These days, it’s not uncommon for Michelle Wisegarver to get recognized while she’s walking through the grocery store.
“I’ll hear ‘Michelle! Michelle!’” Wisegarver said. ”Then I’ll look up and see a kid waving and giving me a thumbs up.”
It makes sense that Wisegarver is so popular. Last July, she and her husband opened Vision Arcade and Skateboard Shop, automatically catapulting them to the top of the list of Mound’s Coolest Adults. But all kidding aside, Wisegarver – the parent of four children and a skateboarder herself – started Vision with the goal of creating something special for the young people in the community.
“Outside of organized sports, there’s not a whole lot for kids to do here and they can end up getting in trouble,” Wisegarver said. “I’m happy that we’re able to give kids a safe place to go.”
And it’s not only safe – it’s also a lot of fun. Visitors to Vision can enjoy more than 20 retro coin-operated games ranging from foosball and pinball to old-school video games like Ms. Pac Man and Space Invaders.
“The majority of our games are only 50 cents,” Wisegarver said. “We wanted to make sure it was affordable so kids can come in and have a couple of hours of fun time with their buddies or their family.”
But wait – there’s more! Vision also houses a skateboard shop and in June, they’ll open an 1,800-square-foot indoor skate park designed by a skateboarder who has worked with the X-Games. It’s something that Wisegarver knows is much needed in Mound, especially when the temperatures start dropping.
“In the summertime, my kids can spend all day at the outdoor skate park,” Wisegarver said. “But in the winter, the kids need someone to drive them to the nearest indoor skatepark which is 35 to 40 minutes one-way. Then the parents have to tag team to figure out how to get them there and back again. Our skatepark will be open all winter and all summer so the kids will always have a place to go that’s close to home.”
Although Vision is already fully sustainable on its own less than a year after opening, Wisegarver has experienced many of the challenges that come with starting something brand new. It’s been “quite a journey” she said with a laugh.
“I did have some business knowledge from working as an executive manager at Walgreens for many years and running a couple of successful eBay businesses,” she said, noting that her husband has owned his own painting company for more than 25 years. “But jumping into something like this on your own has a learning curve and we’re still learning new things every day.”
If you’re thinking of launching your own business and want to ensure it gets rolling smoothly – pun intended – here are a few of Wisegarver’s thoughts and suggestions:
- Make sure you’re passionate about your idea: If you aren’t consumed by the desire to start your business to the point where you’re losing sleep over it, you’ll probably have a hard time being successful long-term. “You have to be passionate about what you’re doing because it really is hard work,” Wisegarver said. “Opening Vision was what we wanted to do in our community. Every day, I’m excited to go to work. I love seeing the kids and hearing their laughter.”
- Do your research and take lots of notes: As excited as Wisegarver was to open Vision, she knew that she needed to do her homework first. “Google was my best friend,” she joked. Through her online research, she was able to gather information about skateboard parks and arcades and also about the market and the demographics of her area. Based on what she learned – plus her experience being a mom of three sons who love to skateboard – she was even more confident in her plan. “I was able to fully understand that this business would work here and that there really was a need for it,” she said.
- Tap into all the available resources: When the Wisegarvers applied for an SBA loan, they were able to go into the minority small business owner program. Through that program, Wisegarver was able to take free courses on entrepreneurship that provided her with a lot of valuable insights. “I didn’t really want to do the courses at first, but once I was done and I saw my business plan come to life, I was so happy that I took the time,” she said. “When I’m passionate about something, I want it to happen and I want it now, but I’m very thankful for the slow growth and the learning I’ve been able to do.”
- Lean on other business owners: People who have started their own businesses are usually willing to share their advice, especially if you’re not going to be in direct competition with them. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help! Wisegarver has gotten great suggestions from a number of business owners she knows ranging from her insurance agent to her landlord. Plus, she’s connected with another skate park owner located just outside the area. “We may hurt his business a little bit, but he’s been helpful because he wants to help grow the community and the sport as a whole,” she said. When you can tap into the wisdom of experts who’ve “been there and done that,” you’ll not only be able to avoid some potential pitfalls, you’ll also probably get some great ideas to try at your own business in the future.
- Don’t share too much too soon: It can be tempting to run your business idea by the people who are closest to you. However, if you do so, be prepared for a lot of unsolicited advice! “We didn’t tell anyone what we were doing including close friends and family,” Wisegarver said. “I love my family and friends so much and I know they mean well, but to sit and powwow over my business idea that I’m going to pour my blood, sweat, tears and hard-earned money into – I didn’t want to hear any negatives. I didn’t want to hear ‘you know what you should do?’ I needed this to be mine.” Then, once everything had been set into motion, Wisegarver felt comfortable telling her loved ones about Vision. “When we approached them and said ‘this is what we’re doing and this is why,’ they couldn’t say anything,” she said. “They were like, ‘wow, OK, you did your homework. You did your research.’ We’re really happy we held off telling people about our plan until we knew what we were doing and that we were fully capable of doing it. It was one of the best decisions we made.”
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