Can Friends Be Business Partners?comments (2) October 19th, 2008
A week after our wedding, J.B. and I got together with two couples we're good friends with in Omaha. While the boys played Nintendo Wii, the girls sat around my friend's kitchen table and talked about my plans to open a stationery store. As I explained my vision for the store, they both got more and more excited. Turns out, Anna* and Jamison* were also stationery lovers but in a slightly different way. They were into cutting and pasting and making their own cards. In fact, they each made different paper elements for their respective weddings, from Save the Dates to seating cards.
Although neither could quit her full-time job (Anna was a lawyer and Jamison was a public-health consultant), we were suddenly playing around with the idea of both of them getting involved in the business. Anna, who grew up in Omaha, confirmed my belief that a high-end stationery store was something we desperately needed here. She and her parents, who still live in town, knew LOTS of people-potential customers, local business owners who might be able to give us advice, etc. Plus, Anna's law background, while not in business law, could be beneficial as we began to navigate the legalities of opening a retail shop.
Jamison worked from home and said that she had extra time to help research business plans and loans. She managed her household's finances using fancy Excel charts and graphs and offered to do the same for the store. She could give Martha Stewart's organizational skills a run for her money.
Once we began joking around about going in on this venture together, I realized we might be on to something. When it came to brainstorming, three heads were definitely better than one. And clearly Anna, Jamison, and I brought very different skill sets to the table. Anna knew the law, Jamison knew money, and I knew PR and marketing. Maybe I was biting off more than I could chew thinking I could open a store on my own? I had absolutely no background in business, knew nothing about bank loans, and was generally an indecisive person. Having two business partners might make the whole undertaking more manageable-and more enjoyable.
However, would having partners mean I might have to compromise my vision of the store? Anna and Jamison were both into "Shabby Chic" and would be happy to have the store decorated in that fashion. I was a "Contemporary Sophistication" kind of girl. Could we agree on an aesthetic? What about a name? I'd been toying around with a couple of store names for a while. What if they didn't like any of the ones that I did? And regarding inventory . . . What if we each thought the store should be selling different merchandise? My idea was to sell solely greeting cards, boxed stationery, and single-sheet wrapping paper. But Anna and Jamison thought the store should carry individual sheets of paper and envelopes to "make your own stationery," which would mean we'd also have to carry the scissors and the glue and the rulers for those types of projects.
But the advantages of having business partners seemed to outnumber the disadvantages. After I shared with my family the news that Anna and Jamison were going to be involved in the store, my mother-in-law reminded me of the saying, "Don't go into business with friends because either you won't be in business or you won't be friends," which definitely put the fear in me.
Was I being naive that going into business with two friends would only strengthen our relationships?
* Names have been changed to protect the innocent.