little pocket money for a stay-at-home mom. And at the time it was 2008, the market was horrific, but I was doing these little home shows and people loved them and then I dabbled in a couple little stores, and Richard picked it up, and he said…


Steve Strauss:          And Richard is…


Daria Knowles:          Richard from Richard Bloom’s…


Steve Strauss:          Ah, okay.


Daria Knowles:          And, he said “you have done it! This is couture tabletop.” And I thought, “okay… You’re kidding me!” But, he took them to Atlanta, which is the premiere gift and home furnishings show. At the time, he was the creative director for an ornament line, and just wanted the pumpkins as display, and said “I just want them as a backdrop.”  Well, once he brought them there and buyers across the country saw them, they were literally running up to the showroom – “where do I get these pumpkins?” And, he calls me and says, “I think we’re going to have to take some orders on these pumpkins, and he came home with 12,000 dollars in orders.


Steve Strauss:          That’s the kind of story you love to hear.


Daria Knowles:          Crazy.


Steve Strauss:          Crazy great, right? How old were your kids at the time?


Daria Knowles:          My son was probably six, and my daughter was eleven.


Steve Strauss:          So, you were a stay-at-home mom at that time?


Daria Knowles:          Yeah, stay-at-home. Just moved here, had been here for about a year. Met some other mommies at school that loved the pumpkins and had said “oh I’d love to go in the field and get stems with you” and I’m thinking, okay… Well as soon as he came back in January with 12,000 dollars in orders, I immediately called my friends and said, “I need help.” And so, it started in the kitchen, I had one other gal that helped me. And once I fulfilled orders for the following fall, then more stores started seeing them as they travelled across the United States. And started seeing… “oh I saw these in Chicago, I saw these in Arizona…” and they started calling me, and the business grew. And I had 13 women in my kitchen, you could not walk through the house.


Steve Strauss:            So, let’s get to that in a second, the name of the show is Post Some Love, and what I’d like to do is read one of the online reviews we found about your business. And have you comment and tell us what you think about it. “Your pumpkins are the perfect addition to any fall décor, mine is a tiny one but I love it. I have seen many knock-offs but none display the careful craftsmanship as yours.”  And I’ve seen your pumpkins as well, and your other products, they’re really beautifully made and very well done. Did it take a long time to perfect what you were doing, at the start?


Daria Knowles:          Yes, it really did. I think that they’ve definitely evolved. When we first started making them, it was “we have to make it look seamless. We have to make it look natural. We have to make it look like that pumpkin stem is really truly growing out of the velvet. And I think that it took off so ferociously because it sort of tricks the mind. We’ve married this very high-end, luxury silk velvet with a natural creation. Mother earth, you know this mother nature has its natural stem and it’s beautiful in its own right, and you pair them and it sort of tricks the eye. And everybody loves pumpkins. I think there’s a sensibility about pumpkins that takes people back to their childhood. Every October when they go to that pumpkin field, and they see pumpkins, and it’s just a joyful time.


Steve Strauss:            Well, let me read another review then. Apropos of that. “Love Hot Skwash pumpkins, I have an addiction to them year-round.”

                    That’s exactly what you’re saying, right?


Daria Knowles:          Yeah, there’s something about pumpkins, in general. So, I think that we’re fortunate to have found that niche. The pumpkin then, we were waiting to see what was left over from the pumpkin fields to get stems. Then we realized, people are really falling in love with these stems! How do we get great stems? So, we had to sort of evolve and talk to our farmers and decide, well can you grow just the right varieties for certain stems and they absolutely thought we were crazy! You know, they were just - “what do you want?”


Steve Strauss:            So, how did you go… I’m always interested in how someone scales a business. You weren’t an entrepreneur, obviously in your heart you’re an entrepreneur, but at that time you were learning about business. So, Richard Bloom came back from his show with 12,000 orders… 12,000 dollars in orders or 12,000 orders?


Daria Knowles:          12,000 dollars in orders.


Steve Strauss:            And what did you do? How did you decide to scale your business at that point?


Daria Knowles:          Well, first it was- what do we name it?


Steve Strauss:            You weren’t even at that place yet?


Daria Knowles:          We were just pumpkins by Daria. And so, people kept saying, “these pumpkins are so hot, they’re so hot.” And I’m thinking, ooh hot squash, that’s very catchy. That was easy, and my husband is really into computers and web, and so he’s like we can make a little website so people can look at the product. We had no intention of selling direct we were just going to be with stores. So I was learning as I was going but my gut told me, you want to make sure you’re focusing on this niche market. And Richard was incredibly helpful in encouraging me to stay high end. It’s a very luxurious looking product, focus on marketing to luxury stores… “You should do Atlanta.” So, I thought okay, I gotta go find velvet. Then it was sourcing velvet wholesale, and what are we filling it with? And how do we get the raw materials wholesale? And where do we get our tags? Where do we get the little gun that puts the label...? I mean, everything! It’s comical. I used to drive my minivan down to Grand and Benedicts to fill it with bags of peanuts and drive it home!


Steve Strauss:            So, you started out as small as you can start, part time, at home.


Daria Knowles:          Small as you can. I would go and pick up stems from local farms, I used to bring them home and I used to dry them in the oven, and the whole house would smell like manure. And the kids – “what are you making mom?” And it was ridiculous!


Steve Strauss:            Right. Daria, one of the things I really like about your business is that there’s a sense of community about it. From the beginning, you hired other moms and they came to work with and for you. Why don’t you tell me about that?


Daria Knowles:          That is true. Once Richard Bloom took them to Atlanta and came back with some orders we realized that, okay, this could potentially grow. We’re not even trying, and we have to ship out of state now. So, I literally drove up to the Safeway and saw my girlfriend Karen. She’s selling Girl Scout cookies with her daughter, and I roll down the window, and I’m like “Karen! How much do you love the pumpkins?” And she says “what’s going on?” And I said well, I need you to come to my house on Monday. And so, she came, and so my other good friend Lanie, and I had Karen, and Karen’s like “well, why don’t we call Shannon,” like “okay.” And so, then we get more orders, well we need a shipper, and then we need somebody to sign and tag, the more we tried to present it as this professional, beautiful, quality product we realized- “oh well we need somebody to help us with this, and we need someone to help us with this.” I mean, we used to just call it the stitch and bitch. I mean, we were having so much fun. I mean, they didn’t even care, it wasn’t work. The kids would get on the bus at 7:30 in the morning, and the moms would come to the house at 2:30/3 o’clock. The bus driver would literally drop off 10, 12 kids at my house. And the foyer was the shipping. They’d drop off their backpacks, the shoes, I have two huge 150-pound Mastiffs. The peanuts are falling over, and Lisa who is doing the shipping is thinking – “something’s gotta give here.” So, the kids would run in, have their snacks, go out, jump on the trampoline, and the moms would work until 4:30/5 o’clock, go home, and I would say maybe 4 or 5 of them, they’d come back at night 7:30/8 o’clock, and we’d be making pumpkins until 11 o’clock… We’d drink wine and watch movies!


Steve Strauss:            How fun was that, right? Well, you know, there’s lots of ways to run a small business. That’s how you should run a small business.


Daria Knowles:          Well, you know that was the start!


Steve Strauss:            And you know, people could be in your situation and hire people and have a very assembly line kind of thing, but you clearly went in the complete opposite direction to create a community that was invested in you, and your success, and in the product’s success, right?


Daria Knowles:          I didn’t realize how important that was early on. I just knew, I don’t know anybody. I have a few friends, and they know people. And when we were having so much fun doing it, and people were buying it and loving it, we soon realized this recipe seems to be important. And so-and-so’s husband is out of work, and it’d be great if she could make a little cash. And I had like 3 or 4 women in the neighborhood that were just so grateful to have any money coming in. So that became also a strong reason, so I had women within a 1 mile radius some of them walked, some of them drove. The kids came, they’d help sort pumpkins. It became a lot of fun for the whole community of West Lynn. We expanded into the garage, and neighbors thought – “what are they doing in there?” But it was fun, and we loved that. We loved being all part of something that was taking off. It felt special, and they all loved being part of that.


Steve Strauss:            Well, we do call this the Post Some Love podcast, and clearly when you love something so much, people get it.


Daria Knowles:            I think positivity spreads, it’s infectious. I think you put the positive out there and if it’s natural and you love it, other people will too. It’s worked for us.


Steve Strauss:            Fantastic. One of the things that I love you did from the start and it was very smart on your part is to know what you’re doing, and who your trying to sell it to. And creating a brand around that. Because one thing I always say is a great brand is very specific, and doesn’t attract everybody, it may even turn some people off, it may not be their thing. Someone may not want high-end beautiful, luxury pumpkins for their home because they have a different kind of home. But for the people who it does attract, what you’ve done is hit that right on the head.


Daria Knowles:            I think that Richard definitely encouraged me, but there was a common sense about that point, that early on I saw what types of stores were attracted to it. And I saw between the first time Richard brought it and the first time we did the show in Atlanta there were knock-offs. And I thought ooh, okay, that’s flattering but that’s maybe not a great thing. They’re going to saturate my idea, we have to be the Rolls Royce of this category. So, we tried to get into the premier stores Gump’s, Niemen Marcus, and we were successful very early on, getting into those stores. So, we secured that we’re the Rolls Royce of this category.


Steve Strauss:            Fantastic, let’s read another review then. “Hot Skwash is the original. I’ve seen others try and copy this amazing creativity, and they fall short every time I see one. I’m needing one more for my collection, the feathers are amazing”  So, have knock-offs been an issue for you in your business?


Daria Knowles:            Yes and no. Yes, it’s happened, nobody really is in love with the process. They’re creating a commodity. And I don’t want it to be a commodity. I really am catering to people who love it. And like I said, I didn’t start a business to support my family. I started this business and when that I realized I’m employing people in 2008 when their husbands can’t get work and stores are actually spending money on my product and they’re up 20%. I’m feeling like this is more about them than it is about me making money. And for them to continue to be successful, we have to care about this product.


Steve Strauss:            I think that’s true for all great small businesses, that’s one thing I have seen. Is, look we all like to make money, making money is great. But making money for the great small business it’s a goal, but certainly isn’t usually the main goal. It’s about creating something your passionate about, or making a difference, those are the things it sounds like have been important to you.


Daria Knowles:            I’ve been fortunate enough to let that be what drives me. As soon I saw somebody else trying to create a crappy pumpkin with velveteen and a plastic stem. I thought, okay, well we really got to elevate it. We have to continue to find ways to have the most spectacular stems. Richard said oh, you have to sign them in gold, everyone has to be signed. Then I came out with Swarovski crystal embellished pumpkins when we started selling to Niemen Marcus, and then we had fully beaded pumpkins that were all hand beaded, and then I started doing one of a kind pumpkins with designer Valentino and Pucci.


Steve Strauss:            So how big is your business now? I mentioned in the intro that you have a 9000-square foot facility.


Daria Knowles:            Nine thousand square foot facility.


Steve Strauss:            How many people do you employ?


Daria Knowles:            We have anywhere from 20 to 25 depending on the time of the year.


Steve Strauss:            And mostly it’s other moms, is that right?


Daria Knowles:            They are other moms, now they are working moms! But, I still have three people that are original moms that started in the house with me. And then I have other people, part time / full time sewers, people who just do crystals, my shipping department, it’s a big learning curve.


Steve Strauss:            So, I’m speaking with Daria Knowles of Hot Skwash by Daria and you mentioned the learning curve, what have been the challenges for you along the way?


Daria Knowles:            I think every time we grow, and take on something new. We have to go through the process of- is this going to work? If we’re going to invest in the labor in putting Swarovski crystal on this, how do we get them on there? How long should it take? What are the right tools? What is the right glue, if you will. How much should it cost me to make this, how am I going to price this? Oh, I love making that, but it takes 2 hours to make it.


Steve Strauss:            Right, so is it trial and error mostly?


Daria Knowles:            A lot of trial and error, shipping is huge especially when you’re dealing with cooperates, they have all these specifications and compliances and the first time I had a compliance manual that’s 36 pages, I’m thinking do I need a lawyer?  I’m still just that stay at home mom, but you get savvy fast.


