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Small business helps teachers succeed

By: Jessica Urgiles-- 2015-05-07 12:05 pm --

The smell of children’s books, young adult novels and academic workbooks fill the warehouse. Surrounded by innumerous book shelves and the aroma of crisp pages and fresh ink is Eileen Baughman, owner of Gardner’s Book Service.

In 1972, merely 4 percent of all U.S. businesses were owned by women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It marked the first year the Survey of Business Owners included questions about women-owned businesses in the quinquennial economic census.

The number of women-owned businesses has soared since then, and Baughman has been on the ride for more than three decades. When she opened the Phoenix-based bookstore, Baughman said she was initially only trying to support teachers by giving them a place to shop that catered to their hectic schedules.

“I used to work for a distributor here in town and they decided that they didn’t want to have to deal with the schools and the teachers because they wanted to open early and close early,” she said. “So I decided that I would go into business to take care of the teachers.”

She now co-owns the bookstore with her son, Troy Williams. GBS has always been a family affair since Baughman’s parents helped her launch the business venture in 1983. Over the years, several of Baughman’s grandchildren have held part-time jobs at the bookstore.

Photo courtesy of Gardner's Book Service

Small businesses have long been deemed the backbone of the economy. Currently, small businesses create two out of every three new jobs in the country each year. This week, entrepreneurs are being celebrated with National Small Business Week. The annual event is hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

"We are focused on injecting capital into emerging, entrepreneurial communities, supporting ventures operated by women, veterans, and underserved populations,” President Barack Obama wrote in his National Small Business Week proclamation.

While nearly 30 percent of America’s current business owners are women, they only make about 25 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. This staggering gender wage gap makes President Obama’s focus on supporting women-owned businesses, particularly small businesses, crucial.

Like every small business, GBS faces unique hurdles. Establishing a digital footprint isn’t always easy. Tammy Echter, GBS’ operations manager, said they have started to expand their advertising via social media. However, Baughman said that the price of advertising can present its own challenges.

“A lot of times, you just do word of mouth because that’s the way we have done it for years – just one person tells the next person,” Baughman said.

Cultivating strong relationships with teachers, librarians and authors has fueled GBS for over 30 years. Both Echter and Baughman attribute the store’s success to their reputation and quality of service.

“Our service is what sets us apart because we are willing to do those extra steps to accommodate our customers,” Echter said.

This is what has earned GBS the trust of schools and educators in Arizona. For the last five years, GBS has been entrusted to supply Phoenix students with essential school supplies. GBS shops for wholesale backpacks and school supplies from DollarDays, and then fills the backpacks with those supplies to be distributed to students. Teachers also go to GBS for professional development workshops, which are held monthly.

Still, it’s the bond of family that holds GBS together and differentiates them from competitors. Echter, who has worked at GBS for 19 years, said that being a family business gives them an advantage.

“You talk about the difference between a small business and a large business, I don’t know that family always comes first in bigger businesses,” she said.

“All the people who have worked for us, we consider family,” Baughman said with a hearty smile.