When Lisa Marsh gave up gluten for health reasons, she was determined not to give up flavor.
Lisa set out to create gluten-free treats and desserts for herself, her family, and her friends, and her creations were such a hit that her community encouraged her to scale up her business.
“Everybody said: “you should be in stores, you should do this, you should do that” – but then I had no idea about moving it to the next level,” she remembers.
It was through this exploratory process that she was connected to Sunshine Enterprises, a Chicago-based Local Community Institution that focuses on training, coaching, and access to capital for entrepreneurs.
“Sunshine taught us how to do cost analysis. They told us what costs of goods and services were. They told us about insurance. Sunshine really was my basis, my structure, my avenue for learning to build the business.”
Upon graduation from Sunshine’s training program, Lisa successfully ramped up her business, connected with retailers, and is currently selling products in over a dozen stores across Chicago. She also has a successful vending relationship with Whole Foods.
“Without taking that cohort and without going through that program, I don’t know that we would be where we are today.”
But the success hasn’t been without its struggles.
“Prior to the pandemic, it was already challenging enough to be a smaller micro business trying to break into retail, trying to understand the ins and outs, and move forward and grow the business. It’s not a process where somebody is holding your hand and saying “ok, let me walk you through this.” So you’re stumbling, bumbling along the way, figuring it out, and just when you believe you have a firm foothold on it...trying to learn the habits [of the newer stores] and get on board with what they need.”
Additionally, the ongoing reality of the COVID-19 pandemic hits small businesses especially hard.
Lisa shares how when the pandemic hit, it felt like all stores were unsure as to how to move forward. For her, it practically came to a complete halt. Many of her sales come from getting into the stores, sampling, talking to new customers, and letting them know that Ms. P’s Gluten Free exists through sharing their products -- all that had to stop.
As a result, she is doing what nearly every small business has had to do and finding ways to pivot.
She sent out samples to her former coworkers as a thank you for their front-lines work, and is finding ways to ensure new customers can know, like, and trust her through online sales even without in-person interaction in stores.
“I have faith of a mustard seed, so I will get through this,” Lisa concludes. “I know God has a plan.”