Business development officer Bob Miller asked to see her business plan, Bennett said. When she told him she didn’t know what that was, he didn’t laugh.
“He sent me to the SBA website, and they had all this information on there,” Bennett said. “I would reference it regularly and just rack my brain, reference all the books I’ve read and certain classes that I’ve taken.”
That was in November 2014. Bennett persevered, won approval for a $25,000 loan and opened the doors of Sacramento’s Chief Piercing in September 2015.
Saying all that in one sentence makes it seem so easy, but it was anything but. The small business advisers at California Capital and other local agencies will tell you that many people talk about their business ideas but few of them ever complete a business plan. It took Bennett seven months to complete hers.
She had contemplated starting her own business for several years before she screwed up the courage to walk into a bank. She told me she also had saved money of her own to put toward her dream studio, a place that would feel warm and welcoming. She had done piercing in tattoo shops around the region for many years, she said, and she knew that a large segment of her customers were put off by the gruffness they often faced in such establishments.
“It just wasn’t geared toward the customers’ well-being, and that’s my whole thing here, my niche,” said the soft-spoken Bennett, who started her career in 2004. “I gear it toward the customer, which is unusual for a piercing shop. Usually, it tends to be a little ego-centered, and you can feel that vibe when you walk in, you don’t feel welcome, so I wanted to fix that.”
The Sacramento High School graduate originally apprenticed in a Sacramento shop that was piercings-only, she said, but it added tattoo artists and eventually closed. Her shop, at 1018 22nd St., looks like an upscale salon. She’s decorated it with custom lighting and vintage furniture.
Before starting Chief Piercing, Bennett told me, she had run the piercing operation at Urban Body Piercing & Tattoo in Davis for two years. By then, she had begun reading “The E Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It” and other books by small-business guru Michael Gerber. She began to apply his techniques at Urban Body.
“I noticed that I started growing the business by about 30 percent each year,” Bennett said, “and then I realized that the demographic that I was attracting were about 90 percent women. The tattooing vibe was clashing with what I was creating, and I knew I had to make this happen for my customers.”
That’s when she approached Miller, a man she now describes as not just her loan officer but a friend. When she wrote her business plan, she broke down the sales growth she had fostered for her employer, and she backed those figures up with her personal tax returns that showed the growth in her commissions.
Bennett initially qualified for a $15,000 loan, backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to finance her first round of jewelry with so little money. Her longtime partner, Doug Mower, signed on as a guarantor, and together, they qualified for the $25,000.
Bennett used $15,000 of her own money to get her new space equipped and furnished. After reviewing Bennett’s business plan, Mower’s parents gave the couple a gift of $10,000 to fund the dream. Bennett left her job in Davis in the summer of 2015.
“That economy over there in Davis is so different from here (in midtown Sacramento),” Bennett said. “There, I got mostly all college students. Every October was insanely busy. Then I got people from Woodland, Vacaville, Fairfield and Dixon, but in Sacramento, I’m noticing that my demographic is all professionals … more college graduates.”
Although Bennett does piercings, she makes most of her money through jewelry sales. She had long wanted to choose her own jewelry inventory. In fact, her logo, a side profile of a woman wearing a large earring, was inspired by one of her favorite designers, Maya Jewelry.
“I’m very careful about what I choose to carry because I want jewelry that will last,” Bennett said. “The metal needs to be up to standard, too, so people won’t have a reaction to it. A lot of people are very sensitive, and a lot of the metals out there are mixed. You don’t really know what’s in them.”