Profile of a Small Business Owner and Mama, Michelle Stibbs

When I started this blog, I decided that I didn’t want it to just be about me. This blog is about what inspires me and one of the places where I draw the most inspiration is from the amazing people in my life. Every Sunday I will be profiling a person that inspires me. I hope you find what they have to say as fascinating and informative as I do. My friend Michelle seemed like the perfect person to start with.  Michelle and I worked together years ago in what sometimes feels like another lifetime. She has since gone on to open her own fair-trade store in Alameda, California.  In addition to running a business, she raises 3 kids at the store.  While working.  She has truly carved her own path in life and I find the decisions she has made and the way she lives her life to be inspiring. I hope you find the interview and amazing products below as inspiring as I do!

Name:  Michelle Stibbs

Occupation: Store Owner, Momma, and Artist

Location: 1412 Park St, Alameda, California


Phone: 510-749-9941

To purchase any of the products you see below, please contact Silk Road. 


-You own a boutique in Alameda called Silk Road.  Tell me more about the store, what products you carry, and your philosophy behind the store? 

Our store philosophy is to make a difference in the world thru each purchase.  We are a fair trade and local artist store, so every item we sells directly impacts the artist/vendor behind the work.  You can walk away knowing that you helped better someone’s life.  All of our fair trade items come from certified fair trade groups, the groups are given a fair pay for their work so they can better their lives.  (For more information on Fair Trade at Silk Road click HERE)

Our Local Artist items come from artists all over the Bay Area.  I love being able to talk to customers, not only about the products in our store, but about the actual person behind the product.  And the customers love knowing that they are helping support a member of their community.
We carry a myriad of products.  I had a customer once say that we should rename ourselves, “Everything but the Toothpaste”, because we basically sell everything else you’d find in a home.  And ironically we even now sell toothpaste made from organic essential oils.  We mainly focus in Women’s Jewelry and Accessories, Children’s clothing and toys, home decor, kitchen goods, food items such as coffee, tea, quinoa, soup and salsa mixes, handmade/organic soap and spa items, and we’ve just started to carry yarn and fabric.
-How did you get into this business?
In 2008 I had my first baby and two months later my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.  Then a month after that I was surprised with a second pregnancy.  My husband and I realized that I needed to be at home with our kids, I felt the need to be close to my mom, so I began looking for a job that would allow that.
As my mom travelled through the cancer journey (which she made it through!) she started looking at things she wanted to change in her life and in the world.  Our family had lived in Thailand for years and my mom had always wanted to continue helping the families we fell in love with over there.  I had managed retail stores for the past 10 years and pretty soon our ideas started to meld. We decided to open a store that helped people all around the world, a fair trade store.  It gave me the opportunity to keep the kids with me, and work one on one with my mom.  And it also gave us the chance to start changing the world.
-What are some of the challenges of being a small business owner and what are some of the rewards?
The main challenge of being a small business owner , especially in this economy, is the financial aspect.  Most small businesses are fighting tooth and nail to stay open, to stay current and relavant.  We live in a world of internet shopping and discount big box stores, you have to be really creative to stay competitive.  Our foundation when we opened was one of honesty.  We pledged to be honest to our vendors through our fair trade practices, and also to be honest to our customers.  I do all the buying and pricing of the items and with each item I ask myself, “what would I pay for this?”  I never price anything higher than what I would honestly pay for it.  We may not make as much per item, but we also hope that our customers will appreciate the lower prices and buy more, and keep coming back.  They know they are getting a fair deal, just like our vendors are.  It also keeps us competitive in the marketplace.
Another challenge is having to wear so many hats.  I am our store manager, buyer, merchandiser, janitor, marketing team, PR team, events coordinator, cashier, web designer, and so much more.  My day is basically multitasking on speed.  It can get stressful spreading yourself thin, but it’s also one of the best aspects of the job.  You have your hand in everything, you have pride and ownership in everything. It’s rewarding to see it all wrap up at the end of the day, and every time a customer tells me, “I just love your store” all the stress and headaches are forgotten.  It’s very rewarding to see all your hard work in action and get the satisfaction from that.

-A lot of people (me included!) dream about starting a small business.  What advice would you give them? 

First off, have a big savings account ;)  Honestly though, get prime retail space.  If you are opening a street store, it’s worth the extra rent money to get the good space.  You make the difference in price in more sales.  Also, stay involved in the community, reach out to members of the city because they will be the ones to keep you in business.  Keep your overhead low.  Really low, that way most of your sales can filter right back into inventory.

-You are able to run a small store and raise three kids at the store.  How do you do that?

Ever since Lincoln was 9 months old, he’s been in the store.  The other two went to the store at age 2 weeks and have been there basically ever since.  And it is just as chaotic as people would imagine.  Breastfeeding, naptimes, Terrible Two’s, time outs, I have to deal with it all in front of the community.  We have rough days, and I have a “be back in 5 min” sign that needs to go up every now and then while we dry tears (often mine) and get ourselves together.  Parenting in public is one of the hardest things I can ever imagine doing, but at the same time I love that my kids are getting such a diverse childhood.  I love that my four year old has a better grip on business economics than most people I went to college with.  I love that my 19 month old waves to customers and shouts “hi!”  They see their momma work hard everyday, create everyday, and walk the line of momma and manager.  The back room of the store is fully decked out as a day care center.  Toys, sensory tables, art stations, kitchen.  We take a lot of breaks to read “Go Dog Go” or “Mr. Brown Can Moo”.  I’m not as productive as I’d like to be, or as I need to be, but that is just one of the hurdles I have to jump.  I have one day a week where I am kid free at the store and I do about 98% of my work during that time.  We have learned to be pretty patient, the community has completely embraced us, and I eat a lot of chocolate :)

-What plans do you have for Silk Road in the future?

We’d like to grow our classes area, right now we offer basic sewing and knitting/crocheting classes.   We’ve love to expand into more crafting.  We’d also like to expand our online presence, we are primarily a street store with the ability to fulfill mail orders, but we would like to expand that into a bigger section of the business.

Silk Road

One response

  1. Pingback: It’s been a while randomness and things for which I’m thankful….. | Our Little Bruiser

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