Indie Business Network Member Spotlight: Keith Emmons and Robert Ungemach of Dallas, Texas

One of the best ways to be inspired to make yourself and your business the best they can be is to learn from the success of others. That’s why we love to spotlight our members here at the blog. Today, you’ll meet Keith Emmons and Robert Ungemach, co-founders and partners at Kiez, an online boutique and retail store located in the Bishop Arts District in Dallas, Texas. Meet Keith (foreground) and Robert!

robert-and-keith_optFormerly knowns as Shambhala Body Gallery, Kiez has been a member of the Indie Business Network since January 2007. I asked Keith to share a bit about their life together and their business. Here's a little of what he said:

Q1 TELL US ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS

We incorporated Kiez LLC in February of 2011, after spending the first five years in business as Shambhala Body Gallery, a sole proprietorship manufacturing our own hand poured candles and bath products. We wanted somewhere physical to sell our products, so we opened our own store.

Kiez started from a spark of an idea to work for ourselves and leave the corporate world behind us. Over the years, we met people from our local community that support our business, along with others who travel from other communities.

We've developed a keen sense of community to surround our business, opening our Bishop Arts retail store in 2007. It’s a wonderful place that is supported by locals and enjoyed by everyone, whether visiting from other areas of the Dallas Metroplex, or from around the country or abroad.

As we began our company manufacturing our own bath products and candles, we discovered how difficult it is to bring your products to market via a traditional wholesale business model. So, we decided to open our own store and sell our products there.

Small businesses are the backbone of our country’s economy, and yet it can be a challenge for a small business to get their products to consumers. With this understanding, we decided to focus on bringing in products from other small businesses. Today, we sell our own products as we also help artisans sell their products in our store.

Our business is the perfect reflection of one of our favorite sayings by Gandhi: “Action expresses priorities.”

Here is a picture of our store before it opened.

store-before_opt

Here is a picture of how that same area looks today.

store-after_opt

[Editor's Note: Road Trip!]

Q2 WHAT ARE YOUR BEST SELLING PRODUCTS?

Our Nefertiti line has been our top seller since we first introduced it in 2007.

Nefertiti-line_opt

Bar soap, lotion, lotion sticks, sugar scrubs, candles have always been the top sellers. We were lucky to find a unique fragrance through a contact we made on one of the online soapmaking boards.

We bought from her on a pre-sale, and when we started ordering more and more, she gave us the manufacturer and code numbers, so started buying the fragrance directly. That one thing opened up another world of sourcing our supplies and motivated us to reduce our costs by buying direct as often as possible. This had a huge impact on our margins.

Q3 WHAT SORTS OF THINGS DO YOU LIKE TO DO WHEN YOU'RE NOT WORKING?

Huh! When are we not working!?

Since both of us have responsibilities in the businesses, it can be difficult to find something else to do or talk about. Robert still has his full-time job. He has been able to continue to grow his career. It is that job that supported our entire household while we grew the business over the last 7 years. It was not unusual for both of us to work 60-70 hours a week.

Now that we have employees and some more time on our hands, we are looking into traveling to the locations that we source our fair trade items. Fair trade is very important to us and we would love to meet the people from around the world whose products we sell so we can see the impact of our work first hand.

We are very excited to be doing what we love to do, and doing it together. We are on track to gross half a million in sales this year, and we are happy to share that to encourage others: if you work hard at something you love, carve out your niche, serve your community, and stick together, the sky is the limit when it comes to selling your products. We expect that number to increase as we continue to set up our website for online sales.

We are also starting to work on our 100-year-old house again, which is great.

We work with local organizations, such as Turner House, which supports the arts in our community. We also work with another organization that supports women transitioning back into society from prison, education, job skill training, helping them to become productive and not dependent on government programs.

Q4 WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT BEING A MEMBER OF THE INDIE BUSINESS NETWORK?

There is something about being an Indie that is exciting. It’s almost intangible. Indies are a great group of people, all striving to achieve basically the same thing. We are Independent Business People. We share our success and support each other during the not so great times.

There is just so much to starting, growing and sustaining a small business, and it can be overwhelming at times. The collective knowledge that Donna Maria has put together is so helpful. I must admit that I will listen to a podcast or read a post and think, “If I only had read this before we tried to …” You can fill in the blank with just about anything.

There is no user manual to starting your own business, but IBN is about as close as you can get.

You can learn more about Indie Business Network membership and the benefits we offer (including affordable product liability insurance, coaching, and mentoring) at this link. Learn more about our entry level Indie Protégé program here.


LEARN MORE ABOUT KIEZ

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Click here to learn more about the Bishop Arts District in Dallas.

Click here to learn more about Turner House in Dallas.

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.