When Taylor Milbauer started looking for a solution to help grow her own business, she had no idea that just a few years later she’d be helping hundreds of small business owners do the same. As a maker, she found herself struggling to find a consistent outlet for her unique products (among them, screen printed t-shirts and woven art. “Outside of the once- or twice-a-year larger expos, there just wasn’t a place for a vendor like me to interact with my customers on a regular basis,” she explains.
So she launched The Boho Market in 2016 at local events in the Dallas area, where vendors could set up tables and meet prospective customers face-to-face.
“I wanted to provide makers, curators and artisans the opportunity to find repeat customers while giving shoppers the chance to support small businesses sourcing ethically and selling honestly in lieu of patronizing big box and national chain stores,” Milbauer explains.
It grew rapidly, and in 2019, it held 54 shows around Texas, offering opportunities for some 1300 business owners to sell their goods. The company was in growth mode, planning 84 shows in 2020 along with expanding to other states, when COVID-19 hit.
Like so many businesses, COVID-19 nearly stopped The Boho Market in its tracks. “It has decimated the local economy, shutting down not only retail shops but markets like ours, removing any chance to come into contact with the customer,” Milbauer explains. “It has changed the commercial landscape forever, and we are doing our best to keep up.”
But they couldn’t give up on their dream, especially knowing that their business helped support the dreams of so many others. “We care for our vendors and our shoppers deeply, and strive to provide them with opportunities that are befitting the incredible craftsmanship and quality of their products,” Milbauer explains.
A robust online marketplace was always part of Milbauer’s vision for her company, but COVID-19 accelerated that timeline. Her husband, James Trammell, whom she met at one of her events, had joined the company as partnership director. With the in-person shows on hold, he taught himself how to build an ecommerce website, launching The Boho Market Online™.
Financing a startup business
Like so many entrepreneurs, Milbauer started with savings and a small loan from family members. The business later took a small business loan from their payment processor, PayPal, which they paid off in 8 months.
Bootstrapping has been part of the company’s DNA from the beginning, Milbauer says. “We’ve prioritized operating within the means of the business, sometimes to the detriment of expedient progress. Still, we’re proud to have built something that not only impacts small businesses and our communities, but to have done so responsibly.”
They have a small business credit card that is used for most business expenses and paid in full each month. It’s been beneficial in several ways, Milbauer says:
- Building a good business credit score over time.
- Providing Southwest travel reward points to travel to “prospective Boho Cities.”
- Keeping most expenses organized in one place
Advice for other business owners
When asked what advice they would give to other business owners, Milbauer and Trammell shared the following:
- “Make sure this idea you’re excited about is something you will pursue even on the days you don’t feel very excited about it. Your business should be not just your passion but your imperative.
- Surround yourself with folks that care about you as a person more than they care about your business idea. After all, this venture is not just something you are doing, this business is you, for better or worse.
- Don’t give up! There is nothing abnormal about feeling discouraged, exhausted or even defeated, but don’t stop! Push, evolve, pause and start again!
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help. We’re all in this together, y’all!”
And pick partners carefully. “I think the biggest mistake was trusting the wrong people,” she warns. “Early on, we partnered with folks who said they had our best interest in mind, but in the end did not. Finding the right partners is imperative and that’s something we certainly have had to overcome.”
One of the smartest things they’ve done is to accept the help of friends and family. “It helped Boho to become the family it is today, and let people know that The Boho Market was supported and supportive and was built to last!,” Milbauer enthuses.
They’ve also been strategically smart by actively engaging with their community. “Our social media presence is now 31,000+ followers strong, giving us direct access to our Boho community of shoppers,” they share. “We cross-promote with both our vendors and our venues, ensuring that as many audiences as possible will be made aware of our upcoming events along with the general spirit of The Boho Market.”
They’ve sought advice from the North Central Texas Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which they say has been a great resource for them, especially during the pandemic.
And Milbauer’s father, David Milbauer, who is a business at Stephen F Austin State University, has been an invaluable source of advice. “I’m thankful for his insight even when we disagree,” Milbauer laughs.
Winning a small business grant
Boho Market is the runner up in Nav’s Quarterly Small Business Grant for the third quarter of 2020, winning $5000 to help the business grow its online marketplace. The Boho Market’s application for the Nav Small Business Grant stood out for a couple of reasons:
- It was very clear how they would use the money to overcome a business challenge and take their business to the next level, and
- Their business supports other small businesses, creating a ripple effect that has the potential to help hundreds of makers and artisans.
In a conversation with Milbauer and Trammell, that passion for their community shone through:
“I love that we’re able to support our little family while also making a positive impact in our community and in our world!” shares Milbauer. “With over 1300 makers, curators and artisans in our Boho family network, I love that we are able to be a platform for so many folks just trying to make a difference, too. We’re all in this together!”