Steve Strauss:            So, one of the things that’s very interesting about businesses is often people will start a business because they’re passionate about something, so they find a pumpkin that they love and they decide to turn it into a business. That part of your business, no one can teach you that. How to make this beautiful pumpkin in front of me right now is something you’ve learned and perfected. But there’s so many other things that go into running a business that allow you to make and sell your pumpkins. And that is the hiring, the firing, labor, insurance, taxes, marketing. Did you bring in help, did you hire experts, did you figure it out, what did you do?


Daria Knowles:            I do think that there’s some common sense that is innate to an entrepreneur. We didn’t pay rent in the house, but when we started and we had to hire and fire. It was natural. I had all these other women who had no business background, I’m like well we need to have a team that’s cohesive and has to work well together. And that became apparent very quickly and we had created a community within Hot Skwash that we loved so much working together, that we were all willing to work harder at finding out the answers. Because we wanted to continue this team and the success. So with shipping we had FedEx come in and say “you need to tell us the best way”, and once they saw how much we were shipping then they agreed to negotiate rates every year. And so, you learn as you go for sure. As far as doing ads and what not, I think for me it’s natural. When I am paging through, I stop at something that’s eye catching. And I always had this idea that if you want people to think your something special, you better present yourself as something special. So, we went right in and did a full-page ad,


Steve Strauss:            Where did you do that?


Daria Knowles:            In any of the market magazines, pre-show magazines. Like, we’re going to do a full page.


Steve Strauss:            So, you just went for it?


Daria Knowles:            Yeah, you know as long as it looks good, they’ll stop and read it, they’ll read it if there stopped visually. And so that was sort of common sense to me, and people came in. We learned early on that our product and our print got people to come to see us. They had never seen anything like it before I think it was a combination of its unique home décor piece, and just showing it. Like this is what we make, not a lot of words, just - Hot Skwash and come see us here - and that was enough. I think if you present it in a luxurious way, and have these great ads then people are going to come and that worked for us. We were fortunate enough to learn that. Then we would do some trade magazines, a little bit, and then I got on Instagram and really started learning like people are really responding to these images.


Steve Strauss:            Sounds to me, like the keys of your success is, if I can distill it a little bit, is One, mentorship is really important to you, right?


Daria Knowles:            Yes, staying on track, for sure.


Steve Strauss:            Second, teamwork, you’ve created a great team. And third, there’s this passionate word of mouth about your business. Is that accurate?


Daria Knowles:            Yeah, I think that deciding early on who do you want to be, who do you want to cater to, who is your customer, what’s your demographic. That was very, very important early on. If we want to maintain that demographic, and we want to cater to that niche market, we have to create this exceptional niche product: very handmade, incredible quality, we have to keep elevating it, we have to keep coming out with new things, people love the brand for the customer service and for the quality. So, whatever we bring them, has to possess those same handmade quality. And they trust the brand. We had a choice early on, the same year that we picked up Niemen Marcus, we were approached by another big name that had many, many stores but a totally different demographic, it could’ve been incredibly lucrative. We turned them down.


Steve Strauss:            Because…?


Daria Knowles:            It would’ve been one and done, had we thrown the seat up, then it would’ve been good for maybe one or two seasons. Then we would’ve lost our high-end market entirely.


Steve Strauss:            Well you clearly know who your market is, and who you want to market to. And people, in that market, really respond to your business. In fact, let me ask you about some of the reviews you’ve gotten, I’ve been reading a couple of these reviews, here’s one more. In fact, how about have you read it.


Daria Knowles:            “Just when I think that Daria simply can’t top what she’s done already, she comes up with a stunning creation unlike anything before it, absolutely amazing”


Steve Strauss:            So, right, is that kind of what you get from people?


Daria Knowles:            I do, and I think that at a certain point once we did the pumpkins and were in Neman’s and Gump’s it’s like okay, well what’s next? The fear of, what if I can’t deliver something new? It encourages me to never just sit idly and assume that, oh well this should be good for three years, I always wanted to bring something new. And I think it has to be of that level of oh wow.


Steve Strauss:            To the point that people in fact will write reviews about your business online, how important are reviews for your business?


Daria Knowles:            I think that is what keeps me going.


Steve Strauss:            And why is that?


Daria Knowles:            I am doing this for them. When they don’t love it anymore, I’m not doing it anymore. Because my job is… I love employing people and I love creating that community for everyone, but the morale and the bigger reason if they’re not loving it anymore, then I’m just a commodity at that point. It’s not special.


Steve Strauss:            The fact that people not only buy it, and like it, and put it in their home, but actually go online and share their experience with others, is kind of amazing. Right? This idea of reviews… You know I mentioned to you, my dad was an entrepreneur he started off with one carpet store and he grew it to 14, and then at the end of his career he was back to one giant carpet warehouse. He was marketing wizard, my dad, really, very successful, and at the end of his career when he had one giant carpet warehouse, his marketing had boiled down to one thing. He had a big banner it said “our word of mouth advertising starts with you”.


Daria Knowles:            It’s true!


Steve Strauss:            And word of mouth we all know is the most important kind of advertising, but these days it takes a different form than when my dad was an entrepreneur. You know, it shows up as online reviews, shares, and things like that. You clearly get that from your business you’re your clientele.


Daria Knowles:            We do, and that was a huge learning curve for me, because I can’t even do a word document. I have the compute skills of someone who’s never seen a computer. I mean it’s terrible! For my husband, this is his world. For me getting on Instagram and Facebook, and doing anything online was a little, ehhhh… But once I saw I post a picture on Instagram and I get likes, and people love it and they share it. Or they’ll send me emails – “I bought your pumpkin.” And I really started to understand how unique and how special it is. And after 10 years doing one-of-a-kind and having people call me to do custom one-of-a-kinds, it’s special. I know this is why I’m doing it, these people love it, and if my market shrinks, that’s fine, I’m fine with that. Because I really, I don’t want to sell out. I don’t want to manufacture in China and just stick a stem on it.


Steve Strauss:            You won’t get word of mouth, you won’t get reviews, you won’t get love, those things, right? If you just did it the other way.


Daria Knowles:            It’s just a thing. And I love creating. I think that that’s the selfish part of it, I love creating, what can I make out of this? I’ll go to a trade show and see a jeweler. There’s this jeweler Tzuri Gueta from Paris and he does silicone and silk jewelry. And I saw it in New York, and I thought “that is the coolest thing! How can I put that on my pumpkin? And I had this beautiful coral, Valentino fabric, and this Tzuri Gueta almost sculpture coral, and [00:30:00] I put it on top of it, and it’s magnificent! And I look up Tzuri Gueta and he’s prolific and Paris and works with Gaultier and all the high fashion designers, and I’m wow! This is so exciting! Or I’ll find fascinators from Germany that I put on the pumpkins, and they’re like these giant feather hats, and people respond. And I learned, you have to create that drama. The more creative you can be, people want to be surprised when they go to trade shows. I want people to come to my booth in Atlanta just to see it, even if they don’t buy pumpkins. If that makes them happy, then I’m happy!


Steve Strauss:            Awesome. Well Daria, we’re just about out of time. If people want to know more about your creations, see them, get them, where might they go find you and them?


Daria Knowles:            Nationally, well, you can always go online at Gump’s, Love Feast, R Blooms,, small, high-end boutiques across the country.


Steve Strauss:            And at


Daria Knowles:  !


Steve Strauss:            Great. And Daria Knowles thank you for being with us today.


Daria Knowles:            Thank you for having me!


Steve Strauss:            And congratulations on all your success.


Daria Knowles:            Thank you!


Steve Strauss:            Bank of America is committed to helping small business owners achieve lasting growth. And is now asking everyone for their support helping small businesses grow and asking them to Post Some Love. We know that positive online reviews help drive small business success. So, we’re encouraging everyone to do just that. Choose your favorite small business, and write a positive online review. Bank of America does not endorse or guarantee the perspectives, the advice, or the products or services sold by any business referenced within this podcast. Copyright 2018. Bank of America Corporation.

Women are gaining personal and financial power, yet the income and savings challenges they face are real, under-represented and often misunderstood.


A new study by Merrill Lynch in partnership with Age Wave outlines the financial challenges women will face throughout their lifetimes and provides real solutions for funding the present and future. The study offers key insights built on the following observations:


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The wealth gap is the greatest challenge we’re not talking about: What exactly is the wealth gap? It’s defined as the difference between women’s and men’s total sum of all sources of financial resources, including earnings, investments, retirement savings and additional assets such as property. Today, the average single woman has three times less wealth than the average single man. The Merrill Lynch study provides key learnings about how this is possible and what women can do to elevate their financial standing.


Women’s No. 1 financial regret: 41 percent of women report that their biggest financial regret is not investing more. Investing provides the opportunity for women to cultivate their wealth in ways beyond a paycheck. According to the study, 59 percent of women report that they are not doing a good job using investing to pursue their financial goals. Women say that not having the knowledge to invest is their number one barrier (60 percent) followed by not having the confidence to do so (34 percent).


Women need to plan for a 100+ year life. Preparing for a long life requires understanding the cost of retirement, building a plan to meet key savings goals and achieving those goals. The typical retirement costs $738,000, yet only 9% of American women have $300,000 or more saved. On average, women live five years longer than men. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that 77 percent of people who are widowed are women and that by age 85, women outnumber men two to one. According to the study and 81 percent of centenarians are women.


The pay gap accumulates over the course of a woman’s lifetime. When a woman reaches retirement age, she may have earned a cumulative $1,055,000 less than a man who has stayed continuously in the workforce. The study notes that for every $1 a man makes, a woman in a similar position earns 82 cents, with women of color facing even greater disparities.  Sadly, these numbers do not demonstrate how the pay gap accumulates and compounds over the course of a lifetime – especially when earnings are invested. Work disruptions and interruptions – often triggered by the need to care for children, parents and spouses – greatly affect a woman’s potential earnings over her lifetime.


Read more insights and learn about important methods to address financial challenges in the full report: Women & Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line

Glaze Fire Interview PodcastThis week on the Post Some Love podcast, Steve Strauss interviews Mary Loveless of Glaze Fire, a paint-your-own pottery studio bringing creativity to Los Feliz. Listen to her story and the importance of positive online reviews.


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Post Some Love: Glaze Fire Podcast Transcript


Steve Strauss:            When you get a review that is less than stellar, does it make you contact the person?


Mary Loveless:            I’ve only gotten three.

Steve  Strauss:            You've only gotten three. Well that says a lot about you.


Mary Loveless:            And I can like recite verbatim all of them to you probably right now.


Steve Strauss:            So, obviously, your reviews are important to your business.


Mary Loveless:            Of course.



Steve Strauss:            Hi, I'm Steve Strauss, U.S.A. Today's senior small business columnist and author of the Small Business Bible and you're listening to the “Post Some Love” series on the Bank of America's small business podcast.  This is the series where we speak with small business owners about their journey and share some of their great customer reviews. I am delighted to welcome to the show Mary Loveless, co-owner of Glaze Fire to the “Post Some Love” series. Glaze Fire is a paint-your-own pottery studio created by cousins Mary and Sara Loveless.  Now nearing its third year in business, Glaze Fire is infusing creativity and individuality into their Los Feliz community in Los Angeles. They play host to countless birthday parties, baby showers, girls’ night out, that kind of thing, but also to families and first dates and celebrities as well as, these days, a younger crowd looking for a creative release. This is an artistic boutique and, as evidenced by their online reviews, which we will get to and share some today, the studio and the business seems to be as hot as their kiln.  So, Mary welcome to the show.  Great to have you.


Mary Loveless:            Thank you.  Thank you so much.


Steve Strauss:            So, why don't we started beginning?  How did you get started?  How did you decide to start this business and what's your background such that, you know, this is what you wanted to do?



Mary Loveless:            I went to art school.  So, business kind of is not part of the curriculum. I did take one course called entrepreneurship and I, at the time, was like, this won't apply to me.  I won’t need this. 


