Small business takes over at the Greenbank Farm

Islanders often times have to be creative to make a living or even some extra money, and there will be no lack of creative people at the Greenbank Farm Home Business Expo next weekend.

With job opportunities limited on the island, there are many home-generated businesses. Some people just start their own business, while others hook up with national franchises based in their own homes.

Reasons for getting involved go beyond just money. For many, it’s a way to meet new people and get out of the house on a cold winter’s day.

Connie Larsen, for example, joined up with a company called Finest Accessories. She moved to Oak Harbor last April, and finds that selling fashionable items is a good way of networking.

“You can work out of your own house and meet new people,” Larsen said. “I’m retired from Boeing after 32 years and I can do it at my leisure. If I really wanted to push it I could do really good.”

Larsen sells L. Erickson products such as handbags, opera wallets, silk scarves and hair accessories, that she said are usually available only in fine department stores. She can sell them for less and give islanders a chance to buy fine products without traveling to the nearest Nordstrom.

Larsen said it doesn’t cost a lot to get involved in such a business ­— in her case, just a few hundred dollars to purchase some inventory. “Anybody can do it,” she said. She’s looking forward to exhibiting her products for the first time at the Greenbank Home Business Expo, where she’s going to “have a sale” to clear out inventory and get ready for spring.

For Floydene VanVelkinburgh, a home business isn’t just a hobby, it’s her livelihood. She’s been in carpentry business for years in the Greenbank area, but just last year launched her own company, called Multiple Home Services.

With help from her son, daughter and other crew members, VanVelkinburgh offers finished carpentry, remodeling, decks, carpets and landscaping. “We’re expanding and adding more finished carpentry,” she said. “We have customers all over the island.”

With Greenbank’s centralized location, VanVelkinburgh expects to meet people from all over at the Home Business Expo. “This will be my first time,” she said. “This year I’m going to do it.” She’s hoping to find more clients during her two days at the expo.

Freeland resident Marilyn Abrahamson will be another exhibitor with her Beady Velvet Designs business which grew out of a simple visit to an Arizona gift shop. “It turned into a serious business,” she said.

At that gift shop, Abrahamson purchased a beaded cellphone holder. She received so many positive comments about it when she returned to the island that she decided she could sell them. The only question was, how?

Abrahamson has a full-time job in Everett, but decided to branch out with her own business. “It took me two-and-a-half months of Internet research to find a manufacturer,” she said.

She was dealing on the Web with Chinese manufacturers, who would try to follow her design and then send her a sample. It was expensive, as each three-ounce sample product cost about $100, and she went through a number of companies that failed to produce what she wanted. But finally, she found a company that could manufacture a quality version of her many imaginative designs. “They’re beautiful,” she said. She now has a wide selection of handcrafted beaded cellphone and reading glass holders, as well as small purses.

“My whole inventory is in my trunk,” Abrahamson says with a laugh. She tells stories of selling the colorful items to “everybody on the ferry” one day, and then to “everybody in the supermarket” on another day. Many people invited her to special events so others can order her products.

“This is a hobby but I really like the items,” Abrahamson said. “This is not a business, it’s a calling. They’re individual works of art, made in China.”

It’s also been a learning experience. She learned how to deal with businesses in China, from how to order to how to find a good manufacturer. You have to be careful, she said. “Some of it is absolute junk, but I found the right manufacturer.”

At the Home Business Expo, Abrahamson will have her entire line of products on display. “I’ll have everything there,” she said. “It’s a way to promote my business, I’m always selling.”

That’s exactly why Izzy Olivia, Greenbank Farm event manager, started the Business Expo three years ago.

“A lot of island businesses run out of their homes,” Olivia said. “This encourages cottage industries. A lot of times neighbors do not know the products and services that are available. I became aware that many of these small business entrepreneurs need a place to exhibit.”

Olivia encourages islanders to come out to the farm next weekend to meet the entrepreneurs. “Their business is your business,” she said. “Come see what they are up to, what they offer and how you connect with them.”

There will be samples to taste, demos to watch and lots of information to receive. A full range of business opportunities as well as products will be available.