Clinton — Diving into small business ownership can be scary, but with a shoulder to lean on it can go swimmingly.
Twin sisters Janet Mashburn and Kasey Jones never would have ventured into these unknown waters without one another, each pledging to be the other’s floatation device.
Two years ago, Mashburn and Jones took the hobby of scrapbooking and turned it into Scrapbook Sisters, two independent stores in Clinton and Hattiesburg.
Mashburn, a former school teacher who opened her business on Clinton’s Parkway in September 2003, said, “My sister was going to home scrapbooking shows and got me interested. That year my son was a senior in high school, and I wanted to create one for him.”
“I thought Clinton could use its own store and that it might do well here,” Mashburn explained, “and I’ve been very pleasantly surprised.”
Jones, whose store is in the Oak Grove area of Hattiesburg, said, “I never would have done this if we hadn’t agreed to do it together.”
As sisters and twins, the two have always been close, but being involved in the same business has drawn them even closer.
They talk on the phone at least three times a day, go to market together to purchase merchandise, and meet at least once a week to share inventory.
Dividing their products is just one way Mashburn and Jones have found to keep their costs down. The siblings also spend about 90% of their time working in the stores themselves and only employ part-time help.
They both credit family and friends for getting their businesses ready to open and for being supportive.
“My husband helped me paint, finish the floors and set up displays and counter space. If he hadn’t, I couldn’t have gotten it done,” Mashburn said.
And when Jones, a previous office manager, opened her doors in August 2003, she said, “My sister was among those that greeted the 96 unexpected customers who shopped my store on that first day.”
Since the beginning of their businesses a year and a half ago, the sisters have developed steady client lists that include not only mothers of young children, but couples, older adults and, surprisingly, men.
“Right now, I have one male patron who is a Marine and another who is a firefighter,” Jones said.
Those who have taken scrapbooking as a hobby are serious about it, as Mashburn and Jones have discovered. Their clientele has included those from other towns and states who may just be traveling through Clinton or Hattiesburg, but have pinpointed the scrapbooking stores along their route.
“They want to see how many they can hit, especially in the summer,” Jones said.
Spreading the word
The sisters say that their best advertising has been through word of mouth, and that they both have used billboard, newspaper and other media to promote their businesses.
While some may snicker at the fact that people take this hobby seriously, Mashburn and Jones claim that scrapbooking is much more than a trend and that it is here to stay.
Mashburn said these hobbyists are “dealing with memories, and once they start they don’t want to stop.”
Even famed author Mark Twain was an avid scrapbooker who reserved Sundays for his pastime, which today is a multi-million dollar industry. Computer software has brought scrapbooking into the 21st century, with programs that can create page layouts and albums.
But real storefronts are still preferred by most scrapbooking enthusiasts because of the one-on-one contact that lends itself to such a personal kind of business.
“My customers like to be called by name. They like it when the owner knows what they are interested in and can help them with their selections,” Mashburn said.
The challenge, Mashburn pointed out, is keeping the merchandise fresh and having room to stock it. The sisters both agree that their advice to others who have dreams of owning a small business is to research, investigate, and do the homework.
Jones said, “I also knew how popular it is and that there were lots of people in Hattiesburg who enjoy it.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Harriet S. Vickers at firstname.lastname@example.org.