Small Business Week: Pinellas entrepreneurs share stories, tips (2024)

Small Business Week runs April 28-May 4 and celebrates the hard work of entrepreneurs and small businesses everywhere

Lucky for Pinellas County, there are many resources for those thinking of launching a small business and keeping it successful.

According to the Florida Small Business Development Center, Pinellas County is a strong business incubator and leader: “The Gulf Coast’s most popular tourist destination boasts a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem across 24 municipalities, a driven and trained workforce, robust infrastructure, and regional and global connectivity via Interstate-275, two international airports in St. Pete-Clearwater and Tampa, and the largest port in Florida.

"Anchored by the urban markets ofClearwater and St. Petersburg, Pinellas has the third largest base of manufacturingemployment in Florida, generated 1/5 of all state of Florida economic activity in medical devices, and is a top location for aviation and aerospace and other industries. An extensive network of suppliers, service-providers and business associations support businesses both large and small.

"Businesses can move to or start up in Pinellas, and all businesses will find ample support for sustained growth through the community’s financing and investment tools, and programs like Pinellas County’s $90-plus millionEmployment Sites Program to prepare modernized sites for jobs of the future.”

Most small business owners suggest finding mentors or an informal board of trusted advisors. For many, local Chamber of Commerce memberships are a great source of ideas, resources and networking.

Pinellas County and many local cities provide resources and key information on their websites. Co-working sites like Thrive DTSP help entrepreneurs connect and grow. Organizations such as Working Women of Tampa Bay host meet-ups and networking events.

The Greenhouse co-manager Tracey Smith invites entrepreneurs to come to the 2024 Small Business Expo on Tuesday, April 30, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., where they can talk to vendors and attend some lectures by small business owners. The Greenhouse says on its website that “it is the front door to business growth in St. Pete, offering a platform for new and established enterprises to flourish. With expert navigators to guide entrepreneurs through business complexities, essential connections to our business resource partners, and robust advocacy that celebrates and elevates the community's unique character, The Greenhouse is committed to building capacity and coordinating resources to ensure every small business not only starts strong but continues to grow and thrive.”

So how do small businesses in Pinellas County survive and thrive? After talking to dozens of small businesses, the consensus focused on be prepared and work smart. Others stressed the importance of staying organized, learning to be flexible, maintain a personal touch and a great, consistent product, hire good people and have a marketing plan (website, social and data analytics) to support sales and enhance customer service.

TBN interviewed three local entrepreneurs and small business owners: Mary O’Donnell, CEO/owner of Terrapin Ridge Farm; Julianne Causey of Isle of Style; and Jim Miller of Pee-Pat’s Garage Craft Brewer.

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Terrapin Ridge Farms

Headquartered in Clearwater, Mary O’Donnell is the CEO and owner of Terrapin Ridge Farms, a leading creator and distributor of unique gourmet condiments. With a passion for culinary innovation, Terrapin Ridge Farms specializes in crafting complex, flavor fusions, firmly believing that every meal should offer an extraordinary experience. A native of Rocky River, Ohio, Mary earned her bachelor of science degree from The Ohio State University before pursuing an MBA from Cleveland State University. Relocating to Belleair, Florida, with her husband and two children in 2009, Mary has dedicated over 36 years to consumer products and product development. She finds immense joy in witnessing the delight new products bring to consumers. In 2010, Mary, alongside her business partner, acquired Terrapin Ridge Farms. At the time, the company boasted a modest selection of products and a clientele of about 100 customers, but with Mary's leadership, it quickly flourished.

Today, Terrapin Ridge Farms offers over 110 products and serves a diverse customer base of over 7,000 customers worldwide including restaurants, wineries, delis, butcher shops, specialty markets and more. Locally, you can buy them at Belleair Market, Publix, John’s Pass Winery, Mazzaro’s and restaurants. Currently employing 51, the owner says “We are not your grandmother’s jams, we are innovative but not fussy. We watch trends and I like to think that we offer are chef-inspired condiments that are inspired by our travels and our reps who talk to everyone about what customers might like.”