Steve Strauss:            Famous last words, right?


Mary Loveless:            Exactly.  So, like most Los Angeles people, I kind of did a little of this, a little of that all in an artistic kind of realm, you know, drawing menus on chalkboards fancy restaurants calligraphy on invitations, just random things, art instruction for children was a big part of that and, just over time, got tired of hustling and hoping I sold a painting every month and, instead, needed something a little more steady.  So, as far as small businesses go, this one is at least still in my pocket. We're still doing art, yeah.


Steve Strauss:            Do you have an entrepreneurial background at all?  Does it run in the family?  Did your parents do it or not?


Mary Loveless:            Yes, in college too, I mean, my first kind of money making schemes were art instruction for kids’ camps and, you know, kind of babysitting on the next level and I did that in college and would support my work-study with that kind of work and my dad left his lucrative, steady job and started his own firm, which was a risk, when we were young and I remember it being like a ‘hope it works’ kind of thing but, yeah, I guess nothing ventured, nothing gained.


Steve Strauss:            Mary, I'm wondering if you could tell us about how you teamed up with your cousin and what each of you brings to the partnership and to the business.


Mary Loveless:            So, Sara was kind of a Hail Mary pass for me.  My original business partner in this enterprise chickened out once it looked like it was all going to happen and left me in Limbo and I called Sara and was like, hey, this is really crazy but, if you're not doing anything, want to move to Los Angeles and start a business, and she was like, I'll be there in three weeks. So, and then she came in like slept on my couch for six months and we figured this out.


Steve Strauss:            So, you're the artist. You have an art background.


Mary Loveless:            Exactly.


Steve Strauss:            What is Sara’s background?


Mary Loveless:            She is like a professional organizer, actually and literally, I mean like literally.  She also has a closet organizing business called The Tidy Project and she helps people with like severe hoarding issues also.  So she's a very, not only can she organize your things, she can help you organize your thoughts.  She's a very level-headed, rational, very well-thought-through, whereas I make a snap decision and I'm not rethinking it.  It's done and so that was one of the perks of being from the large Loveless family home that you can call people you trust and they'll show up.


Steve Strauss:            Well, and that's fantastic.  One thing I know about a great business and a great partnership is: each part of the team fills in the gaps of the other and it turned out, in your case, as you said, serendipitous that you have one person that has the art background, one person who has the organizing background.  I’m sure she can do some of the art and you can do some of the organizing but, to have different people who can do different things and bring it, makes the whole a whole lot stronger, I think.


Mary Loveless:            Yeah, we're both each the firstborn of our families and our dads are Irish twins in birth order and also in looks and kind of personalities.  So we're very similar.  I mean, she got to L.A. and we were driving I was like, okay, I'm going to drive you over to Vermont and Hillhurst and we’re just going to walk up and down.  Our store has to be somewhere on these two streets and she was driving us over and she got in the right lane right when it was allowed for extra non-traffic and she started zipping through L.A. and I was like, yes, this is going to work. Like, she's just like me.  She’s type A.  I don't even have to, it's just how we were raised and that compatibility can't have been taught except for that we were raised together, essentially.


Steve Strauss:            Oh, that’s fantastic.  So what brought you to what obviously is the pottery studio and working with your cousin? How did you actually come up with this idea and then place it where you placed it in Los Feliz?



Mary Loveless:            The Los Feliz location is a basic business school exercise.  We drew a five mile radius map around all of our competition and Los Feliz was the only big hole in Los Angeles.


Steve Strauss:            Very smart, uh-huh.


Mary Loveless:            So that kind of sorted itself out.  It didn't hurt that it happens to be in a really hip, fun location. The community respects and wants to support independent mom and pops.  So that was just serendipitous.  That was more just like a math chart. I mean, even in my business plan, when I was trying to get financing, that was like a big color printout with all the circles. So that was its own thing but, once figuring that out, it then took six or seven months of walking the streets every day before we found our actual brick and mortar location.


Steve Strauss:            And what was it about a pottery studio that made you, you know, there's all sorts of things people can do with their art and that's kind of a unique and different one?


Mary Loveless:            Well, this one is just facilitating other people to create art. We do sell custom paintings and you can commission us to make something personalized for a gift but, mostly, it's people who are painting their own projects.  So, in that sense, it's more just, you know, people have more of a connection to something that they made, obviously, than something that they're just picking up off the shelf to purchase.


Steve Strauss:            Well, I mean, it's funny.  Anyone who's done it, I've done it, knows what a fun experience it can be and I'm sure that it doesn't hurt that Los Feliz is a real family-oriented community these days, right.  In fact, here, one of the things we do in this podcast is we share some love, right, some of the reviews and things you got online.  So I’m going to read a couple of these to you throughout the interview and just get your comments.  Let me read one that we found. ‘What a fun place!  They definitely understand how to create a warm and inviting environment.  My daughter and I had a great time painting and talking it would be the perfect place for a painting party.  These kind of small businesses make the world a better place.’ 

Kind of nice to hear that kind of thing, right?


Mary Loveless:            It is. It really is, especially because this is a very community-oriented business.  We are there all the time.  It's a labor-intensive business too.  The kiln has to be loaded, unloaded.  The pieces have to be dipped in the glaze and then prepped for the kiln.  Not only do we hope we give each person love but each, piece pottery piece gets handled by our staff, like multiple times.  We appreciate that because it is such enmeshed, engrossed, you know, I guess the non-millennial remote.  It's the opposite of the remote commute job.


Steve Strauss:            Right.  Interested in something you just said about it's a very community based-business. Was that the plan from the start and how do you nurture and foster community?


Mary Loveless:            I don't know that it was the plan but it definitely was an aim.  Part of our financing is through the Small Business Administration and our loan is called the Community Advantage Loan.  So, obviously, we geared and we knew that this would be part of enriching the community in which we're in.  It's a meeting place.  It’s a, just the fact that we have our doors open seven days a week for twelve hours a day means that there's always a smiling, friendly face for you to go and talk about art with in the neighborhood and we do have, this neighborhood is full of fun local characters.  I sometimes feel like I'm in The Truman Show.  You know, like people walking their dogs.  They, like, stop.  I’m like, hey, Bob, how's the kids, you know.  It's really great.


Steve Strauss:            Now, that’s community.  That’s awesome.


Mary Loveless:            Yeah, exactly.  I mean, we do have a little water bowl out in front.  The dogs all stop and, yeah. It's, I even have friends who are like, they don't really, necessarily make plans with me.  They just know I'm going to be at the shop and come in.


Steve Strauss:            Well, and that can really be unique in Los Angeles.  I grew up in Southern California and, a lot of times, people come there who weren't from there and they don't feel a sense of community. They don't feel grounded but most Los Feliz is a smaller little subsection of Los Angeles and.

Mary Loveless:            Right, it’s a walking neighborhood.


Steve Strauss:            Right, it's a walking neighborhood and the fact that you created a sense of community is unique.  That's got to be a nice selling point for your business.


Mary Loveless:            The walking neighborhood thing is so different from most neighborhoods and L.A.  I can walk to work.  I can walk to two movie theaters.  I can walk to three grocery stores.  It's really unusual for most of L.A.


Steve Strauss:            Now, you're in business for almost three years, is that accurate?


Mary Loveless:            That is accurate, September, 2015 we opened.


Steve Strauss:            Congratulations.  That's no small feat, right?


Mary Loveless:            It’s not, no. Thank you.


Steve Strauss:            What have been the challenges along the way for you, would you say?


Mary Loveless:            Just like with every business, we've made mistakes.  It took us maybe seven or eight months before we found the location and, during that time, we kind of explored other avenues within the same kind of umbrella of ways we could make it work without a brick and mortar location and we made some big purchases that probably were not necessary, I would.  If I could like go back and we had bought like a fancy camera, thinking we were going to need this for our Instagram and for photographing parties and then an iPhone 6 has a camera that's as fancy as.  Anyways, so there's been some money that we've spent but I wish we hadn’t but you live and you learn.


Steve Strauss:            You know, I always counsel small businesses that you're going to make a mistake.  You're going to make several mistakes.  It's life. It's business.  That is what happens.  The key is to really try and avoid those killer expensive mistakes and it sounds like you learned your lesson.  We've all done that.  You spend too much here or there or on-ad or whatever the case may be but you're here to tell the tale, right?



Mary Loveless:            Yes, for now.


Steve Strauss:            Let me read another one of your reviews. ‘What a fun activity this was!  My wife and I went here for our fifth wedding anniversary.  I picked it because we've done paint night before and I figured a more creative, fun outlet would be really fun for us.  The staff was so kind and informative, especially to us non-sculptors.’ So that's got to be a big part of it too, that you're teaching people, maybe who’re non-artists how to have fun with the process.


Mary Loveless:            Exactly.  The thing that is really nice, though, we have 400, at any given time, choices of pottery to choose from and it's anything from just a blank, circle plate to a plate that's printed like a sea turtle with little bitty squares of the shells.  So the difference between those, I would say, is a blank plate is sometimes harder. You have the whole realm of what could happen on this plate.  Whereas, the sea turtle, it's more like a paint by numbers paint night kind of experience where you're really just relaxing and filling in with the paintbrush. So we see the whole gamut of that skill level and can accommodate for anything.  I just posted to our Instagram today a painting of an octopus that is incredible.  I can't do anything like that.  It's really fun, also, for me to be able to see what comes out of the kiln but, alternatively, you could pick a Tiki mug and just paint it and like, oh, I just picked the eye color and I picked that mouth color and I.  So it's also BYOB.  So it's fun for the whole level of adults, I would say, professionals too, just chilling.


Steve Strauss:            You are listening to the Post Some Love series on the Bank of America podcast. I'm Steve Strauss and I am speaking with Mary Loveless, the co-owner of Glaze Fire in Los Angeles.  Mary, it sounds to me like you get all sorts of different people in your studio and that you maybe focus your marketing and your branding and your events, even, to different communities.  So, you bring in the kids and the families, you bring in the dates, you bring in, maybe even corporate events.  Is that accurate?


Mary Loveless:            Yes, very much so.


Steve Strauss:            Tell us about that a little bit.


Mary Loveless:            Well, I mean, when we first opened, I thought it would be primarily kids and families and we really geared towards that but just the walk-in customers looked more like me and Sara, just young adults looking for something a little more chill and something where they could connect to their friends, learn more about their friends than playing darts at the bar.  We haven't really done, in any really targeted way, traditional marketing.  I guess it's all been just the social media, the people posting reviews, the.  It's a brave new world.  I, mean we post in the Los Feliz Ledger, which is our local paper.  That's like, you know, I think they're like a super tiny, just in print like around Los Feliz.  I, yeah.  The target, that's another thing that's just been serendipitous.  We haven't really done much targeted.  We've done a couple of the post office mailers where we do the whole zip code but I think that's it.


Steve Strauss:            Well, let me read one more of those reviews that you just mentioned from the Los Feliz Ledger.  ‘We recently did a corporate team building event here and we had a blast.  It was so much fun bonding with colleagues over painting and wine, great selection of pieces and reasonably-priced, really cute atmosphere, and a very helpful staff.’ So, again and again, we keep hearing about how great your staff is and this idea of wine, so that you geared to, obviously, adults as well.


Mary Loveless:            Yes and they're right.  My staff is amazing.  Everyone who's on staff is doing their own really cool art hustle.  Like, Mia is a singer-songwriter.  Allie’s a photographer.  Morgan's a photographer.  Allie’s like a poet and she's doing this really cool eBook animation of her poetry. Becca is a model and also does custom painting and art.  It's everyone who's on staff is very in the community.  So, yes, I guess it's cool when you meet the owner but also I would say like some of my staff members are way cooler than me.  Like, I’m just the shop keep and they’re, like, going to be famous singer-songwriters.


Steve Strauss:            So you look at that.  That's one reason you're really successful: because you're giving everyone their due.


