The following essay was written by Julia Poler, a finalist for the 2018 SuretyBonds.com Small Business Scholarship.
Escape the Harbor
What does being involved with a small business mean to me? To put it in short, it means the world. The opportunities I have had access to ever since opening Escape the Harbor are immeasurable. Business is something that I think everybody should have at least some knowledge of, so when my dad approached me asking if I wanted to open an escape room, I was excited. There are so many things you can learn through schooling, but certain subjects you need first-hand experience to fully understand, and I think business is one of them. Sure, I was excited when my dad mentioned it, but nothing had prepared me for the work to come.
One of the benefits of owning a small business is that you get to dip your paintbrush into a little of everything. There are many responsibilities that come along with this, but it’s a good thing to learn balance at a young age. For example, I have been learning about accounting through balancing the company checkbook every month and using QuickBooks. I’m more educated in banking now that I had to go to the bank to open an account, make deposits, and get debit cards. I’ve learned about publicity and marketing as well, including how to meet with an interviewer when we were first getting the business out there. I learned how to obtain a business license, how to get insurance, and much more… at seventeen years old! But the one experience that I value the most is how owning a small business has taught me to interact with people. I wasn’t a very outgoing person – in fact, I was quite shy – but opening Escape the Harbor has forced me to connect with a lawyer, an insurance company, an accountant, the property owner, maintenance workers, other businesses in town, and (most importantly) the clients. My personal phone number, email, and Facebook account have become quite public thanks to this business venture, but without these things, I wouldn’t be scheduling families to come in to see us.
Before opening Escape the Harbor, I had always heard the phrase “the customer is always right,” but it’s difficult to truly understand this until you interact with customers all the time. I have left my home to meet them at 9 pm to pick up gift certificates, vacuumed up after sprinkles scattered during a birthday party, and changed an appointment to the next day while I was sitting waiting for them to get there. I never grasped why companies did this before, but now I do: because making the customer happy is everything. If you don’t please them, you get bad reviews, or they tell their friends, and it all goes downhill from there. And that’s how the majority of people who come to the escape room found out about us: their friend had come and had a fun time, and they wanted to try it too. We maintain an excellent response rate through Facebook, text, and email, mainly because I have had experiences with business where they didn’t reply right away and I found it unprofessional. I went on a vacation to Hawaii with my family and still had to not only keep up correspondence with the clients, but also had to notify my employee and make sure she could work at the appointment time. The mindset I use when interacting with customers is to “treat others the way you want to be treated,” and therefore, I talk to clients in a businesslike, yet friendly manner.
I am a very busy person, and learning to operate a small business on top of it all has been a true balancing act. I’ve had to learn that work comes before play, and turned down friends’ offers on multiple occasions so I could have a group go through the room. Since junior year of school I have taken Running Start courses at Grays Harbor College, and will graduate with my Associate in Arts degree at the same time that I graduate high school. It was difficult at first to not procrastinate and do my homework as soon as possible so I was available to work later in the week, but it’s become routine now. Because I always have something going on, I have had to hire an employee to work sometimes. This is one of my favorite experiences, because I got to choose who I would employ, and decided to go with a sophomore I go to school with. I am also going to start training my sister, also 15. The reason for this is so the company has a future. I will be off at school, but will know that for at least the next two years someone responsible who knows all about the business will be taking care of it.
Being a part of the business world is important to me for so many reasons. First, what an opportunity! I get to meet with so many people who work to make Escape the Harbor a success (most importantly my mom and dad). Secondly, there are not many females recognized in business. In 2017, only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies were run by women. We need to make progress in this, and I feel like running this business is (though in a small way) making a difference. Finally, I get experiences that I wouldn’t get anywhere else. The community of Montesano is so helpful that they even did a newspaper story to get the word out! So while I may end up doing something different later in life, such as architecture or education, I’ll always have this knowledge and experience to fondly gaze back on.
Julia will attend Montana State University in the fall.