Inspiration Stones, San Rafael
Inspiration Stones, Inc.™ started business in 1998 and first brought to market the product known as Pocket Stones™, a successful inspirational item created and produced by Theodora Scott, owner and award-winning designer. Since their creation, more than a million Pocket Stones have been sold. Initially, factories in Larkspur and Petaluma, CA created the first engraved inspirational words on pocket-sized semi-precious stones which were sold primarily to gift stores. Today, Pocket Stones™ are manufactured in both the USA and in Asia.
Although they were initially regarded by many as a fad, Inspiration Stones, Inc.™ now sells Pocket Stones™ directly to the public, in gift stores across the country, and to non-profit organizations, churches, hospitals, therapists, teachers and trainers, Olympic and professional athletes, funeral homes, and wherever inspirational and motivational items are used.
At the onset of the client's relationship with the SBDC in 2006, she had no Business Plan or Marketing Plan, very few operational systems, no consistent pricing strategy, and no employees. She was doing everything herself, working 6-7 days a week, 12-hour days. Virtually all of her record keeping was manual, using handwritten order forms in triplicate, individually typed invoices and the like. Her website was extremely limited, although she did have one, and all orders were taken by telephone.
With the help of her first SBDC counselor, Dan Geller, Theodora developed a Strategic Plan to define her goals and to help her focus on the markets and products that would best achieve her goals for the business. Thereafter, she started to implement the plan, beginning with her marketing efforts. Tina Eastman started working with her in 2007 and continued the implementation. Theodora had her bookkeeper prepare regular financial reports on her business to have a tool to analyze her progress; she formalized her pricing strategy, expanded and enhanced the company's website, began the search for business software to manage the sales process and contacts management, developed a broader customer market and created new products.
Inspiration Stones, Inc.™ has also benefited from a number of support programs available through the SBDC, including advice from TAP (Technical Assistance Program). www.inspirationstones.com is an important component of Theodora’s business model. The web site will enable her to reach a wider audience, and also provide a more efficient way to take and process orders. TAP Counselor Janet Wentworth provided an audit of the existing web site and offer recommendations for improvement.
Steve Schneider, Sawyer Center Coordinator, discussed how to increase sales with Theodora. He pointed out potential new markets such as private labels for companies to use as promotional products.
Steve also provided information on patents and trademarks. He advised that she trademark and use other names such as “pocket stones, freedom stones & power stones”. In order to mass market her products, he suggested shrink wrapping the product looking into exhibiting her products at tradeshows such as the San Francisco International Tradeshow.
With the recommendations from Janet’s audit, Theodora has hired a marketing assistant to help her implement these changes to improve the site’s search engine visibility, enhance the content and provide a solid foundation for the upcoming ecommerce functionality.
Following up on Steve’s suggestion, she has also contacted sales reps to market her product.
Theodora has worked with the SBDC and her counselor, Tina Eastman, in the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce since the summer of 2007. The company has experienced a resurgence in sales: a 40% increase in 2007 sales over 2006 figures, and sales to date in 2008 have increased over the same period in 2007 by 75%.
“After working alone for the last four years,” Theodora comments, “I was in the habit of working on the day to day needs of the company, and never took the time to focus on the big picture, the overview, what the company needed in order for it to grow. As a result of working with Tina, we are now evaluating business software programs to manage the sales process, we have added 3 part-time employees, and are using the contract services of a talented marketing manager.”
“Tina continues to prod me to change and grow while letting me know that she trusts my instincts about the business, our markets and our products. She’s given me the ability to trust myself as I never have been able to before.”
SBDC Consultants: Tina Eastman, Steve Schneider, Janet Wentworth
SBDC Center Name: Santa Rosa SBDC, San Rafael Chamber of Commerce Outreach Office