From the female gaze: Discussing the rewards & challenges of owning a small business

For us, every day is #WomensDay! We’re so lucky to work with a team of exceptionally bright women – especially our fearless leader, Cyndi Shifrel. She’s passionate about her business, and the impact it has on her employees and peers. Cyndi strives to be a ‘force for good’ in an industry that can sometimes breed competition over community.

Following on the heels of International Women’s Day, we’ll be featuring female entrepreneurs, boss babes, and women who own it in order to showcase their business savvy and how they’re overcoming obstacles in their industry. Our hope is that “Small Business Sit Down” will illuminate the benefits of shopping small and shed light on how these women are forging their own path in a society where ‘corporate America’ is painted as the “norm.”

We couldn’t think of anyone better to kick off our new series. Without further ado, here’s Cyndi Shifrel in her own words.

What’s it like being a female entrepreneur in the somewhat male-dominated rental industry?

“It can be tough at times as I feel I’m not taken as seriously as I should be. In years past, the event & party rental industry has been very much dominated by men, but today we are seeing more & more women enter the rental industry workforce – whether it be in management or leadership positions.

It has been so encouraging to see this shift in the rental industry because when there’s a lack of female peers I think we as women tend to doubt ourselves and our capabilities at times. In general, I think there’s a rise in women-led businesses, which is amazing. “

What are some of the rewards & challenges of being a small-business owner?

“One of the best rewards for me has been seeing the hard work that my husband Darrin and I have poured into our business for the past 11 years pay off. And it has also been very rewarding to see the growth & development of our employees over the years. We have several individuals who have been with OWPR since the beginning and now hold top positions in our company. It also makes me feel good to know that I’m able to provide quite a few jobs within our community.

I feel like one of the hardest challenges we face is finding good talent. I am not alone in this area as every other business owner I talk to, whether it be in the rental industry or not, says the same thing. It’s already hard to delegate tasks when it’s your business, and finding employees you can trust to do the job right can be a constant battle. Also, when you’re a business owner you feel that there are never enough hours in the day & tend to find it hard to turn the “work brain” off at the end of the day. Burn-out is real for employers and employees, alike.”

How have you changed as a business owner over the last 11 years?

Growing up I was the shy & timid redheaded girl. Becoming a business owner forced me to get out of my comfort zone and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. As a CEO, I have learned to be more assertive and more confident in my decisions. I’ve learned to listen to my staff more and communicate more effectively with them. To become a better leader and handle the success we’ve seen in our business, delegating has been a crucial component of my growth as a leader. I had to work hard to relinquish control and trust others to get the job done. I am blessed that I have such an amazing team around me to help get the job done and make us look good!

How has your business changed in the 10+ years it’s been open?

“We started off in a 200 square foot storage space with a small number of tables & chairs and now we are a company that rents just about anything that you would need for an event. I remember having to move the whole storage unit around just to get one item that we needed and driving our one small box truck. I gotta say, I don’t miss that!

OWPR started off with just my husband and I running everything from our kitchen table: taking the orders, delivering to the event, picking everything up, and doing it all over again the next day. Now we employ over 40 people! We’ve grown from that tiny little storage space to a 24,000 square foot warehouse and it’s crazy to think back to the first few days of our business that grew from my husband’s original DJ/ Bounce House company… Back in 2008, there weren’t many rental companies and Darrin already being in the event industry saw a need to be filled, and so here we are!”

What are the benefits of “shopping small?”

“When you buy from a small business you are supporting the employment of people in your community. I can only speak for OWPR but, when you rent products from us you’re supporting a hard-working family that truly cares about each and every client. With a small business, there are more opportunities for personalized service which to me, is so important!”

Why can “employee culture” make or break a small business?

“If you have people working for you that don’t fit into your culture, there will inevitably be a disconnect between your staff & your clients. Your growth will be hindered and no business wants that – nor a high turnover rate. When you have the right people, in the right seats, you’ll find that the people on your team will easily provide the right results. On the other hand, if you as an employer create a healthy work environment & develop a thriving “employee culture,” your team will work towards that common goal with integrity for their work.”

What should people know about owning a rental business? What should people know about “rentals” in general?

“Truth be told, it’s not an easy business to run and not for the faint of heart.  When I say it’s 24/7, it truly is 24/7. The hours can be crazy especially during our busy season, which runs from mid-September until early June. Because our business is seasonal, we have to plan for slower months well in advance, which is always the summer months. When you’re in this business it’s vital that you’re staying on top of the trends in order to stay relevant. You consistently have to be buying products and adding to your inventory throughout the year to keep up. And while you’re buying new things, you have to make it a high priority to maintain the products you already have!

At times, our purchasing gets affected by the market and we’re not able to get new items for a couple of months. The upfront cost of buying products can be a lot – especially when it just sits on your shelf for weeks on end. You definitely start to stress a bit! All this to say, rentals can be risky but the rewards are great; rentals can change the whole mood of an event and are actually witnesses to some pretty special moments: your grandparents watching your first dance on a french country chair, your company celebrating a triumphant year with drinks from a Kombi Keg, etc…”

What advice do you have for other business owners?

“I think the most important thing a small business owner can do is to take care of yourself first. I know it’s easier said than done, however, if you aren’t healthy and taking the time you need for yourself and your family, you won’t be able to scale your business & take it to the next level. It’s also incredibly important to surround yourself with like-minded business-besties. One of the best things I did for myself was to join a peer group for women entrepreneurs where we meet regularly to work on our business and help one another with our #smallbusinessownerproblems.”

What’s next for OWPR? Where do you see the company going in the next 11 years?

“It’s the never-ending pursuit of perfection – making sure that each event we’re honored to provide rentals for, turns out flawless. For the foreseeable future, we’ll continue to cultivate our “employee culture,” add even more exciting products and improve our customer service. We hope to keep growing into our new space and employ even more amazing talent!”

Cyndi’s photo was taken by Victoria Angela Photography.

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