Small businesses in Marietta come with learning curve
MARIETTA — Starting a business in Marietta can be daunting.
“You start a business because you want to help people,” said new business owner Erin Stevens, as she cut hair in her salon, The Modest Peacock, on Wednesday. “And people in the different agencies and organizations are incredibly helpful when you make the calls, but I kind of felt like a detective trying to figure out what the right sequence was and who to call when.”
Stevens opened her Front Street business in December and has since had time to reflect on her experience and review what would have made it easier.
“I went into it and it’s a little overwhelming, trying to come up with the right business loan amount to plan for things you don’t know may come up,” she said.
And some unexpected hiccups did stand in her way of opening at first.
“In the case with Erin the previous shop that was there had done their plumbing work themselves and hadn’t gotten it permitted or inspected,” explained Jonathan Insley, owner of Insley Plumbing. “So when I was called in to do planned switchovers for Erin between sinks from that tattoo parlor and what the health department requires for a hair salon, we found the thermostatic valve control was missing and now that cost more for Erin for a problem that should have been taken care of before she was ever in there.”
Thermostatic valve control is a protection required by commercial business regulations to prevent a member of the public from burning themselves from hot water in a commercial space.
“There are requirements that the water heater in a commercial space brings the water up to above 140 degrees to kill any potential bacteria, but at that temperature, you could also sustain a second-degree burn,” Insley explained. “So this valve gets that water then back down to a maximum of 110 degrees which is hot enough but you’re not going to be in danger.”
The rule is a protection which could use some more teeth to enforce, said Insley, who has seen other commercial and residential clients suffer from the negligence of previous occupants.
“The penalty for doing it wrong should outweigh the cost of doing it correctly the first time,” he concluded.
Others who have opened up shop downtown have wondered what the processes are for getting their signage approved by city officials.
“When I was working with Jennifer Sturgill at Green Acres that’s when I first really realized we could really improve a guide to lead business owners and entrepreneurs toward success,” said Carrie Ankrom, president and CEO of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce.
The current guide available through the Marietta city website at mariettaoh.net is a good place to start, to know what potential agencies and department one may need to talk to.
It lists city engineering, development, streets and income tax offices, plus the contact information for the chamber, Marietta Main Street, the permitting office through the regional building department and other development entities.
“But there’s not a clear recipe,” described Stevens, seeing an analogy between the list on the city website and opening one’s fridge-there may be ingredients available but it’s not clear which ones you need for your recipe. “I think even having another business owner serving as a liaison to help someone know what steps and in what order they need to accomplish everything to successfully open their business would have been useful. I’d definitely be interested in helping with something like that.”
Ankrom also has her eyes set on creating a partnered document with city officials, Marietta Main Street, the Southeastern Port Authority and even contractors and accountants.
“Having essentially a one-stop guide that we could have at the office and that could live digitally could be a great way to revamp that list,” she said. “It’s information I’d like to know more about so I can answer questions when a developer or commercial business steps into my office just as much as when an entrepreneur does.”
She said such a guide with a step-by-step flow depending on the type of business and the type of premises intended to be occupied, could increase the positive perception of the town.
“I’ll be talking about that with our board at our annual retreat this spring but I think it needs to be a partnership between all the parties, from the Southeast Ohio Building Department to even the city streets department,” said Ankrom. “What I learned when I was helping Jennifer was how ready and willing (city engineer) Joe Tucker and (safety-service director) Jonathan Hupp were to help. But if you’re just starting out and new I think fostering those relationships especially with our small businesses and city officials helps to show that we’re all here to help you and that we as a community are business friendly.”