Mary Loveless:            Well, I'm very blessed and also, not only are they talented in what they do, but they're also all of the store samples are painted by them.  So you can see each personality in what they paint.  Like, Katie puts really silly faces on everything and you can go to her website and get her custom ceramics at Like, even if they’re are singing and songwriting is their thing, they're also skilled technicians at painting pottery.  It’s, like, pretty great.


Steve Strauss:            Pretty great.  So you mentioned reviews and I’d like to drill down into that a little bit because that is one of things we really focus on a lot, obviously, on the “Post Some Love” series.  How important are reviews to you?


Mary Loveless:            They’re incredibly important. If I were to get, it's the main course of feedback, I guess.  It's also, you know, a brave new world.  It's, sometimes even, for example, there's some reviews that I get that they're still positive but I'm like, oh, this is something like, oh, we can work on. It's, I mean like, as I'm in this booth right now, I’ve been looking around.  One of our reviews says that it was loud and they're right.  Like, one screaming baby in the store makes it really loud and I don't have the Miss America silence photo booth for them to step into and, even though the review was like, ‘we had a great time, we’re coming back, I can't wait,’ it still gives me anxiety.


Steve Strauss:            I'm wondering how online reviews may affect your offline world.  We've talked quite a bit about reviews and how they're affecting your business.  Los Feliz is a, as you said, small community. It’s a walking community and, for people who are not in Los Feliz, they may not know about your business.  So it seems to me that one of the benefits of getting reviews online is that people, in a more broad sense, can find out about your business. Has that been proven to be true for you?


Mary Loveless:            Yes, definitely, I would say, especially through the other social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, that's a little more true.  If, when Bella Thorne posts about painting pottery, obviously, a whole lot more people see it than who are just scrolling through my feed.  So I think the reviews definitely more just corroborate the other exposure.  They're like, what is this, and then they type it and you always kind of like, am I going to go to this place that the celebrity says is cool.  Let's check the Yelp reviews first.  I think it's more just like we've been vetted.


Steve Strauss:              Yeah but celebrity endorsements don't hurt, right?


Mary Loveless:            Of course not.  We don't ask for them.  I mean, we couldn't afford a celebrity post.  That’s insane but that's the other thing where I was saying about how it means so much more that people write these positive reviews or that they post about it without asking because that means they really, genuinely enjoyed the experience and that it meant a lot to them.  It's like the extra above and beyond.  It's really cool.


Steve Strauss:            You know, last I looked, you had 58 Yelp reviews and that's a nice number.  Do you actively seek out reviews? 


Mary Loveless:            No.


Steve Strauss:            Do you look for people to review or is it an organic thing?


Mary Loveless:            No, we don't.  Sara’s sister was one of our first reviews and I even was like, I don't know how I feel about this.  This is a little like it's cheating and I think that's the only one that's not someone that organically came in, which is really incredible because, for me, I've only left like two Yelp reviews on my whole life. One was a five star and one was, you know, I wish it could have been zero stars.  So, for people to actually go home and sit and type and post something means that they had an amazing experience, not just like an okay experience. It means that they like really, really liked it.  So that's cool.


Steve Strauss:             Yeah, I mean, think about that.  The event is over.  They’re home in their home and they think, I've got to share this experience with everybody else.  You know, I mentioned my youth in Southern California. My dad had carpet stores and he once had a giant banner in his carpet store.  It said ‘our word-of-mouth advertising starts with you’, right.  He loved word-of-mouth and, to me, these days word-of-mouth is really word-of-click.  It is online.  It is, whether it's someone forwards your e-newsletter on or they retweet your tweet or they go to your Instagram, they like what you're doing, they like you and Facebook, or give you a review, right.  That is what word-of-mouth is looking like for businesses in today's world, isn’t it?


Mary Loveless:            It is yeah, and, unfortunately, it's almost the first and only course of feedback.  You know, people are more likely to probably leave a review than they are to call me up and be like, hey, I want to tell you how great it was.


Steve Strauss:            Interesting.


Mary Loveless:            You know, isn't that weird?


Steve Strauss:            Yeah it is kind of weird.  When you get a review that's less than stellar, does it make you contact the person?


Mary Loveless:            We’ve only gotten three.


Steve Strauss:              You’ve only gotten three.  Well, that says a lot about you.


Mary Loveless:            And I can, like, recite verbatim all of them to you, probably right now. 


Steve Strauss:            So, obviously reviews are important to your business.


Mary Loveless:            Of course.


Steve Strauss:            Yeah.  When you get a positive review, though, it must feel like it validates all the hard work you've all put into this.


Mary Loveless:            It does, yeah.  It really does and, because, like I said, it's, at least if most people are like me, leaving a review means that the experience was not just great.  It was extra special and you needed to share it.  That's the only time I've ever taken the time to leave a review.  So it does mean a lot.


Steve Strauss:            Well, fantastic.  We've really enjoyed having you with us today, Mary. As I said, we're speaking with Mary Loveless, the co-founder of Glaze Fire in Los Angeles and, if you're ever there and you need an event and you got some time, head on over.  And, Mary, if people want to find you, want to find your store, learn more about how they may come participate in a great time you're having there, where should they go to find that out?


Mary Loveless:            Our website is and, on Instagram, we’re @glazefire.


Steve Strauss:            Well, fantastic.  Thank you.  Congratulations for all your success and thank you so much for being with us today.


Mary Loveless:            Thank you.  Thank you so much.  This was fun.


  Steve Strauss:  Bank of America is committed to helping small business owners achieve lasting growth and is now asking everyone for their support in helping small businesses grow by asking them to Post Some Love.  We know that positive online reviews views help drive small business success.  So we’re encouraging everyone to do just that. Choose your favorite small business and write a positive online review.  Bank of America does not endorse or guarantee the perspectives, the advice, or the products or services sold by any business referenced within this podcast. Copyright 2018, Bank of America Corporation.


This week on the Post Some Love podcast, Steve Strauss interviews David Warschawski of Warschawski, a full-service, award-winning boutique marketing communications agency. Listen to his story and the importance of positive online reviews.


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Post Some Love: Warschawski Podcast Transcript


Intro music


Steve Strauss:              David, I'm wondering if you could expand a little bit on that moment when you started the business and went off on your own.

David Warschawski:    Do you mean that time in my life when all my friends thought I was crazy?


Steve Strauss:              That time, exactly.




Steve Strauss:              Hi, I'm Steve Strauss, USA Today's senior small business columnist and author of The Small Business Bible and you're listening to the Post Some Love series on the Bank of America's small business podcast.  This is the series where we speak with small business owners about their journey and share some of their great customer reviews.  On this episode of the Post Some Love series, we're speaking with David Warschawksi of Warschawski, a national full-service marketing communications agency and a Google-certified agency partner that provides personalized care for every client.  The company has been named the U.S. Small Agency of the Year for three years in a row, including this past year, has won more than 200 industry awards for its work and, for ten years in a row, has been named one of the top U.S. agencies to work.  Warschawski was founded in 1996 and is headquartered in Baltimore.  It also has offices in New York City and Washington D.C.  Warschawski delivers the experience and expertise of a large firm coupled with the personalized attention and care of a boutique agency.  David himself was recognized as Maryland's most admired CEO by the Maryland Daily Record.  He's a published author whose works have appeared in numerous publications and who has provided expert commentary from media outlets ranging from CNBC to NPR. He also serves as a visiting professor for the Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business and has coauthored the book Building Customer Relationships through Public Relations.  David, great to have you on the show.


David Warschawski:    My pleasure.  Thanks for having me, Steve.


Steve Strauss:              So, let's start at the beginning.  How long have you been in the PR/media world and how did you get started?


David Warschawski:    Sure.  I cut my teeth in big agencies in New York City and, throughout that experience, I always felt I wanted to do it differently.  So I decided to go out on my own.  It's been over twenty years at this point and, thankfully today, we've established ourselves very nicely with lots of national awards, including the ones you so kindly mentioned: being named Small Agency of the United States for three years in a row, including this past year.


Steve Strauss:              Very impressive. So, what’s your secret?

David Warschawski:    I think a lot of it has to do with the culture that you create.  In our industry, having great people who really know what they're doing and allowing them to work hand-in-hand with the clients, the secret and part of that is why I left big agency life.  I wanted to be able to offer something different.  I wanted to be able to offer what I felt was the best of two worlds, the large agency experience and expertise but coupled with the boutique agency service and care that you get from senior folks throughout your experience with the agency.  Thankfully, we've been successful in doing that and I do think, in large part, that's part of our secret sauce.  I would say we have a second ingredient.  It is we really want marketing communications to focus on generating real, tangible business results.  Too many folks in the marketing communications industry are creating fluffy or feel-good or “looks nice” results.  That's fine but, for us, the question is what was the business goal and can we help you achieve it and that's why, whenever we sit down with a client, our first question is: what's the business goal we're trying to achieve here and how are we going to measure it, and then let us help you build a marketing communications approach that will help you achieve that business goal.


Steve Strauss:              So, that's really impressive.  I used to practice law.  I came to my senses many years ago.  I don't practice it anymore but I did do the big firm.


David Warschawski:    You're reformed, huh?


Steve Strauss:              Exactly and I did the big firm thing and then I went off my own and started a small boutique agency, small law firm, but it is hard to offer the personalized service that you want to give someone, that you can give them when you have a small business but give them the expertise of the large firms.  So the fact that you've been able to couple those two, I think, is really quite unique and so let me read one of these reviews, in fact that, we found about you and have you comment on it.  So this says ‘the Warschawski agency just gets it.  We’ve spent years bobbing around, looking for the attention that you get from a small agency that has a big agency experience without the New York City price tag.  The Warschawski agency does it all from branding to PR, design web packaging to digital and social media.  The creative team really seems to understand who we are and who our consumer is.  They have successfully perfected our brand’s rather complicated positioning and messaging.’  So that's, I would think, the kind of review and online love that you're wanting to achieve, right?


David Warschawski:    100%.  That's great validation that we're living our brand values, our clients are experiencing exactly what we're trying to put out there, and also we're helping them create business success.


Steve Strauss:              And that second point that you brought up about achieving substantial and specific and tangible business results, it's not always easy in your world.  So the fact that you focus on that, I think probably is very attractive to your clients.


David Warschawski:    100%.  Look, I'm a business owner, number one.  I also am an investor and owner of some other businesses.  So getting real business results, I know it matters and we're not doing marketing communications as a vanity project.  It is a true business function that has to move the business needle.  Otherwise the [PH] C suite is going to say it was very nice, looked good, felt good, but what did it do for us.  Was the money well spent?  And, especially in today's bottom line-driven world and also in our constantly [PH] on-world, you really have to focus on generating real, tangible business results that are measurable, that you can share with your clients


Steve Strauss:              Did you grow up in a small business or entrepreneurial family?  When did the entrepreneurship bug strike you?


David Warschawski:    I was very fortunate.  I grew up in a household where my father was a top-level business management consultant, very entrepreneurial, encouraged me throughout to learn about all different facets of business, and, when I decided to go out on my own, he and my mother were two of the biggest supporters I had in that endeavor.


Steve Strauss:              David, I'm wondering if you could expand a little bit on that moment when you started the business, when you left the big firm and the security the big firm and the nice paycheck every two weeks and the benefits and all those things and went off on your own. What went into that decision and what was it like for you, personally to become an entrepreneur?


David Warschawski:    You mean that time in my life when all my friends thought I was crazy?


Steve Strauss:              That time, exactly.


David Warschawski:    So, I was a young guy under thirty and I worked in the number one large agency in New York City working on some of the highest profile pieces of business but, in my gut, I had that feeling. I wanted to do things differently and the gut beat out the rational part and I would tell most entrepreneurs, if you're a good entrepreneur, listen to your gut.  It knows.  You can use rationalization to make almost anything sound good but you have to live with yourself.  Listen to your gut.  So, when I decided and began having these conversations, most of my friends said, you are just out of your mind.  Why in the world would you want to do this at this point in your career?  I will say that my parents were incredibly supportive and said, we're behind you.  Go ahead and do this.  I am, now in retrospect, didn't know this at the time, wasn't married, didn't have kids, was under thirty, had a tremendous amount of energy.  It's actually a great time in your life, if you're entrepreneurial, to start a business.


