Saturday, July 31, 2010

my generator's dream house

When starting a business on such a small budget, you have to cut corners and buy things you know will need replacing later when you have more money. As a frozen yogurt truck, we needed electricity to run our two machines. We did a lot of research about how much power we would need and what we could get for the amount of money we had. The guy we bought the machines from said we would need enough power to power what someone later told us would be enough to power a hospital. Really?! We went to look at ones that have that much power and they are the size of a small house. There had to be something better.

There is a guy on the North Shore who sells soft serve ice cream out of a truck, but we didn't know how he powered his machine. We looked at Honda generators, which are very expensive, but great. Without boring you with the finer details of generator power capabilities and prices, we were left with one option. We had to buy a behemoth that would cost us $2,400 and could be shipped for free (this is unheard of) to the Lowe's on the island.

One of the themes you will see running through most of the posts is the inconvenience of living on a island and trying to start a business. They either won't ship to you because they think you live in a foreign country, or they will charge you the same price they would charge to ship to say, Egypt, which actually is a foreign country. Not cool.

Anyways, our truck has been expertly wired by our electrician friend from Long Island who works on the farm with my husband so he can surf for the winter. We get the generator, plug the machines in, and start 'er up. Let's just say that our customers wouldn't be relaxing enjoying their Ono Yo with that monster growling behind the truck. It basically sounded like we had hooked up an airplane to the back to give us maximum wattage and would take off any minute. We now had to build a house to insulate the noise.

Thus began what would be become our second biggest mistake so far (the first was the buying a truck that was new the year I was born). We decided the generator needed a trailer with a noise-insulated house. Sounds easy, right? So wrong. Remember, if it sounds too easy to be true, it probably is. We researched again. We found a trailer on Craigslist for $250 that would just need the house and insulation. We should have bought that. This is where the mistake comes in....

Since we were tight on time and trying to start up ASAP (this is when we still thought the brakes would be fixed "any day now"), Alex wanted to see if he could find someone who could build it out for us. He found a guy who builds trailers and said he could noise insulate it "no problem" for $700. What a deal! What we got was a custom-built base with a shabby looking plywood box. That's not going to cut the noise of the Boeing 747 we have to tow around. $700 spent and we still have to build the house and insulate it ourselves.

Another $1,000 or so later and it's still not done. We were priming the wood on Thursday so we can paint it and before we left for the day, we started it up to see how well the fancy and expensive boating insulation worked. It worked pretty well, but then I saw smoke coming out of the box. By the way, just a tip, egg crates work really well for noise insulation (covered with heat resistant padding if needed). This works great for generator houses or for your kid's room to keep the noise at bay. Turns out, the titanium tape we bought for the muffler extension needs to be thicker and regular metal tape is flammable (note to self). I'm glad we started it up when we did so we could see what else needs to be done so we don't catch on fire.

We decided that we're going to finish the trailer and then sell it to buy something better (and certainly more expensive). I'm excited, as I would be, about how cute what we're building is going to be. We're painting it sunshine yellow and adding white trim. Just like my dream house. Too bad it's for the generator.

To summarize: trust your gut instincts. If a guy tells you he can do something "no problem" for way cheaper than it probably should be and tells you he noise insulates generators "all the time" and you live on an island, he's probably full of it and ripping you off.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

a long road made longer

I wish I could go back to retell all the stories of chaos and craziness that have occurred over the last year since we first got the idea to open a frozen yogurt store on the North Shore of Oahu where we live. It started on a trip to California, where I'm from, last summer.

I grew up eating frozen yogurt at TCBY, but in Hawaii, they had yet to discover its goodness. We noticed how many self-serve frozen yogurt stores have opened there and thought Hawaii would fall in love with them. While we hatched our initial ideas, stores began opening all over the island and Yelp was full of people proclaiming their love for this frozen treat. The market still had yet to reach the North Shore and we knew we had something good.

When anyone starts a venture, she often has no idea exactly what she's getting herself into until she's so far in she has no choice but to see it to the end. That's about how it went with simply "starting a business." No one just "starts a business." I knew it would be complicated, but my husband really was under the impression that you just rent a store, build it out, open your doors, and watch the money start a flowin' (he is Brazilian; maybe that has something to do with it?). As I said, I'm from California, and I get that anything you try to do that involves money will always be a bureaucratic nightmare. Granted, the laws and restrictions in Hawaii aren't as strict as they are in California (it was scarily easy), but there are certainly issues that come up one doesn't expect. I have a new one- never assume it's too easy to be true, because it probably is.

This blog will go back to recall the many challenges we faced including writing a business plan and having to totally rethink our original business idea. It's over a year later and we still haven't sold our first cup of yogurt. Why? I'll tell you all about here. I'll also dive into how it has affected our first years of marriage, the good and bad aspects of that added pressure. Hopefully you'll find some advice or at least another sympathetic soul to the many setbacks life throws at us whether we're trying to start a business or just journeying through life. Come join me-it's quite a ride!