Over at CNN Money, which I'm sure all of you peruse with bated breath regularly, there's a fantastic piece on the hyper-energetic Chelsea Lahmers and her fast-growing Scoot Richmond scooter shop.
I don't own a scooter, but I've been an avid follower of Chelsea's business venture -- partly because it's cool, and partly because she's shown up in the oddest corners of my life (joining me and a blind date [her friend] for a beer at Ipanema [a long time ago!]; taking sculling lessons at the same time as Nikole and I did; at the farmers' market).
Fortune Magazine's Small Business team pulled together a Virginia-based panel to talk to the successful scooter vendor about ways to grow her business. It's a fantastic read, and is going to sort of make you want to buy a scooter.
In 2007 Lahmers sold 50 scooters at an average price of $3,400 (customers typically spend an additional $200 to $1,000 per scooter on accessories). Last year she sold 378 scooters, thanks largely to rising gas prices.
"We had people coming from Rhode Island to buy them," she marvels. Sales reached $1.1 million in 2008, up from $279,000 in Lahmers's first six months of business in 2007.
But she also hit some serious bumps.
For starters, Lahmers says, a former employee embezzled at least $50,000 last year (a criminal investigation is pending). In the wake of that setback, she isn't sure how best to restructure the books or track financial operations.
Understandably, she also worries about hiring. She needs help establishing a reliable interview and evaluation process that will let her spot issues that could cause trouble down the road.
In addition, Lahmers wants to expand her customer base. She currently draws a funky urban clientele. She would like to add suburbanites to the mix, but she doesn't "know who these people are or how to reach them."
Ready to confront these issues, Fortune Small Business's experts assemble at the shop before opening time on a recent Tuesday. After a tour of the retail floor and the repair facility, everyone gathers in the back room around a table surrounded by shelves stacked with cardboard boxes full of spare parts. Lahmers's mother, Jean West, who owns 5% of the company and is working to clean up the books, is also present.
Lahmers starts by telling the group she has spent the past year trying to untangle the financial mess resulting from the alleged embezzlement. The experience undermined her confidence, Lahmers says.