Steve Strauss:              The perfect time.


David Warschawski:    As other things take up your time, you realize, and I see some of my peers at their point now in life, trying to start up businesses when they have families and children and little league to contend with.  It's tougher for them.  I will, however, say, you know, on the personal side, it was a big risk.  I was incredibly nervous.  I worked like a dog. I think most entrepreneurs who are listening to this know, you’re everything.  You're doing everything from answering the phones to being the bookkeeper to doing the account work to doing the research to cleaning the place up after you leave and, with time, obviously, that hard work has paid off and I've been able to delegate some of those things away.


Steve Strauss:              You know, a wise man once told me that an entrepreneur is someone who takes a risk with money to make money.  They take a risk with money to make money and so entrepreneurship is, by definition, a risk, as you just said and as we all know.  That said, one thing I've also learned is that the best entrepreneurs really strive to reduce that risk to the extent possible.  For example, starting a business when you're 25 or 28, much easier than when you're 45 or 48, when you have a lot more responsibilities and the stakes might be a little bit higher.


David Warschawski:    100%.  I didn't know that at the time and, certainly, it was tough going against some of the advice of my good friends at that point in my life but now, in retrospect, it turns out that it worked out just perfectly and beautifully.


Steve Strauss:              You worked in a big firm for how long before you started your own agency?


David Warschawski:    So, overall, I worked in big firms about 6-7 years in New York City.  I worked in two different ones.  One is called the Dillon-Schneider Group and my last stop was at the largest agency in New York City, at that time called Edelman.


Steve Strauss:              Oh, Edelman. They're both big firms.  Edelman, I worked with myself.  Very, very impressive.


David Warschawski:    Well, we never got to work together.


Steve Strauss:              No. Not yet, right?


David Warschawski:    Right.


Steve Strauss:              I'm wondering how you then built the business and built the brand.  What were the bricks you had to put in place to create a foundation that eventually allowed you to open a second shop and then open a third shop in New York and, obviously impressive?  How did you do that?


David Warschawski:    I think of it like building a pyramid.  You've got to start at the bottom.  You're laying the first brick and, sometimes, laying that first brick in the hot sun is lonely but you do it really well and you build a foundation with one client win after another and proving to them that you are capable of doing just the same level of work that they may be getting from a full service agency, as opposed to one person shop at that point and you grow from there and then you win the next piece of business and then you have to hire a couple people and then you win the next piece of business and you're hiring even more people and, thankfully, from both a culture standpoint, internally, it enabled us to hire continually great folks who could do great work and also it allowed us or gave us the legitimacy that larger and larger clients were saying, wow.  Look at what they're doing and the attention that they're going to give us and even the cost, at that point, was such an appealing proposition that, over time, it continued to grow and to expand to where we are today, thankfully.


Steve Strauss:              You’re listening to the Post Some Love series on the Bank of America podcast.  I'm Steve Strauss and I'm speaking with David Warschawski of Warschawski, a boutique marketing communications agency on the East Coast. So, tell me a little bit about how your business has grown.  Which of your three cities you start in?  How small was it and how big is it now?


David Warschawski:    It really has been a great ride and it's been a step-by-step process and, as you mentioned, thankfully today, we have an office in New York, an office in D.C., and an office in Baltimore. Baltimore was really the headquarters after I left New York City agencies.  I cultivated some business in New York but my family was based here in Baltimore, decided it would make sense to come back to this region.  We certainly have, and early on, worked with major national and international clients.  In fact, when you talk about how has our business grown, we were very fortunate early on, a couple of years into our lifecycle, to win some very prominent pieces of business, including being named the agency of record for the United States for the Adidas brand and that created validation for us and allowed us to win lots of other large, national, or international clients.  So it was a step-by-step process and now the sort of next step in that process has been really focusing on creating a great digital marketing capability in-house.  Today, we were very honored that Google recently named us a Google certified agency partner and today we have ten Google certified analysts on staff and we are doing a ton of very high-end and sophisticated digital marketing, which is really changing the game in marketing communications.


Steve Strauss:              You know, I obviously don’t need to tell you that branding is so important for a small business. That's what you do for a living but people who listen to this show may need to know that, as a small business, I think, and I'd love to hear your opinion, obviously, you need to have a brand every bit as strong as your larger and big competitors because there's so much competition out there for a small business. There's thirty million small businesses in the United States.  I'm wondering if you can give us your thoughts on small business branding and marketing and what you think of it.


David Warschawski:    It's so key to helping you set the foundation. We talk about branding as being the cornerstone or the foundation for the house that you're going to build and, if you don't build a great foundation, anything you build after that is somewhat shaky. So you have to, early on as a business, really clearly define what your brand is, what you want people to feel when they interact with you, and who your primary, secondary, and tertiary target audiences are.  The sooner you do that, the sooner you codify that, the easier life will be because, all of a sudden, there's now a North Star for making business decisions.  I've got two candidates in front of me who I could hire.  Well, before, you may have looked at sort of the logistics of who would be better but now, all of a sudden, you can say, who’s a better fit for our brand.  Or, when something goes wrong or right and you need to make a business decision, that decision’s much easier when you have a clearly-distilled and put-down-on-paper brand.


Steve Strauss:              And, in your case, you've clearly gone out and gotten some very impressive industry awards and that's got to do a lot to build your brand and create some word-of-mouth for your business.


David Warschawski:    100%.  It creates validation.  One of the things I'm proud of is, you know, we've put in the hard work and we have a fantastic team who's made it possible to get these accolades. So, yes, it's validation.  It helps us grow as a business and get bigger and better and more exciting clients.  Those are wonderful things but, because of our culture, it really excites me for the team when we get that kind of recognition because it's a pat on the back for everyone that says we're all pulling in the right direction and we're special.  We're doing something different and unique from all the other agencies that are out there.


Steve Strauss:              Well and, in fact, let me read one of your reviews along those lines.  ‘Warschawski is a talented team doing impressive work for prominent clients.  I’m impressed by this agency's ability to quickly produce any and all marketing communications work at the highest quality.’  So, your team is your business.


David Warschawski:    100%.  In marketing communications, you've got to have great folks, and today more so than ever.  There are so many disciplines that need to be covered when you have a good, integrated marketing communications firm.  You have to be good at advertising.  You have to be good at marketing.  You have to be good at branding.  You have to be good at P.R.  You have to be good at social.  You have to be good at web development and, perhaps most importantly today, you need to be good at digital marketing.  We recently, in addition, just opened up a virtual reality and an AI capability within our firm.


Steve Strauss:              Well, one thing is true about small businesses and that is, you have to, especially these days, stay up and keep learning and, for good or ill, and as challenging as that can be, it's kind of part of the fun too, I think.


David Warschawski:    All the digital marketing has kept me very young at heart because this changes every day.  Our industry, overwhelmingly, has always been an industry of change and movement and latest trends but, no time like today, have I seen such a need to stay on the cutting edge of digital technologies and how they can be best leveraged for your clients.  They're changing all the time.  You have to be expert.  You have to be able to explain it to the client and then you need to be able to implement it.  Thankfully, our head of digital marketing was just named one of the top seven digital marketers in the country.  He's been really able to help our clients understand and capitalize on how you can do digital marketing in ways that create outstanding ROI for them and, in many cases, it's beating the ROI of traditional advertising, marketing, and P.R. approaches.


Steve Strauss:              Now, we are getting branding and marketing jewels from an expert.  I mean, just that you're able to say that your digital person got another award, that is how you really can build a brand.  If you're a small business, just and any way you can associate yourself with that kind of branding, I think really makes a big difference.


David Warschawski:    Thank you and I think so much of that, Steve, has to do with hiring the right people.  When you're a small business early on, and I certainly remember these days, you did everything yourself and you had to wear so many hats. You get to a point in the life of a small business where you need to find great people and I would tell anyone who asks, if you're in a small business, invest a little extra money.  Invest a little extra time in training because those people are your biggest assets and you rather they're great than either mediocre or poor.


Steve Strauss:              Absolutely.  I'm wondering what challenges you've faced along the way.  Clearly, staying up with the digital as you just mentioned is something that you've done but what other challenges do you find you've faced growing your business.


David Warschawski:    Sure.  So you definitely mentioned probably the biggest ongoing challenge we face, which is, across all of these marketing communications disciplines, staying on the cutting edge and sometimes ahead of the cutting edge is a very difficult task.  It's an ongoing challenge and it requires people, including myself, who’ve got to be hungry to learn those things and finding those people can sometimes be a challenge.  And the second, I think, ongoing challenge we face is we have a very clear set of brand values and we live our culture out loud and to find the superstar, rock star standouts who embody what our brand values are all about and also can really bring a high level of expertise and experience to the table, that's a challenge. They're not easy to find. Thankfully, we've been able to find them but that is always a challenge we face.


Steve Strauss:              So what values do you find important in your business and why have you chosen these values to stress, whatever they are?


David Warschawski:    Sure.  So we have specific personality approaches to things like staying hungry and relentless that are very important to us.  They embody the type of people we want to find and, at the end of the day, when we live all of the various brand values that we have, the end emotion we want people to understand about Warschawski is: we so badly want to thrill you as a client.  We want you to be working with us and, hopefully, give us the kind of rave reviews you've just shared with your audience and I want the client to say, wow.  That's really different than any other marketing communications experience I've had in the past.  The other is: we want people to get a sense of personalized care, that this is not a business equation for us.  We care about your business.  We're in bed with you.  We want to understand how we can help you grow and we take it incredibly personal to ensure that we're delivering the best results.  So the embodiment of those ideals and making people experience that, you've got to find the right people who really are capable of that.


Steve Strauss:              So that really begs the question: how important are reviews for you in your business.


David Warschawski:    Well, I'd argue it's not just for us.  I'd say they're incredibly important to everyone.  It's a way that you shape your reputation in the industry and the markets that you serve.  It's validation.  If I have a choice between, today especially, I'm looking online for three different service providers in the same vertical and one has 4.5 stars and the others have 3 stars in their rating and the 4.5 has multiple positive reviews, it's a no brainer.  I'm going with the higher-reviewed company and choosing them to be my partner.  So today, probably more so than ever, reviews and anything you can bring together online, that's where you want people to hopefully validate and say the things that you want them to say about you.


Steve Strauss:              Well, as you said, this digital revolution is changing everything and it’s changing word of mouth advertising.  It’s changing everything about business.  Do you read online reviews?


David Warschawski:    Sure.


Steve Strauss:              You seek them out?


David Warschawski:    I’m not online everyday looking for reviews, if what you mean, but, certainly, they get shared with me when I do see them and, when we get the kind of reviews that, thankfully, we do get, they certainly make us all feel good because we put so much into trying to create those results.  So, to hear it brought back to us that we've accomplished what we put out into the world, that's wonderful validation, both on a personal level but, also, on a corporate level for building our brand.


Steve Strauss:              Do you ever look to get reviews?  Do you speak with clients about it or is that not, you just are happy if you find them happening organically?


David Warschawski:    For the most, they happen organically but, certainly, we've had clients who, after we did a specific project or some work with them, they're raving to us about the experience they've had with us and we'll say, would you be so kind as to put that down on paper or, in this case, digitally, on any of the social media platforms and share your feelings about how we interacted with you.  So, yeah.  That happens from time to time.


Steve Strauss:              And I think it works. I know it works from personal experience.  I'm an author.  I've got a lot of books on Amazon and I will do what you do, which is: if I hear from someone and they like my book or they didn't like my book, even, I'll say, hey, if you would just go on Amazon and give me a review, I would very much appreciate it and, most times, people are happy to do it and I have one book has been reviewed 50 times and I have one book that's been reviewed 4 times and the one that sold, you know, 50 reviews sells a little better than one with 4 reviews.


David Warschawski:    I bet.  I bet.


Steve Strauss:              I have a follow-up question about reviews.  Obviously, they are great for getting more business.  People go online.  They find a review.  They like the review, as you said, and they might hire that person or go shop at that store or go to that restaurant but what about the use of reviews in attracting talent.  I mean, we are now in a market where labor is pretty tight and attracting and keeping top talent is a challenge for some people.  Do reviews make a difference there?


