Tucked quietly away in Montville, Maine, Cathy Roberts has “pieced” together a thriving niche company over the past 25 years. Pieceworks is a unique manufacturing and assembly service that provides everything from production design to shipping, all with sustainability and made-in-Maine ethics. This small business has grown from a room in her house alongside a growing young family, to a fully staffed facility built near her home. Pieceworks has done everything from designing and manufacturing a certain needed piece for a larger project, to compiling multi piece “kits”, to packing and shipping individual products; a one-stop insourcing service.
Cathy has learned a lot along the way, especially about up-front investments, and client commitments. When asked about lessons learned, she shared that, “I have learned over the years to ask the right questions and know where the red flags are. I am very cautious about working with start-ups that have no track record. I will entertain prototypes and product development but now charge for these services rather than “hope” that our input will bring a financial return down the road.”
Positive customer experiences include working with a small start up business owner as she needed to outsource tasks due to growth beyond what she could manage on her own at home. Pieceworks worked with her to produce and ship her product so that she could concentrate on other aspects of her growing and profitable business.
Cathy recalls another positive experience recently which hit close to home, “Recently a project came to Pieceworks and like so many, its function was unknown to us. Later we were informed that the assembly was an integral part of the Covid-19 vaccine distribution. This energized all of us at Pieceworks to feel like we were part of a solution to the current pandemic. The project is ongoing and is a welcome addition to the other products we are currently assembling.”
Speaking of COVID-19, Pieceworks like many has had to adapt. PPP funds allowed employees to continue to work during a very slow 2nd quarter in 2020. Cathy initiated COVID-19 checklist practices based on the state protocols. She explains that, “We are all wearing masks for the entire work day, social distancing when possible, individual work stations are designated, clear plastic dividers are set up where necessary, sanitizer, gloves, and cleaning products are available at all work stations, temperatures are taken daily, and no one but employees are allowed to enter the building. If anyone is not feeling well, they are to stay home and must get tested and cleared before returning. So far, we have all been healthy to date and work has been uninterrupted since the pandemic began last March.”
Working with the WBC over the years has been helpful to Cathy, working with individual counselors Betty Gensel years ago and more recently Ruth Feldman on PPP guidance. Cathy recommends tapping into the many resources available to small businesses in addition to CEI and the WBC such as Eastern Maine District Development Corp., SCORE, MEP and Dept of Economic Development. Cathy says she “would encourage businesses at all stages to take advantage of this valuable resource!”
Other recommendations for fellow women business owners based on 25 years in business:
- Hire an accountant and bookkeeper when you can afford it. Worth the money.
- If possible, offer a flex time schedule, allowing employees to choose time off to attend school functions, appointments, and other family commitments. This flexibility to create a schedule that works for their individual situation makes for a very happy workforce!
- Establish a starting and ending time to your work day. The challenge of being self-employed, is creating a “normal” work day and not fill your entire day with just working. Balance is the key!
Cathy says that financial stability is what keeps her up at night. Being self-employed is risky. There is little assurance in knowing that work flow will remain dependable and sustainable. She feels responsible for keeping her workers employed and in maintaining a thriving business. She is always looking at business growth and calculating, “do I have enough business or do I need for more? Here’s where the stress lies, more business doesn’t necessarily bring more comfort. Ramping up means more employees, managing more products in my existing space, more investment, the list goes on. I have been very conscious of growing my business gradually and intentionally, which helps to ease my concerns.”
Overall, despite the worries, it doesn’t sound like Cathy has many regrets and in fact is rightfully proud of what she has cultivated into a thriving business. Upon reflection, she comments that “ I have enjoyed being an entrepreneur and being self-employed for all these years and would not have traded the opportunity. It has offered me the opportunity to be in control of my livelihood, valuable flexibility to raise our children, given me a variety of business skills such as marketing, financial and HR management and a creative venue to maintain a sustainable workplace. I can honestly say, Pieceworks has been and continues to be a successful story to date.”
Learn more about Pieceworks
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