Lemonade Makers

April McCray

Two years ago, April McCray, 38, got the feeling it was time to change careers. She’d been helping sell homes for a real estate developer in Palm Springs, California, but the market was fizzling and sales were getting scarce. She and her husband took their savings and started Color Me House, which makes cardboard forts for kids. She talked to us about how she came up with the idea, why they moved in with his parents, and how she got her products into Costco.

Did you quit your job or were you laid off?
My job pretty much quit itself. The builders were letting everyone go. People weren’t closing. I knew in three months there would be nothing left to be made. I’d left the office and was looking for a new place to go, but everywhere I went there was nothing. I knew that I was not a desired commodity any more and I was going to have to recreate yourself…

question-mark-bulletin-board-150We’re entrepreneurs. We like entrepreneurs. We are especially fond of what we call New Entrepreneurs — the countless people who, having been downsized in the downturn, were inspired to start businesses for the very first time.

Last week we interviewed Lori Chalmers, who started her handbag company, ChaCha, after being laid off from her graphic design job. Her one piece of advice for those looking to follow in her footsteps: Plan, if you can.

Enter David Ronick’s 16 questions

lori chalmers cha cha bags 200At the end of 2007, Lori Chalmers was laid off from her main graphic design gig with one day’s notice. Scrambling for income, she took a shot at turning her hobby—designing and making handbags—into a business. The 30-year-old talked to us about how she created her Toronto-based fashion company, Cha Cha, from scratch.

One day?

Well, as a freelance you have no protection, no severance, nothing.

I came home and had locked myself out of my apt. So I was waiting for my landlord, thinking about how I could make some money quickly. I had been making bags for my friends and for myself. It was my one skill…

brandon-howard-and-fisayo-esconsay-150Brandon Howard and Fisayo Esconsay, both 28, were roommates at the University of Maryland. When the economy took a dive, Esconsay’s law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, warned associates they should look for other opportunities; Howard, who worked in music marketing for Steve Stoute and Jay-Z, was laid off. In September, they plan to open Recess, a new nightclub located a block from the White House. They talked to Recessionwire about why they’re betting the project can thrive.

Nightclubs are a notoriously fickle business. What makes you think you can pull this off in this economy?

Esconsay: I’ve been promoting events in D.C. this whole time, through the economic downturn. The nightclub business hasn’t realty taken as much of a hit as other businesses. I’m not sure if people are looking for low cost alternative for entertainment or what, but the nightclub business hasn’t missed a beat.

Howard: People have to look at opportunity. In the recession you have people who are trying to move the ball ahead. Those are the people who are going to come out on top…

green-genie-painting-grass-lawn-250Southern California was a greener, lusher place before the downturn. Homeowners worked to keep their lawns verdant—but with recession came thousands of foreclosures, and acres of brown grass. Last summer, T.J. Davis, who is retired from the fire department, and his brother-in-law, Mike Patino, who had been laid off, saw a news story about a company in drought-plagued Northern California that painted dry lawns using an eco-sensitive dye. In October, they launched Green Genie Lawn Service in Winchester, Calif. Davis talked to Recessionwire about the opportunity they saw in making grass greener for 25 cents a square foot.

What did it take to start this up?
It wasn’t a cheap investment. We spent almost $9,000. We bought a tank for $2,500 and a trailer we got through Craigslist. The dye itself is $99 a gallon and comes in two-and-a-half gallon containers, so if you want to buy several of them, it’s expensive…

barbara-bourn-stephanie-aucoin-150Stephanie Aucoin, 48, was laid off from an accounting firm in September. Barbara Bourn, 59, who works in interior design sales in Sarasota, Fla., has seen her income decline 60 percent thanks to the downturn. In March the longtime friends designed and started selling silicone arm bands embossed with the words “I Need a Job.” They have made back their initial investment and are turning a profit. Bourn talked with us about launching their first business.

Lance Armstrong has sold more than 70 million LiveStrong bands. How many have you sold?
We’re probably getting up around the 10,000 mark…

Ken Gullette, 56
Silvis, Illinois

In April 2008, after more than two decades in media and communications, Ken Gullette was laid off from his job at the University of South Florida. He decided to try turning his small side business—shooting and selling martial arts DVDs online—into a full-fledged company. Within several weeks, he had launched Internal Fighting Arts, a website that provides long-distance instruction in Chen Tai Chi, Hsing-I Chuan and Baguazhang to subscribers around the world.

You launched your business on the Fourth of July?
It was my metaphor for being independent of the man. The other day on IM one of my friends typed, “Oh shit, tomorrow’s Monday.” I thought, Yeah, tomorrow I get to work harder! When Friday comes I’m almost disappointed…

elizabeth-mcgowan-150Profiles of people who turn economic lemons into lemonade.

Elizabeth McGowan
New York, Upper West Side

Before recession: Corporate Technology Project Manager at Morgan Stanley

Now: Career/life coach at McGowan Coaching, where she helps others discover their passion and realize their potential through periods of transition in career and relationships.

When did you notice a shift in the economic climate?

In September 2007, layoff rumors were circulating. Around this time, I experienced a shift in my thinking about how fulfilled I was as a Project Manager. After attending a coaching class, I identified my talents through assessment, discovery, and review of my current path…

lemonade-maker-greg-150Profiles of people who turn economic lemons into lemonade.

This week’s Lemonade Maker: Greg Stallkamp

Location: Chicago

Before recession: Financial Consultant

Now: Founder, Holosfitness.com, a social networking website for the fitness community.

When did you notice a shift in the economic climate?

I first noticed clients were planning to scale back their budgets at the end of 2007. By the beginning of 2008, clients were already starting to cut back in terms of head-count and use of outside consultants. My firm saw several clients leave by February and March of 2008. Basically, I saw the writing on the wall and decided it was time to leave.

What was your “aha” moment?

From a needs standpoint, I realized that there was a need for the services offered by our website several years ago. There simply was no way for regular individuals who practiced active lifestyles (in terms of sports and fitness) to track their progress…

The Growing Lemonade Stand

by Laura Rich on March 30, 2009 in Work

LemonsThere are many cute sayings on how hard times bring about new discoveries. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” “Turning adversity to advantage.”

At Recessionwire, we’re always amazed by the stories of how people are dealing with the tough hand that’s being dealt us all right now, but the clichés don’t capture it — the obstacles from without and especially within that go into taking this pile of, ahem, economic lemons and not simply dumping them but turning them into drinkable, sellable lemonade…