Bid Brothers

1116 NW 17th Ave

Providing some kind of service is the key ingredient to starting a small business. Naturally, your path is simple if you're a prostitute, but what kind of services can the normal guy on the street offer? Happily for Erik Vignau and Denis Burger, they stumbled upon an almost indispensable service: getting rid of other people's junk. But while normal consignment shops pay out the snoot for expensive real estate in high traffic areas, Erik and Denis came up with a damnably clever idea to avoid that money pit--selling your junk for you on the internet.

Just clean out your closet, and take those old record albums, ski jackets, lamps, trombones, jewelry, snowboards, and condom machines (worth $35 or more) and drop them off at Bid Brothers on NW 17th Avenue. Erik and Denis will price, photograph, and write a snappy description that will sell quick on eBay--and then after shipping the product, they take a commission, and give you the remaining cash. The pair also organizes fundraisers for local schools and non-profits to help give back to their community. See? CLEVER, CLEVER, CLEVER. We talked with Erik to see how the boys got their start...

What inspired you to start this particular business?

We both had previous careers in the media industry. But for us, Bid Brothers seemed like the perfect way to get back to working with the local community. Combining our eBaying and raising money for schools and non-profits is a dream job for us.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of starting your business with a partner?

Advantage: The power of two is always greater than one. The disadvantage? Consensus.

Is starting an internet business an easier route than other businesses--like restaurants, or retail?

Opening any business is hard. You're basically creating something from scratch and have to live with the success or failure. Oh yeah, it costs money, too.

Startup capital is always a headache, and something that stops most people in their tracks. Any advice on how to lay your hands on some money?

Rob a bank, beg a relative, have a trust fund, get a loan... or the good old standby--run up the credit cards and juggle those free introductory 0% interest rate offers. It's tough but it can be done.

Can you suggest any informational sources for the beginning entrepreneur?

I always read Inc. magazine for stories about other start up successes and failures--that way I don't feel like I'm on my own. BusinessWeek has a good small business website and Fast Company is full of good ideas.

Jenn Armbrust


NW Couch between 5th & 6th

One year ago, Jenn opened Motel, a gallery and a boutique for handmade merchandise, from coasters to handbags. Featuring hip new designers, Motel is one of First Thursday's most crowded shops.

Where did you get the inspiration?

I'd had this idea that someone would open a handmade boutique, which seemed like a logical extension of what was going on here with places like Seaplane and Reading Frenzy--but no one did. Finally, I thought maybe I was the person who should.

Did you have any business experience or education?

No--I studied Marxism in school! I took a one-day class through the SBA (Small Business Administration) that taught me about insurance, marketing, accounting, and legalities like licensing.

What advice would you offer a prospective business owner?

Start talking to people whose businesses you admire. Don't try to reinvent the wheel--if someone's developed a system, use it. It's also important to handle all aspects of your business and not just hand it off for someone else to take care of.

Do you ever wish you had a boss?

Not at all--I push myself hard enough. This is the best job I've ever had and I hope that I can make it work so I don't have to fire myself.

Sarah Shaoul

Retread Threads

931 SW Oak St

Undeterred by the crotchety small business counselors who told her that her idea would never work, and all the others who said she was bound to fail (they regularly stop by the shop to tell her she proved them wrong), Sarah Shaoul stuck to her guns and opened up Portland's first buy/sell/trade clothing store in '93 on SE Clinton.

Now located on SW Oak across from Powell's, Retread Threads is thriving and Shaoul says her ideas about business have shifted. "I'm not in it to make a whole bunch of money," she says, noting that she's more interested in local issues.

"As a business owner you owe it to the community to be involved with your community," she says while citing some of her projects. "Downtown zoning issues, placement of streetcar stops, and educating people about the importance of supporting small businesses."

Shaoul's main occupation is trying to get people to understand the connection between supporting local independent businesses--that filter money back into the community and create more local jobs--and the improvement of Portland's economy.

And to anyone who is looking to start their own independent business in town, Shaoul, who broke every rule in the book while opening up her business, says, "Look to unconventional practices and use all of your resources." Most importantly, "Stay true to your idea."

Sarah & Jessica Holliday

Staccato Gelato, 232 NE 28th

Some might say that opening a business based on your pregnant sister's cravings is not such a swell idea. Lucky for Sarah Holliday, co-owner of Staccato Gelato, her sister Jessica wasn't the pickles-and-peanut-butter type. In fact, she wanted nothing but ice cream while she was baking a little bun in the oven.

After learning that Portland had the highest consumption per capita of the stuff, Sarah thought it might be a good thing to cash in on. But, after coming home from living abroad, she thought they may want to put a continental twist on it: Why not gelato?

When asked if it's a good idea to go into business with a family member, Sarah replied: "I think it depends on your relationship with your sister." The two Hollidays have managed to keep their relationship entirely together. At worst, they say, they might spend a day not talking and then bum rush each other to apologize at the end of the day.

Sarah attributes the smoothness to the fact that they have different strengths. "I'm a schmoozer, she's more detail-oriented." And to the fact that there's not too much overlap. "We made sure our duties were separate--she's back-of-the-house, I'm front-of-the-house."

Staccato is not entirely a family affair though: the Hollidays managed to get their friends to put in a lot of work on the place from painting, to carpentry. How they did they get the help? "We asked," says Sarah. "Friends were definitely good supports. I don't think this would be a successful business with out them," she admits.