Brian Miller, owner of Monkey Tailz in Green Bay, said that his desire to become an entrepreneur started in the military service.
“In the military, I felt like just another number. Then, when I got in to the civilian world, I still felt like a number. If I was going to put in a lot of hard work, I wanted it to mean something and see the rewards of my time,” Miller said.
He and his wife, Rachel, started searching for a business in 2011. They had lived in the South and saw the popularity of frozen yogurt bars, and after moving to Green Bay, had noticed that they weren’t yet popular here.
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“That was our starting point,” Miller said. “We thought about purchasing a franchise where everything would be all set up until we got a 200-page franchise disclosure agreement. I read through every page of that, and there were so many rules to follow that it was getting out of the realm of what we wanted to do.”
They decided to create their own business and started looking for locations and vendors to open a frozen soft-serve yogurt bar and coffee café. When they met a business consultant at a networking event, they were convinced that he would be able to help.
“We signed a contract with the consultant, and he wrote a 28-page business plan,” Miller said. “We also paid for a feasibility study to look at traffic flow, ease of access and parking. It all turned out to be a big waste of money.”
Miller found free assistance when he went to SCORE to get input on whether his business plan had merit and to get suggestions for finding financing. He took the 28-page plan and condensed it to 14 pages. At about the same time, he heard about the Green Bay Packers Mentor/ Protégé program that matches minority, female, and veteran-owned businesses with experienced business people.
During a free training session, he learned that he had to be in business for two years to qualify. That thought stuck in the back of his mind as he opened Monkey Tailz, an ice cream, frozen banana, and yogurt shop, in the downtown district.
Getting the store open proved to be another huge challenge.
“When we got in the building, it was a shambles. I had to put in a whole front entrance, front window, plumbing, and all of the electrical. It was a nightmare story,” he said.
With perseverance, the shop was completed. However, sales have not yet met expectations and Miller, who now has more than two years under his belt, decided to apply for the Mentors/ Protégé program. He was matched with SCORE volunteer Bob Jahnke who shared his part of the story in last week’s column.
The goal of both is simple.
“I want to have our business out of the red, and if over the course of the year we could break even with expenses and gross sales, I would be extremely happy,” Miller explained.
As he works with Jahnke, he is making changes in his menu and marketing to accomplish that goal. The addition of sandwiches is projected to increase food sales by 50 percent. The father of four wants to be in a growth position that will allow him to make the business profitable and not take away from his family’s income (his wife works full time).
For lunch, Miller is targeting the downtown workers and concentrating on food that will be quick to make and high in quality. Because he is located on the same block as the weekly Farmer’s Market, he hopes that will bring in customers who will return during the week.
“I want people to know that we have some of the best ice cream around. It’s a great product that has won national awards. And, if the food takes off, that will be another niche,” Miller said.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.