Business Ownership Through the Lens of First Coast Youthpreneurs
It has been observed that high school and college-aged students are now weathering particularly mounting pressures to decide which career path to choose in life. Who will hire them? Will they be able to afford rent and perhaps eventually a mortgage? In the face of this uncertainty, young business owners have become notably creative during the last few years. Four local entrepreneurs sat down with Evolve Magazine to give us an insightful look at how they got started and, in turn, continue to make it in the business world. Let’s see what they had to say.
Tessa Taylor of The St. Augustine Scoop: “My life completely changed in a weekend.”
Tessa: “Tonight’s my last night; I can’t come in for any more shifts.”
Her boss: “Why??”
Tessa: “I bought a business!”
Her boss: “What?! What do you mean, ‘you bought a business?’”
Tessa: “I bought an ice cream shop downtown. I have to work there tomorrow.”
An offhand chat with a neighbor interested in selling his ice cream shop and a signed contract later, a then 19-year-old Tessa Taylor found her world morphing fast. She is now 22 and has been the proprietor of The St. Augustine Scoop for three years. Located in uptown St. Augustine, her ice cream shop is a local favorite with its warm atmosphere, vibrant color scheme and inviting space. “I have had the best staff; I feel like I got so lucky with everyone,” Tessa shares with gratitude. She manages anywhere from four to eight employees. “My employees are my babies; they’re awesome.” Tessa, who grew up in Utah until age 14, has been a hard worker since childhood. Her mornings began early with feeding chickens and tending the family garden. She and her five siblings grew up collecting and selling rocks and tadpoles. Her days were full of outdoor play and adventure. She came to be known affectionately as “Tess the Mess.” Each day ended with a family dinner around the table.
If we fast forward to ten or so days ahead of Florida’s pandemic stay-at-home order – we would find Tessa officially signing off on her ice cream shop purchase. “I actually had to go get a second job ten days after I bought the business,” Tessa says with a hearty chuckle. “My first year was…a lot of learning; it was tough.” Nonetheless, she has pressed on year after year. Today, she sits across from me with a confident, beaming smile of enthusiasm as she reflects on lessons learned.
“I would try and dance, I’d bring my ukulele [outside] to try and, like, get the attention of people walking by or driving by,” Tessa relates regarding the period in spring 2020 when businesses were limited in how they could interact with customers.
When it comes to weathering the storms of business ownership, Tessa’s advice is to “know what you’re fighting for and what you want from the business.” With a myriad of demands pulling at entrepreneurs in all directions, Tessa believes firmly in the power of mental toughness and focus. Then there is the importance of self-care – even for the young, vibrant and energetic. Tessa has found that taking adequate time to rest mentally and physically prevents burnout. With the major demands and pressures of owning a brick-and-mortar, this has proven essential. “You’re every job … you’re the janitor, you’re the plumber, you’re the electrician, but keep going,” implores Tessa. Having said that, her view is that it is best to get started in business young so that resiliency and proper values can be inculcated early. Fear of missing out (FOMO) can threaten focus in our coming-of-age years. But in Tessa’s experience, it’s about mental toughness over physical stamina. Having a coach has been among the most important lifelines on Tessa’s path to success. “My dad is my coach…he has been the biggest inspiration and help,” shares Tessa. He helps her map out her next steps, crunch numbers and make needed changes. This has proven exponentially helpful for The St. Augustine Scoop.
Reilly & Madison Hughes of Level Up Dance – More Than Sisters
Sisters Reilly (17) and Madison Hughes (15) started dancing at two years of age and never looked back. Their early days found them training and competing in North Carolina through a technical studio. That rigorous training of 20-plus hours per week set the foundation for their current roles as Florida business owners. “We were raised to understand that success does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of hard work, time and dedication,” relates Madison.
When the Hughes family moved to Florida, they were unable to find a studio that fit the need instilled by their North Carolina experience. It has often been said that if we find a need and fill it, monetization is a natural outcome. So, Madison and Reilly got to work filing the need for a local dance studio that fed their competitive drive. That is precisely how Level Up Dance was born. The road to creating an LLC was paved with IRS filings, banking, navigating payment systems, meetings with legal and accounting professionals, music licensing, branding…and the list goes on. Put simply, “starting a business takes a lot of research, and it is very time-consuming,” shared Reilly. Still, the Hughes sisters were undeterred. The lessons they learned as small children taught them to “never give up and to always continue to work hard…if we do not get the results we want,” says Madison, we just work harder!”