David Warschawski:    100% and, Steve, I agree with the premise of your question and I would argue that online reviews of what it's like to work in your workplace are more important than what clients have to say about your workplace.


Steve Strauss:              Wow.


David Warschawski:    Because you have to find and bring in the best people to create the best work and they have to be a cultural fit and, if you're not thought of as having a great workplace and a great culture, it makes it much harder to recruit those folks.  We're very fortunate.  Culture is king with us.  We put so much time, money, energy, love into creating the kind of culture and environment that we hope people just want to stay with us forever and are having a great time and we always tell folks, we don't believe creating great results and having a great time are two separate concepts.  We actually think they work better when they're in coordination.  You can have a great time while doing great work. So you need the reviews to find the kind of people who fit that bill.  And the second part that I would say is: anybody who's looking at an agency gets a holistic picture, whether that's a client or that is a possible employee, and the only way they're going to get that holistic picture is, that's a positive picture, is if what people are saying about you internally matches up with what people are saying externally about you.  When the internal word of mouth is not so good but some of the clients are quite happy, that sometimes a picture that potential clients or potential employees tend to run away from.  So, at the end of the day, I'm incredibly proud that we probably have one of the highest Glassdoor rankings in our industry.  I think we're around a 4.8 out of 5 and that's what our folks are saying about us and about the environment that we've created and they all help foster.


Steve Strauss:              Additionally impressive and, for people who don't know, why don’t you just tell us quickly what Glassdoor, a Glassdoor ranking is.


David Warschawski:    Glassdoor is a forum online that allows employees to give comments and feedback and rate their employers and 5 is the highest score you can get.  So, most agencies are somewhere in the 3-4 stars’ range and we're very proud. Some of the better ones are a little bit higher but we certainly are at the cutting edge there or at the bleeding edge with a 4.8 out of 5 and, for me, that's just as important as winning new clients because what that means is: all the hard work we put into creating a culture that people should love to come in and participate in and, by the way, that I love to be a participant in.  I have to go to work every day and I've got to love the folks in the environment where I work.  So it tickles me when other people feel like we've created that kind of environment.


Steve Strauss:              And you bring up a really good point.  When small business owners think about ratings and reviews, we tend to think about something written about us on Facebook or Yelp but this idea of Glassdoor is not insignificant, that you your employees are out there ranking your business and you've got to be cognizant of that as well.


David Warschawski:    Yeah, and you had brought up the issue of branding.  Today, and if we were having this conversation ten years ago, I would have told you external branding is much more important than internal branding but, today, that's flip-flop because organizations and companies are so transparent and people are working or interacting with your representatives so much more frequently.  If you don't hire for your brand and your brand values, you don't train, and you don't reward, you are not going to be able to create a sustainable brand.  It's got to start internally today and then, secondarily, you want to do the external branding.


Steve Strauss:              What has surprised you about your journey as an entrepreneur?


David Warschawski:    I think the thing that's been, or has changed the most for me is, early on in my career and in the life of Warschawski, there was the thrill of the hunt, of winning the next big client, taking on the next big project, and creating [PH] wowing results for them. There's a tremendous amount of excitement that goes into that.  I still have that excitement but, today, I've really transitioned where I get the most excitement out of mentoring and teaching the next generation.  There's so much to learn in our industry and, sadly, in our industry often mentorship is not a norm which leads, at the end, to some bad marketing communications.  So the chance for me to be teaching the next generation from what I've learned, that's what probably gives me the biggest kick today and seeing people who started their careers with me, for example our COO who's been with us for twenty years, grow from an account executive to becoming an incredibly successful businesswoman, that's more exciting to me than winning the next big client.


Steve Strauss:              So, David, what is next for you in your business?


David Warschawski:    So I don't want to say it's next. I think it's happening today and that's really the digital revolution because our business today is really, fundamentally changing, and, when I say our business, I'm not talking about Warschawski.  I'm talking about the industry and there are a lot of people who just aren't, at this point in their career, willing to put in the time, the energy, and the effort because it is a lot to learn all the new things and become truly expert at them and I think that's going to be a make-or-break for many agencies over the next couple of years.  Those who really are at the cutting edge of understanding digital marketing, of understanding how to measure results, those are the ones who are going to survive and succeed.  The ones who are staying to some of the more traditional-only platforms, I'm sorry to say, I think they're going to fall by the wayside with time.  So I think when we look forward is: we're constantly trying to evolve and grow on the digital side.  That means we're getting better at web development every day, at app development. We just created a virtual reality expertise, which I think will definitely have a big impact in the marketing communications space and we shortly will be opening up an Amazon capability as well to do marketing specifically on the Amazon platform.


Steve Strauss:              Well, I love how forward-thinking you are.  I'm sure your clients love how forward-thinking you are.  David, if people want to learn more about you and your agency, where should they go?


David Warschawski:    Easiest is go online to  and, certainly, people can feel free to email me directly at


Steve Strauss:              David Warschawski, so great having you on this show today and good luck and continued success.


David Warschawski:    Thank you. It's a pleasure talking to you, Steve.  Take care.


Steve Strauss:              Bank of America is committed to helping small business owners achieve lasting growth and is now asking everyone for their support in helping small businesses grow by asking them to Post Some Love.  We know that positive online reviews views help drive small business success.  So we’re encouraging everyone to do just that. Choose your favorite small business and write a positive online review.  Bank of America does not endorse or guarantee the perspectives, the advice, or the products or services sold by any business referenced within this podcast. Copyright 2018, Bank of America Corporation.


This week on the Post Some Love Podcast, Steve Strauss talks to Bonnie Shearston, co-owner of Pollen, one of the hottest restaurants in LA’s Echo Park neighborhood.  Listen to her story about coming from Australia to LA and the importance of positive online reviews.


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Post Some Love: Pollen Podcast Transcript



Intro music


Steve Strauss:             There must have been challenges opening up a business in a different continent and then two different businesses on two different continents. How did you do that?


Bonnie Shearston:      The challenges have been enormous. Not only trying to get Pollen open and trying to get our heads around state and federal law and all the different taxes and the employment laws and all the the permits. You have permits for everything in this country. It’s amazing.




Steve  Strauss:            Hi, I’m Steve Strauss, USA Today’s senior small business columnist and author of The Small Business Bible and you’re listening to the “Post Some Love” series on Bank of America’s Small Business podcast. This is the series where we speak with small business owners about their journey and share some of their great customer reviews. Today, we’re speaking with Bonnie Shearston of Pollen Restaurant in Los Angeles. Pollen is the sixth restaurant from the Happy Fat Group which is the umbrella for ventures and collaborations of Bonnie Shearston and her business partner, Tom Saunsow.


They were recently named Queensland’s Young Entrepreneurs of the Year. Bonnie and Tom have already cemented their reputation in Australia with a range of diverse award-winning venues, from small bars, to restaurant and pubs. But in 2017, the duo opened up their first restaurant in Los Angeles’s Echo Park. Pollen is a mostly outdoor Australian café and restaurant with plenty of tables, a beautiful coffee bar, an impressive breakfast and brunch menu…


This new business is primed for success, and in fact, if you go online and take a look, they have a ton of really glowing online reviews – over a hundred last I saw on Yelp.


So, we are really fortunate to have Bonnie on the show today and so Bonnie, welcome.


Bonnie Shearston:      Thank you very much for having me.


Steve Strauss:             I’ve got a lot of questions for you but let me start with this. I’ve heard a lot of different names for businesses, but the Happy Fat Group, that is one fun and different name of a business, can you just tell us about that a little bit?


Bonnie Shearston: We were trying to find an umbrella name that covered everything that we do and like you’ve already mention, all of our venues are extremely diverse so, we just thought we’d have a little bit of fun with it, and ultimately our goal is to make people fat and happy and drunk, I guess. So, Happy Fat Group kind of worked for us.


Steve Strauss:             Oh, that’s great. So how… tell us a little more about how your background, how did you get started, how did you meet Tom, and how did you guys decide, originally, to start a business in Australia?


Bonnie Shearston:      Well Tom and I are both English, as I’m sure you can hear in my accent. And, we moved to Australia back in 2008. I was about 23 back then and Tom was 30. So, we worked in Brisbane for about a year. Just working out our market, finding where the gaps were and what was needed and then decided to embark on our first venture in 2009 and opened up a little cocktail and wine bar. It was, um, out in the suburbs in Brisbane. It was…it was really hard really to try to get anyone to call us back.


We found this site that we loved, but because we were two young, foreign kids that no one knew about, trying to even get the landlord to call us back with options and venues and things, it was really, really difficult. But, we did it, and we did it all ourselves pretty much. We have a couple of business partners involved in that one.


There wasn’t a huge budget, so we did a lot of the building and shifting and lifting ourselves with the four of us and opened up this little cocktail and wine bar. I think we were very fortunate with the timing. It was the first small bar license to be granted in Brisbane, which was immediately a selling point for us ‘cause it was this new concept.


It went from being a city of large hotels, and pubs and poke machines and gambling rooms to these small, intimate, cocktail bars. So, we were very fortunate with our timing on that.


Steve Strauss:             So, what was it in your background that made you want to become an entrepreneur? I mean, you were pretty young when you started. So, probably not started a business before, was it in your family or in your DNA, what was it?


Bonnie Shearston:      I never set out to be an entrepreneur. That was not my intention, I love the industry and I was very fortunate to be given amazing opportunities from a very young age with a company I was working for back in the UK and I worked across Europe for them and I put a lot of responsibility on me at a young age and I obviously learned a lot. It was a huge learning curve and just decided that I wanted to try and give it a go myself. I think a lot of people have asked me, how did you do it at such a young age? How did you take that risk?


And to be honest, it’s much easier when you’re younger because you don’t have that a lot of responsibilities. If it hadn’t turned out right, I could have started again, whereas people who have worked and had a family and a house and a mortgage and then want to try and do it there’s a lot more at stake so…


Steve Strauss:             Right, and you don’t know what you don’t know, right? And so like let’s just do it.


Bonnie Shearston:      Exactly, just got for it, and if it doesn’t work out, start again.


Steve Strauss:             And, Australia is kind of a land of second opportunities. I have a very good friend who’s an entrepreneurship professor there and one of the things he tells me is that it’s really a country that’s conducive to people taking risks. Did you find that as well?


Bonnie Shearston:      Well, look, it’s a very large piece of land with not a lot of people on it, so, I guess there’s a lot of opportunity there. But no, it’s…moving country…obviously it was to a to a westernized country, I’ve got family roots there so I had connections, I don’t think it’s particularly easy to open up a venue anywhere, but there’s certainly something easier to do it in a familiar setting where you got people around you that you know.


The legislation is pretty difficult over there, there’s a lot of red tape, especially up in Queensland. And it’s expensive, it’s a very expensive country to live in. But you know, I don’t think it’s going to be very easy to open up a venue anywhere particular.


Steve Strauss:             I got the sense reading about your first business that it was a hit from the start, is that accurate?


Bonnie Shearston:      It was, like I said we were very fortunate with our timing and it being the first small bar license granted. And, I think people were just really taken by the fact that it’s very focused on the craft of the cocktail and being small and intimate and just having such a point of difference that it immediately recognizes as one of the best bars in Australia at the time, which was amazing.


You know, it wasn’t something that we were planning on, but it was an incredible award to be received. We were granted the honor of being Australia’s best new bar back in 2011.


Steve Strauss:             Wow, Congratulations, that is impressive, yeah.


Bonnie Shearston:      And we went again a year or two later to win the best cocktail menu in Australia and it won a whole bunch of other accolades in between that and so it did, it went really well, we were very blessed with that one.


Steve Strauss:             Well, you know the same of the show is “Post Some Love”, as I mentioned there are a lot of really glowing online reviews about all of your restaurants. Let me read you one about Pollen and tell me what you think of this. "This is the cutest breakfast bunch spot ever. I love the decor, the food is super yummy and reasonably price. I had the polenta with fried egg and I ate the baguette with butter and jam. We also happened to get the last chocolate cookie of the day, which was as big as my head. [Laughs] I will definitely try the savory pastries next time."


