Alicia Pizer is a very busy entrepreneur. She owns and operates a custom sugar cookie business along with a bakery food-truck business. And she teaches entrepreneurs how to start and run small businesses for Beaver County. So, when she learned that Shell planned to build a new plant nearby, she decided it was time to consider solving a new issue. How to transform the Aliquippa area from a ‘food desert’ as it looked at ways to feed the expected influx of new workers. She reasoned that the best way to support that effort was supplying local bakers with a kitchen to prove the commercial viability of their recipes, and importantly, their business models. Thus, the creation of Pizer’s Sweet Co-Op LLC, a shared kitchen that reduces the upfront capital cost related to starting restaurants, bakeries and wholesale prepared foods.
Pizer’s Sweet Co-Op opened in June of 2019 with its official grand opening occurring in August with a Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting still to be scheduled. Alicia’s initial concerns, related to finding customers, were quickly abated as three start-up bakers and a sparkling tea business rushed to take advantage of the space. As a fellow food entrepreneur, Alicia lent a hand in helping them learn how to set up a business, understanding the required inspections, and operational issues related to running a small business.
This start-up faced the need for funding, customers to fill the space, and overcoming the fear of failure. Fortunately, Alicia was able to overcome each of them. The co-op is located in a building originally run as a candy and ice cream store in the 1940’s. This was subsequently repurposed as a pizza store, caterer, florist and then a day care center. Qualifying for a loan provided the cash to purchase equipment and fix up this old facility. The first client signed up during a pre-opening event during the renovation. And as Alicia mentions, “I am proud of myself for ‘jumping off the bridge’ and deciding this was a business needed in the community. This final hurdle proved the most difficult early on.” There were times when her anxiety levels rose during the renovation process, but taking action to solve the problems helped, otherwise it (anxiety) would have been overwhelming. Of course, she had a lot of help from a baking support group on Facebook, where two of her clients found out about the facility.
Like most small businesses, successful or not, the challenges remain. Today there is a need for a website, fortunately being supported with a loan from the Washington County Council on Economic Development. There is the fear of having too many co-op customers especially during the coming end of year holiday season. The business may be able to schedule two customers at a time to use the space. And there remains, “Finding sufficient time to run three businesses along with the accounting and administration. And there is more to accomplish than the passion of baking, selling and marketing,” explains Alicia. “Like everything, a business needs to be nurtured - it takes time”.
Alicia’s work with SCORE began in 2014 when she met Bob Grant, SCORE mentor, at a job training workshop. Bob provided support for the start of Alicia’s first business, Alicia’s Cookie Goodies. This initial move to entrepreneurship began as a supplement to Alicia’s income, baking cookies and pastries which she thoroughly enjoyed. “Bob’s mentorship helped provide the guidance necessary for my first startup, especially in the business planning stage,” she explains. One aspect of that mentoring support included rethinking the name of the business. This included naming the business in a way that indicated what the business did. Alicia and Bob have continued their coaching relationship through her ongoing growth as a small business owner. For example, “Bob provided important input with regard to the LLC formation of Pizer’s Sweet Co-Op,” Alicia says. He has proven to be a helpful coach and sounding board for new ideas throughout her small business career. Having someone with Bob’s background proves particularly helpful as business start-ups can become lonely endeavors. According to Bob, “Alicia’s success is a result of her willingness to work hard and to do the necessary research and planning necessary to achieve desired results.”