Big Feats for Small Businesses

The businesses that add community value and good coffee to Greensburg share their experiences and secret to success. 

Sitting at the small, round metal table in the middle of the cafe, Kim Renter ran up to the counter to attend to a customer asking for a brownie to-go. Moments later, the woman asked if she could put a sign in the window advertising a fundraiser for the library and if she could take a picture of the interior for social media. This interaction was just a small window into the life of a small business owner, and Renter’s reality.

Nestled on the same block as the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library and the post office, the DV8 cafe has married coffee and local art for over 15 years.

“If you look around, I mean, these are your every day people that live in the area that create awesome, awesome art,” co-owner of DV8 Renter said. “These are people, age range from 15 to well into their 70s. People like it. We try to do local everything.”

The coffee shop offers much more than just hot drinks, they often provide a venue for local organizations and participate in or host numerous fundraisers.

“We did Art For Recovery which is recovering addicts who do art, we had that as one of our exhibits,” Renter explained. “We did [a] Diversity Coalition fundraiser and this past Friday had a fundraiser for No More Dysphoria, which was actually not organized by us but we offered up the venue and had four bands play. It was packed.”

However, this wasn’t always Renter’s life and learning how to own a small business definitely had a learning curve.

“My background was in the corporate world; I was in marketing,” she said. “The hardest part [about running a small business was that] I did not know coffee. I was in consumer products in marketing but it was not food products.”

DV8 is no stranger to being unique and being different is exactly what they believe in.

“Sometimes people just think about the basics when they’re starting a business and sometimes there’s a lot more underlying”

— Rachel Flowers

“One of our biggest achievements is we always say that we want this to be a space for people to feel comfortable and we’re not like everyone nor do we want to be like everyone else,” she said. “I think we’ve brought together a collective group of people.”

While they don’t intend to expand like some of their competitors, their business is always growing.

“We’re always coming up with new ideas of how to expand business,” Renter said. “We want to do a monthly open mic night so we can really dip our toe more into the music because everytime we do have music there, it’s very successful.”

Despite being a small business, their product combined with the one-of-a-kind atmosphere of the cafe means that being priced out by chain businesses is not a concern.

“To the best of my knowledge, [I] price better than my competitors, certainly better than Starbucks,” she said. “I provide a very, very high quality product for the price.”

However, Renter does feel she is on the outskirts of the business district of Greensburg.

“I would like to see more development [in the area] because that’s what brings new customers in,” she said. “My daytime business is very strong, particularly with the post office and the library; that generates traffic.”

The cost of running a small business is also much more than meets the eye.

“If you want to have a decent staff, you need to pay a decent wage,” co-owner of Sun Dawg cafe Rachel Flowers explained. “It’s a matter of the fact. It’s not only just your cost of having an employee, there’s also the cost of training an employee, too. Then there’s also a lot of other things that come into play like taxes and whatnot.”

Factors like insurance, workers’ compensation and building upkeep make for a lot of different aspects to worry about.

“Sometimes people just think about the basics when they’re starting a business and sometimes there’s a lot more underlying that you don’t [think about],” Flowers said.

Being relatively close to college campuses and the high school, the cafe sees lots of student clientele, but ultimately, it’s a mix. This is also influenced by their advertising, which can be found mostly online through social media.

“On occasion we might run a Facebook ad and they’re so reasonable and their outreach is so much more than even a newspaper would be,” she said. “We truly believe that people get most of their information via social media these days.”

While they have implemented new menu items and have even moved to a new building, customers are still hungry for more. However, balancing work and personal life is just as difficult, if not more, for a small business owner.

“We’ve been doing this for a lot of years and one of the reasons we started doing Sun Dawg for breakfast and lunch is that we have children and our children mean a lot to us,” Flowers said. “We wanted to be able to be home with them in the evenings whereas we were always away for the evenings and the weekends with our other jobs working in the restaurant industry. It became very important for us to be there with the kids, however Sun Dawg has just grown into something way more than we ever anticipated it to grow into.”

Due to the rapid growth of the business, they expanded to a larger store front in February of 2018. This milestone can be credited to their hard work and dedication to the restaurant and why they believe they able to succeed.

“We’re here working it,” co-owner Ray Flowers said. “Other places sometimes will have employees that work it, we’re actually physically here working.”

In addition to that, Sun Dawg attributes some of their success to a great, fresh product that can be enjoyed by anyone, strong customer service and originality. For this reason, the cafe does not fear being priced out by larger, chain businesses.