Bonnie Shearston:      Wonderful.


Steve Strauss:             That must be the kind of thing that you really love right? Hearing people talk about your restaurants that way.


Bonnie Shearston:      It is. Look, it's fantastic and obviously Yelp and these review platforms here in LA are so important to people and it’s how they make their daily decisions on what they want to do in terms of food and drink. But, you know, you’ve got to actually base your success and how you feel about your venue off the customers that are coming in.


Having online reviews that are glowing is wonderful and it’s so nice that people take the time out to write something positive, and it’s great to share that with your staff. It's a real morale booster to get something fantastic to come through, you know, post it up on the staff page, congratulate everyone especially if someone’s picked out, as a waiter or chef or...


It's really important, likewise, you know, if you do get something negative, it's good to try to take that feedback back onboard and build off that.


Steve Strauss:             It does seem though that, if you do your job right and you create a great product – in your case, it's great food and a wonderful atmosphere – then the rest of it will take care of itself. And you're gonna get those positive reviews. But it must validate your business somewhat somewhat and as you said your staff really loves seeing those kinds of things. So, do you read most of the reviews that come in online about your business?


Bonnie Shearston:      I do, I mean there's so many platform these days, it's hard to keep on top of all of them. But, I get notifications every time someone leaves something on Yelp or Google so I do try and read as much of them as I possibly can.


You know they are really important, especially in this day and age where people rely so heavily on that sort of media to make that decisions. And like I said, it's really good for boosting the staff morale and congratulating people and encouraging them in the right direction.


Steve Strauss:             I'll read more about a quick review here. "This place is so good. My boyfriend had the fried egg sandwich and said it was the best he ever had. I had the Greek yogurt, with honey and pancakes – both were delicious. This place is located in a really cute area, service was really good and quick, our waiter was super friendly. I love the natural soap in the bathroom."


I mean right here, people really like everything you do. So that brings me to the next question which is “How did you decide where to grow your business and maintain clearly the quality that you have and the following that you have.” You’re in Australia and then you decide to open a business in Los Angeles. How did that decision come about and how did you do it effectively?


Bonnie Shearston:      I suppose, as you already mentioned, Tom and I had opened 5 businesses over in Australia and they were all in Brisbane actually. And I think we wanted a new challenge and a new adventure and we were thinking about expanding somewhere else in Australia, initially. Maybe Sydney maybe Melbourne. But, then we thought if we were gonna uproot our lives and give something else a go, and why not do it in a whole other country. We’d love to open up something in London one day, we're both from London.


So, I think the excitement of trying a new country was really appealing. We had toyed around with the idea of going to Hong Kong  Shanghai a couple of years ago, and something nearly came into flourishing there, but at the last minute we decided to pull out. And, Tom had always had his heart set on LA and I’d never really spend any time here.


So, he sent me over here for a month last year. I was helping a friend out with some projects over here and he told me to spend the whole month here and have a look around and get to know it and the last week of my month here I rang him and I said him I've asked from some leasing agents to show us around. Book a ticket, come out here, we’re gonna do it. So we did. We found a sight in July, signed the lease in August and opened in December. It's been a complete whirlwind. Very exciting at the same time.


Steve Strauss:             So, for people who are not from California, can you tell us a little bit about Echo Park and Los Feliz – the neighborhood you're in and how you chose that location?


Bonnie Shearston:      It's funny actually, I was here in 2015, I took myself off on a road trip for two weeks and spaced myself from LA before heading up the coast. And I happened to stay with a friend of mine in Echo Park and I remember very distinctively saying to him one day," I'd love to live here one day."


There was no prospect of anything “Pollen” on the horizon at that time. And then, when the leasing agents were showing us around, they were showing us new developments in downtown, some over in Culver City, some of these were foundations still in the ground, they hadn't even started the build yet. , we went for a little lunch break and after that they said that they just wanted to throw us a curveball, that there was already an offer on this building, so it wasn't available, but they just wanted to gauge our reaction to see if it was the sort of thing we'd be chasing.


So, we pulled up and stepped out of the car, he opened up the gates in front and Tom and I didn't even have to say anything to each other. We just looked at each other and I turned to the leasing agents and said, “How far along is this offer because this is exactly what we want.” When it comes to choosing a venue, Tom and I have a huge bank of different ideas and concepts and we'll draw on each individual one in relation to what the character of the building is in location at the time.


And immediately, we both knew that this was exactly what we wanted in a spot. It's in the middle of a residential area. It's very much a community there. The concept of Pollen…you know, the reason it's called Pollen is that the beehive is one of the most complex communities known to nature. And, so were very much trying to be the center of the community there and do what we can to give back to the community, but also be a very integral part of their day-to-day lives. So, it's very residential, it's very green and leafy compared to lots of parts of LA.


There's schools near us, there's houses all around us, we're a good mile and a half set back from Sunset Junction so it's pretty quiet where we are as well. And, it's home to one of most lethal roads in LA, I've just found out – Baxter Street. So, I'm sure the little businesses will familiarize themselves with the terraced roads there.


Steve Strauss:             So, it's interesting that you did name the restaurant Pollen, as we were just talking about. I read or saw that you’ve done some work with local farmers, with regard to beehives and sustainability, is that something you take seriously? And, if so, can you expand on that a little bit?


Bonnie Shearston:      Absolutely, as I’ve already mentioned, Pollen is about the community and as much as we can give back to the community as well. There's a lot of long term goals associated with sustainability. It's very difficult in this industry to open up a venue and immediately be “zero landfill” waste and minimal carbon footprint. Especially in a different country where we'll still trying to learn the different practices and procedures over here. But, we are very focused on giving back as well at Pollen, we've been working with a strong recycling program to make sure that we're on top of that. We have been working with a local farmer and were planning a lot more to come. We've got a composting program underway with him. And, we are going to be putting beehives out on his plot of land, which is a couple of miles from Pollen. Now, beehives are essential to our ecosystem, as I'm sure you know.


Steve Strauss:             Right.


Bonnie Shearston:      So, that's one way to give back to a piece of vacant, beautiful land here in Echo Park, but also cultivating our own honey from that and being able to sell it in the restaurant and use it in the restaurant will be wonderful.


Eventually, we'd love to grow our own vegetables there. We currently have our own herb garden at Pollen that we use. But, we don't have a huge amount of space there. For the numbers that we do, we'd love to expand that out to a piece of farmland as well. And other things that we're working towards, we've been speaking to a local church program in the community about donating our wasted pastries and sandwiches and things to feed the homeless program that they have going on.


Again, there's a lot of red tape involved with that, you'd think you'd be able to hand out beautiful croissants at the end of the day to someone a bit hard down on by the streets, but all the red tape involved in these sort of things does make it a bit difficult so we're speaking a local church program about their feed the homeless program and also about doing a suspended coffee program with a group of people that look after the local neighborhoods around us. So, there's a few things we're working towards and I'd love to have them all up and running immediately, right now. But, they take time, and got to make sure these things are done properly.


Steve Strauss:             I love hearing all of that, and to me it's a little surprising that you have this whole farm-to-table thing going on. I'm up in Portland and farm-to-table is a big thing here. One wouldn't really think that's what you do in Los Angeles, so bravo to you.


Bonnie Shearston:      Thank you, like I said there's a lot of challenges, to try to get it up and running and it's definitely not farm-to-table yet, but it is something that we're very much working towards.


Steve Strauss:             So, opening a restaurant and wanting it to become a community hub is different than how other restaurantuers envision opening a restaurant. Why was that important to you – this idea of community?


Bonnie Shearston:      I’ll very much say, it's not the attitude that we go into each venture with. Like I said to you, each concept that Tom and I have, this catalog of ideas we've accumulated over the years, they're all very, very different and some our businesses we opened up smack bang in the middle of the city. It's been a very different approach and how you operate day-to-day.


But, when we saw this spot and saw the community, we immediately drew on this concept of this “neighborhood, community, give back and be present for the community” idea. So, it was very much upon approach and finding the site that we decided to take this idea and grow.


Steve Strauss:             Here's a review: "I've now been to Pollen a few times, and now I'm becoming a regular. The staff are all really sweet. The owner is really nice, too. [Laughs]


Bonnie Shearston:      [Launghs] It must have been been when Tom was here.


Steve Strauss:             The restaurant is in a cute neighborhood and parking has been easy every time I've been there. I plan on coming back and trying everything. I am obsessed."


Bonnie Shearston:      Excellent.


Steve Strauss:             I love hearing that. That said, there must have been challenges opening up a business in a different continent and then running two different businesses on two different continents. How did you do that and what were the challenges that you encountered and how did you overcome those?


                                    As I previously mentioned, when Tom and I moved to Australia, we worked in Brisbane for at least a year, a year and a half even, before we opened our first venue, Canvas. We didn't have that luxury over here. We found the site, we knew there was a time constraint on it, we decided to jump right in and give it a go. Neither of us had ever lived here before, and so the challenges have been enormous.


Not only trying to get Pollen open and trying to get our heads around state and federal law and all the difference taxes and the employment laws, all the permits – you have permits for everything in this country – it's amazing. So, that's been enormously challenging and every day i'm still learning something new. We've been open for four months now and it's a massive learning process for us at the moment. In terms of operating across two different continents, as soon as Tom and I decided that we wanted to expand outside of Brisbane…we're very hands on operators, and we like to be very involved in our businesses. So, we were aware that it would distract from our concentration on having 5 businesses back in Australia. So, we’ve started to downgrade. We’ve now got two left in Brisbane and Tom is over there running those two and I’m flying over here as often as I can to try and help out with Pollen. We have a fantastic management team here who run the place for us so I’m very much here just overseeing and doing all the legalities, and like I said, trying to learn as much as I can about operating a small business in California. So, there’s a lot of to’ing and fro’ing at the moment, and it’s been quite challenging as well, but we’re making it work, I think.



Steve Strauss:             Creating the right team, that must be critically for you, right?


Bonnie Shearston:      Absolutely, as I mentioned, Tom and I have always been very hands-on operators and I’ve always filled the role of General Manager while we’ve opened up a venue and Tom’s always been very hands-on in service but then also back-of-house as we put all of our procedures and processes in place. And normally, we’ll do that for 6 months for a smaller venue up to 18 months as we build a team around us and then we feel comfortable to hand over the reigns to them. We’ve been very, very lucky with our staff in Australia, we’ve had very good staff retention and people stay with us for a long time and really helped us grow our businesses.


Over here, Tom and I aren’t allowed to actually operate the business. We can own it, but until we can become residents here in America we’re not allowed to physically be operating the business. So, it’s been interesting trying to build the team around us and try and get them to work in the way that we would if we were to be the operational managers of the venue. But, again we’ve been exceptionally lucky with our staff. We’ve got a great team at Pollen. All these reviews coming in, you can see that there’s compliments on our service, our managers, the chefs, everything. So, we’ve been really, really fortunate and we’ve got a great team holding it down for us here.


Steve Strauss:             So, we are speaking to Bonnie Shearston, owner of Pollen Restaurant in Los Angeles . If you ever get to the Southland, you should definitely check it out. We’re running out of time here Bonnie, but before we go I gotta ask, “what is it that you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur and what has surprised you the most about your journey? “


Bonnie Shearston:      Surprised me? The entire thing. I wanted to be a sports teacher when I was younger. So, I’m not sure quite how I ended up here, but what have I enjoyed the most? For me, the awards are great and the press is great, and opening up a new venue…it’s extremely exciting everytime we do it. But, for me it’s about the people I work with and the regular customers… just building that report with them and I’ve made some lifelong friends from someone that popped in once and wanted to have a drink at my very first venue.


So, for me, it’s really about the people. I’m not sure what Tom’s response to that woulud be but for me, it’s definitely about the friends and regulars that we’ve made along the way and seeing how much they enjoy something that we put our blood, sweat and tears into.