Reilly and Madison do have a competitive drive, but they know how to balance this with the ability to both win and lose with grace. They also understand the importance of being resources to their peers who might be pursuing similar goals. “You are never too young to be successful,” says Madison. Being bold and unafraid to ask questions and make requests that would potentially propel their business forward has served the sisters well. After outgrowing the grassroots-style school they conducted on their front lawn, the girls approached representatives of a local innovation, entrepreneurship incubation and education hub called The Link about reserving indoor space. Taking that leap was the spark that took Level Up Dance to new heights. Reilly says that “…nothing is impossible.” That does not mean their road to success was obstacle-free. Rapid growth presented a thrilling challenge when enrollment jumped from 3-4 per class to an eventual total of about 70 within months. Starting a competition team was within reach. When auditions were held, more than 25 hopefuls showed up. In addition to rapid growth, Reilly and Madison have also had to navigate a heavy load of responsibilities. They are both busy high school students with jam-packed schedules. Reilly is a full-time dual-enrolled college student. Getting up early has been the key to ensuring responsibilities are cared for. While maintaining A grades in school, the Hughes sisters teach 12 dance classes, compose choreography, curate costuming, attend conventions and process invoices. At the end of the day, it is not lost on Reilly and Madison that they need to make time to “just be kids.” Madison sums it up this way: “We…are so blessed to be on this journey together! We are more than just sisters; we are best friends!”
When they are not dancing, the Hughes girls enjoy an array of outdoor activities, including surfing, tennis and cycling. When asked who is currently trending on their Spotify playlists, the answer was easy… “Harry Styles and One Direction!”
Mckenzi Lyn Flis of Old Trends New Trends – Fueled by the planet’s need for a more circular fashion cycle.
Mckenzi Lyn Flis comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. “I learned early that I like to make my own money!” recalls Mckenzi. She was always open to change and the exploration of new ideas. Starting small businesses was her hobby from a young age. Among her first ventures was an eBay consignment shop. It was this shop that struck within Mckenzi a love of designer handbags. “Louis Vuitton is by far my favorite luxury house,” Mckenzi gushes. “In recent years, as my style and tastes have matured, I’ve grown fonder of the house of Chanel as well as Hermès.” Fast forward to the early stages of the pandemic, and her current business – Old Trends New Trends, was established.
The e-commerce boutique curates a wide selection of authentic, secondhand luxury accessories and handbags. After purchasing items from clients, products undergo a gentle restoration process before finding new longevity with a subsequent owner. “We make old trends new again!” explains Mckenzi. In this way, environmental sustainability can intersect with fashion. For Mckenzi, promoting the benefits of quality over quantity is at the heart of her mission.
Embracing change has served Mckenzi well when weathering the storms of adversity that come hand-in-hand with business ownership. Being an entrepreneur has helped her overcome her former fear of discomfort. “If we don’t allow for change, things become stagnant, and that is definitely the opposite of what we want in business,” reflects Mckenzi. Change (whether foreseen or not) has helped her evolve and adapt. In Mckenzi’s experience, starting a business during a global health crisis helped her to be quick on her feet in what some would call a ‘baptism by fire’ experience.
The amount of effort and self-determination needed to make it as an entrepreneur is probably lost on most of us. “Until you’ve done it,” says Mckenzi, “I believe people definitely take the aspects of starting a business for granted.” She has found that a sound mindset makes all the difference when not only starting but also maintaining a shop. Tapping into her creativity and willingness to be flexible has contributed to Mckenzi’s success.
Despite occupying the e-commerce space, Mckenzi has been able to assist local shops in adding luxury items to their inventories. She and her fellow Flagler area business owners connect and throw ideas around, obtaining valuable feedback. Old Trends New Trends also has feet on the ground in Flagler County through its charitable work with an organization that purchases gifts for those in need during the holiday season.
To her peers who may be pursuing business ownership, Mckenzi’s advice is to embrace the pivots and changes in direction. “Follow your dreams!” she says, “…I promise you will have no regrets. You’ll certainly hear lots of ‘no’s,’ but you must use those as fuel to continue on.”
Tessa, Reilly, Madison and Mckenzi are part of the fabric that comprises commerce on the First Coast. While their respective industries are distinct, one common thread weaves them together seamlessly – persistence in the face of uncertainty. We can be grateful that the next generation of business owners is paving a way forward not only for themselves but also for their communities at large.