O’Donnell came up with the Cilantro Ranch dressing while sitting in an airport, eating a Southwestern salad with cilantro and squeezing lime and Ranch dressing on it. “Our brand is to make our foods fun, unique and experiment with global flavors,” she says. Their salsa with ghost pepper, dill pickle aioli and hot pepper bacon jam are top-sellers.

O’Donnell’s advice to small business folks? “Surround yourself with good people that you can count on and rely on. Figure that launching and running the business will cost you more than you projected. You have to have a good product; do your market research and go for quality. Finally, have a board of advisors help you with ideas and encouragement when you’re in the trenches.”

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Isle of Style

Fashionista Julianne Causey runs Isle of Style at 200 104th Ave. in Treasure Island, a ladies’ consignment with unique styling tips and great local gifts. “I am delighted to be in my second year of a long-time dream — owning a boutique. I grew up in Texas and my dad instilled in me the hunt for a great deal. When he bought me clothes at the local boutique sale rack, he would leave the tags to show off the discount.”

Fashionhas been her passion since high school when she discovered herstyle but she worked in advertising after college, combing consignment stores for stylish clothes. “Fast forward to 2012 when I lived in Maryland and became afashionconsultant for cabi, which was a perfect fit since I was homeschooling my youngest son. I would take a rolling rack of clothes to ladies’ homes forstyleshows, and my territory grew to five states.”

The family moved to Florida in 2017 and Causey worked at Spinner’s as a hostess and a server in between launching another small business. “My husband and I are both entrepreneurs at heart. We started cruisestpetebeach, which offers daytime and sunset cruises on a 37-foot Formula.” But Causey still wanted to own a boutique. When her hair stylist suggested she move into Benjamin’s Studio, she jumped at the opportunity and opened Isle of Style in September 2023.

Curated gently used clothes are a fashionista’s dream. “Not only are recycled clothes good for the environment, as a fashion stylist I get to help people discover their authentic style,“ says Causey, who also does closet audits. Isle of Style hosts fundraisers and fashion shows and gives back to the community.

Causey partners with Created to receive her expired clothing. “Created is a local non-profit that actually goes out on the streets and rescues abused and trafficked women. In November, I took the ladies more than 200 pieces of clothing and we gave them a fashion show.

Her secret for her small business success? “I bring in quality clothes with a fun flair, some upscale, some vintage, but I look at every piece to make sure it is in great condition. The most difficult part of running a small business, for me, is that I am a sole proprietor with no employees, so I have to be here when my store is open — that can be a challenge. I work hard to think of new ways to catch people’s attention, using social media consistently and networking,” says Causey. On April 30, Isle of Style will host a Mother’s Day Appreciation Party 12:30-4:30 p.m. with refreshments and a fairy hair stylist.Open Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

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Pee Pa’s Garage Craft Brewery

Jim Brown owned a collision shop in this Pinellas Park location for 40 years. In 2021, he opened the city’s first craft brewery and it’s been a hit ever since. With fundraisers for many local organizations including veterans and the Reach Program (food for kids), an AstroTurf family and pet friendly patio, an axe-throwing room (Pee Pa’s Garage Hatchet Barn) that doubles as a cornhole tournament area and a new Cajun food truck, this is the place to hang out.

Located at 6340 49th St. N., there’s a Brewer’s Market with artists, crafters, food and beer on the first Sunday of every month noon-4 p.m. On Wednesday, there is a cornhole tournament and first and third Fridays are open mic night. The brewery is open Wednesday and Thursday 3-10 p.m., Friday 3-11 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 1-11 p.m. It’s also available for private parties.

The decision to transform the successful collision shop into a craft brewery and local Cheers was a family affair and decision. Brown’s son is the brewer, trained at USF St. Pete’s Brewing Arts program, working with a head brewer until he was ready to take over this year. Brown shared some of his small business challenges: “Getting insurance — health, liability, propertyis our biggest expense and uncontrollable,” he says. “As the newbie craft brewery, we made beer quality and creating a friendly, fun experience. For me, our success depends on a great product, hiring good people, excellent customer service, honesty, integrity, hard work and in my case, funding the operation myself means I work hard but I own every decision.”

Small Business Week: Pinellas entrepreneurs share stories, tips (2024)
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