Steve Strauss:             You know as a new business in Los Angeles, it’s such a vast place, I grew up here with 10 million people. One of the great things about being in business these days is, the net does make things smaller and word-of-mouth can happen in a way online that it could never happen offline. Offline word-of-mouth is literally word-of-mouth. One person tells one person. But now, people can go online, write a review, make a comment, and a hundred or a thousand people hear about it. So, I would think that in the vastness of Los Angeles, with so many businesses there, you must benefit a lot from this kind of word of online word-of-mouth that you get from positive reviews.


Bonnie Shearston:      Oh absolutely. It’s amazing how far people will travel for a brunch if it’s got a good review. We had a family come up from Malibu two weekends in a row for brunch because they’d seen on Yelp that we were LA’s new hot spot for brunch.


Steve Strauss:                         Now, tell people how long of a drive that is.


Bonnie Shearston:      Um, I think it’s about two hours in rush hour. I think so. I haven’t made my venture yet myself, I hear it’s a long way.


Steve Strauss:             It’s a schlep, for sure. Before we go, Bonnie, I just want to ask you one little question. Our show, “Post Some Love”, is sponsored by our friends at Bank of America and I’m just wondering…I know you’re a Bank of America customer, why’d you choose Bank of America when you moved to California?


Bonnie Shearston:      They were actually the only bank that would take us. Not saying that they haven’t been absolutely wonderful to us, but when we first moved here trying to open up bank accounts to do simple things, say send money over here to be able to actually start the build, it was rather difficult to get anyone to open a bank account for us without social security numbers – which Tom and I don’t have not being American citizens. So, we did try a few different banks, Bank of America being one of the first, I will say that, but they were the ones that would take us on and they’ve been wonderful, and yes, I will be staying with them.


Steve Strauss:             All right, see, that just proves what I know which is Bank of America is a great friend to small business and you’re a small business. Well, we’ve loved having you on the show today. Keep up the great work and if people want to know more about you and Tom and the Happy Fat Group, where should they go?


Bonnie Shearston:      If they want to know a little bit more of what we do, they can head to our website, which is


Steve Strauss:                         Fantastic, thank you and keep up the great work.


Bonnie Shearston:      Thank you so much.


Steve Strauss:             Bank of America is committed to helping small business owners achieve lasting growth and is now asking everyone for their support in helping small businesses grow by asking them to “Post Some Love.” We know that positive online reviews help drive small business success. So, we’re encouraging everyone to do just that. Choose your favorite small businesses and write a positive online review. Bank of America does not endorsed or guarantee the perspective or advice or the products or services sold by any business referenced within this podcast. Copyright 2018 Bank of America Corporation.


60% of Entrepreneurs Project Five-year Growth, According to the Spring 2018 Small Business Owner Report


The bi-annual Small Business Owner Report, conducted by Bank of America, explores the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners throughout the U.S. and across 10 major cities. The spring report explores a range of topics important to the constantly evolving small business landscape. Some important insights from this report explore:


  • The impact of tax reform on small business owners
  • Digital technology trends and the role emerging technologies play in business development
  • The economic outlook and concerns impacting small business
  • Growth, revenue expectations and hiring trends


For additional insights, see the Small Business Owner Report infographic below.  For a complete, in-depth look at the insights of the nation’s small business owners, download the Spring 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report here.

Spring 2018 Small Business Owner Report Infographic

Learn how eight women found entrepreneurial success, their impact on society and the challenges they faced building their businesses. Although no two women have the same journeys, their collective advice creates five important insights into women owned businesses:


  • People and culture: The women entrepreneurs profiled focused on people – employees, vendors and customers – as much as on the business itself. They tried to create company cultures that helped people reach their full potential.030918_womens_ent_hero[1].jpg


  • Education, experience and a little luck: Many think entrepreneurship starts with a business idea, but there is more to it than that. The women entrepreneurs profiled earned degrees and gained business experience that helped them identify a societal or cultural shift, gap or unfilled need that, in turn, guided their business model.


  • Access to capital: A key theme that emerged for all was the importance of accessing capital. Only two of the women profiled sought equity investors. Six self-funded their businesses, wanting to keep their autonomy and maintain their people-focused culture.


  • Resiliency and optimism: The women interviewed showed that launching a company requires both optimism and resilience. They all faced and overcame adversity, but were similarly hard-wired with an understanding that setbacks were just part of the journey.


  • The importance of women’s leadership: All of the women profiled who started their careers in the 1970s said that having had more female colleagues would have made their paths to success less arduous. Consequently, all of them support younger women, both in business and in their communities.




Hispanic Small Business Owners Confident about the Future


Hispanic Small business entrepreneurs are confident the business climate will prove favorable in the decade ahead, according to the second annual Bank of America Business Advantage 2018 Hispanic Small Business Owner Spotlight (PDF).



Bank of America surveyed nearly 400 Hispanic business owners across America to shine a light on the aspirations and concerns of this growing segment, and to examine the similarities and differences that exist when compared to non-Hispanic peers. For instance, Hispanic entrepreneurs feel a greater sense of confidence at both the local and national level when compared to their non-Hispanic contemporaries. This optimism is long-term, with most small business owners surveyed responding that the next decade will see ongoing prosperity.


Additional highlights include a focus on employee retention:

  • 81% of Hispanic business owners believe the ability to attract and retain quality employees positively impacts their business growth
  • 30% of Hispanic Business owners made it a goal to invest in their employees over the last two years – compared to 14% of non-Hispanic business owners


For a complete, in-depth look at the insights of the nation’s small business owners, download the Bank of America Business Advantage 2018 Hispanic Small Business Owner Spotlight (PDF).

Economic Confidence, Revenues Surge for Small Businesses


SBOR-Chart.gifSmall business entrepreneurs are confident revenues for 2017 will top last year and that 2018 promises to be even better, according to the Fall 2017 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report (PDF).


In the semi-annual survey of 1,000 business owners, nearly three-quarters say 2017 year-end revenue will surpass last year’s figures. Similarly, economic confidence is strong heading into 2018 as nearly half of business owners expect their local economy and the national economy to improve.


  • 71% of small business owners are optimistic that their 2017 year-end revenue will surpass 2016 business revenue
  • 16% plan to hire more employees, 70% of which plan to hire full-time employees


For a complete, in-depth look at the insights of the nation’s small business owners, download the Fall 2017 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report here.

By Jill Calabrese Bain


Bank of America has a long history with the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) – both with the national chapter and more than 50 local chapters from coast to coast – and has been the presenting sponsor of its annual conference for the past five years.


Jill-Calabrese-Bain-NAWBO.pngFrom Oct. 15-17, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to join fellow Bank of America teammates at NAWBO’s annual conference. More than 800 women gathered in Minneapolis to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of an organization that is the voice for more than 10.1 million female business owners nationwide. During an empowering and inspiring few days, we heard from notable speakers such as Erin Brockovich and SBA Administrator Linda McMahon, as well as a diverse and knowledgeable group of business owners.


This year’s conference theme of ‘together we dare’ really stuck with me. We know that it takes tremendous heart to be a woman business owner. You must dare to follow your dreams. You must dare to be bold and take risks. And, my favorite, you must dare to fail. Above all, you must dare to succeed.


We know that women are succeeding! Women have made significant strides in the upward climb toward equal opportunity in the workforce and in business. We’re slowly but surely chipping away at the gender pay gap. And, according to our latest Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight study, women business owners are feeling more optimistic that we’re on track to level the playing field in the next 20 years when it comes to these four things: pay equity, executive leadership, representation in the STEM fields and, yes, small business ownership.


During the conference, I met with women from the United States and around the globe – daring women linked by their willingness to blaze their own trails and strive for excellence. One of my favorite breakout sessions focused on “daring leadership,” and we heard from women entrepreneurs who have annual revenues exceeding the $1 million mark. The four panelists hailed from a wide range of organizations – a staffing company, niche cookie company, law firm and international branding/multi-media company. Despite their varied backgrounds, their advice was the same – engage experts, stay true to your core strengths (even if it means watching business walk out the door), always trust your intuition, and don’t be afraid to take risks.


It was amazing to see such extraordinary women daring to succeed each day by being leaders in their businesses, communities, and role models for future generations of female entrepreneurs.


I’m beyond proud of Bank of America and my teammates who support women entrepreneurs day in and day out. And that was really at the heart of NAWBO’s annual conference. We are all here to support the missions of all women who have dared to dream… dared to be bold… and dared to succeed – despite the odds.

According to the second annual Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, female entrepreneurs envision significant strides for women in the workforce over the next 20 years, with a majority believing that women will match or exceed men in a number of areas.


Business-Woman.gifTo learn more about women business owners’ specific insights, Bank of America surveyed 1,000 small business owners across the country, focusing on aspirations and concerns regarding the economy, empowerment and opportunity.


“The rules of business are changing, and women entrepreneurs are at the forefront of the transformation. They have articulated an inspiring vision for the small business community over the next 20 years — one of equal pay, leadership opportunities and greater support for those with families,” said Sharon Miller, head of Small Business. “Within the context of a growing economy, this bodes incredibly well for the future of women in business.”


Shattering the glass ceiling

According to the survey, women entrepreneurs expect big cracks in the glass ceiling — the proverbial barrier to advancement — over the next 20 years.

  • 80% of female entrepreneurs foresee greater or equal representation of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields compared to men in STEM.
  • 68% believe women will match or exceed men in executive leadership role representation.
  • 66% believe there will be more women-owned small businesses compared to those owned by men.
  • 61% believe their wages will be equal to or greater than those of men.



Striking the right work-life balance

The Spotlight also explored the struggles of achieving a work-life balance, finding that while many women entrepreneurs experience long hours, a large majority actually feel they have a good balance between their work and home lives.


They’re also enjoying their work, primarily describing their average week as interesting, fulfilling and enjoyable. However, fewer believe they have achieved this balance compared to their male counterparts.




Growing optimism about the economy

Download the full report

Women small business owners have shown significant increases in optimism toward the economy improving in the year ahead — including confidence in their local economy (45% in 2017 vs. 37% in 2016), the national economy (44% in 2017 vs. 25% in 2016) and the global economy (32% in 2017 vs. 16% in 2016).


Despite the substantial boost in economic confidence, the number of women small business owners who plan to grow their business over the next five years has declined (54% in 2017 vs. 60% in 2016), as has the number of women anticipating a revenue increase over the next 12 months (44% in 2017 vs. 54% in 2016).


“The data we collect through this survey helps Bank of America better serve this important client segment not only with their small business relationships, but also with all their financial needs,” Sharon said.


For internal use only:  The information and material contained on this Web page is proprietary to Bank of America and is not to be distributed outside of Bank of America.

Small Business Confidence in the Economy Jumps 22 Percent in Six Months

Revenue Outlook and Intent to Borrow Remain Flat, while Hiring Plans Sink to Five-year Low


Yoobi Video

U.S. small business owners’ confidence in the economy has increased significantly from just six months ago, according to the spring 2017 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report, which found that economic confidence ranks among the highest levels recorded in the last five years. The report, based on a semi-annual survey of 1,000 small business owners across the country, reveals that a majority of entrepreneurs (53 percent) are confident the national economy will improve over the next 12 months – up a staggering 22 percentage points from just six months ago. Similarly, small business owners’ confidence in their local economy improving jumped to 51 percent from 37 percent in fall 2016.


For additional insights, see the Small Business Owner Report infographic below.  For a complete, in-depth look at the insights of the nation’s small business owners, download the spring 2017 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report here.


Women small business owners are feeling more optimistic about annual revenue and growth expectations than their male counterparts, according to the inaugural Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, a study based on a survey of 1,000 small business owners across the country, focusing on the aspirations and pain points of women business owners.





Click here to download a PDF version of this infographic.

Thumb2.pngAs a business owner, you may frequently face the challenge of balancing your business needs with your individual needs. And more often than not, the business needs likely get more attention. But did you know a business retirement plan can help meet both your business needs and your individual needs, as well as those of your employees?

Click here to download the Small Business Retirement Solutions Reference Guide (PDF).

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