“We have a very unique product and everything that we do here is fresh,” Rachel explained. “When things are fresh like that and then you can typically see a local business working like that, people are a little more forgiving as far as your price goes and they can see what they’re getting.”

Co-owner of The White Rabbit Thomas Medley sees his success partly as a product of timing and location.

“I think that we opened in a time and in a location, meaning not just Greensburg, but in this particular spot with a lot of visibility,” Medley said. “We were delayed by at least 3 months with our opening, it was actually closer to five, so we had signs up for a really long time. It hurt us monetarily but it also generated a lot of interest.”

Medley sees the coffee shop as more than that. It’s a place for live music, meetings, studying and even conducting interviews.

“We’re not just a place to grab a coffee or biscuit and go,” he said. “If you’re sitting here for six hours, there’s a very good chance you’re going to strike up a conversation with one of us or with someone around you. It’s almost a sort of community building thing from within the walls.”

Similar to Sun Dawg, The White Rabbit went through a change once they started gaining popularity, but what’s the secret to success?

“I think you have to be [confident] almost to the point of arrogance in what you do in order to open a business,” Medley said. “If you don’t think you’re the best, you should go work for someone who’s better so you then become as good as them. If you don’t think you’re the best at what you do, then you have no business opening a business. There are going to be a thousand things a day that make you second guess that.”

Medley doesn’t credit his growth to just the quality of the product; every factor works to make a business successful.

“People don’t just come here to have a good cup of coffee, service is everything,” he said. “If we don’t create an environment where people want to be-and that’s not just me that’s the staff that we hire, the way that we train, just the general atmosphere the building itself has that we’ve sort of brought to light-I don’t think we’d be nearly as successful.”

That success was fast growing and much more than Medley could have projected.

“We were way wrong [in our business projections],” Medley said. “It doubled what we thought we were going to do, then the next year doubled that and then the next year was another 15 percent on that. We expanded really quickly, it was almost like an inflationary sort of expansion.”

Due to this, a renovation was imminent.

“Our work flow was not set up to handle the volume we were doing, the floor was literally falling apart,” he said. “The floor behind the counter, there were literally holes in it from us running back and forth.”

This renovation meant that The White Rabbit was here to stay.

“This is not a side gig for us [Amber and I]; we’ve devoted everything we have to making it work, and I think that shows,” he said.

“The secret to success is just [to] put everything on the line. If I fail I lose my house, I’m homeless. If my business closes I have nothing. Therefore, failing is not an option.”

— Thomas Medley

Devoting everything is exactly what they did, and what the reality is for many small business owners.

“The secret to success is just [to] put everything on the line,” he said. “If I fail I lose my house, I’m homeless. If my business closes, I have nothing. Therefore, failing is not an option.”

This makes the possibility of competing with a larger business especially terrifying.

“We’re pretty on par with Starbucks pricing,” he explained. “What does instill a sense of fear in me is not being priced out but being outbranded. People view Starbucks as the epitome of specialty coffee. If you’re walking down the street with one of their cups and their obnoxious green straws it’s a status symbol.”

While people are usually willing to support small businesses, there’s always an air of uncertainty when compared to a larger chain.

“With a Starbucks or a place like it, you know when you walk in what the experience is going to be like almost down to what the cashier is going to ask you,” he said. “That’s from Singapore to New York, that’s a universal experience. That’s where I think chains have the biggest benefit and that’s why that’s the thing that scares me.”

With an undergraduate degree in philosophy and a masters in library science, as well as looking for a job during the 2008 recession, opening a small business wasn’t always the end goal.

“I went back into the cafe world full time and then met Amber and said, ‘Oh, we’re both really good at what we do,’ I was a cafe manager at a shop and she was the executive chef,” he said. “Like all good employees, she and I would complain about the owner and in doing so after six or seven months we kind of had a de facto business model. We thought, ‘You know what, let’s just do it.’”

After being both an employee and an owner, Medley realized that the coffee world and this path were his passion.

“I’ve always been better at this than anything else I’ve ever tried,” Medley said.

While the cafe boasts good coffee and delicious desserts, it is also home of the The Rabbit Hole, a small record shop just underneath the storefront.

“Every little town needs a coffee shop and a record store,” Medley said. “And a book store, but I’m not opening another business.”

While each business does something different to set them apart from their competitors, they all add an equal amount of community value.

“The three businesses, they kind of overlap,” Medley said. “We all have such different customer bases and a different meaning to different people.”

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