How SCORE helped. 

By Renee Petro

When Amanda Hsiao was laid off in 2017 from her sweater design job at Baby Gap, it became her time to fulfill her dream of owning a retail hand-knitting business. Amanda was allowed to collect unemployment benefits without looking for a new job by becoming a participant in the New York Department of Labor’s Self Employment Assistance Program (SEAP).  SEAP requires participants to write and submit a business plan while working closely with a business mentor.  Amanda quickly found out that working with a SCORE mentor would be a great free resource for her business planning and development.    

“I wanted to be my own boss after 20 years of working in corporate knit clothing design jobs. I actually wrote my business plan five years before opening The Observatory Shop in Hastings-on-the-Hudson in 2018. I have been knitting as a hobby since after September 11, 2001, as a way to be mindful, express myself creatively, and have fun.”

Will Your Business Support You?

Amanda’s mentor, Martin Levine, reviewed her business plan, made recommendations, and gave her advice on planning the finances of her business.  Her biggest challenge was understanding if the new business income would be enough to support her.

“My SCORE mentor challenged me to better understand my personal finances and how to support my own life and my business. Looking at my income and expenses was a valuable part of the business start-up process.”

Amanda owns The Observatory Shop with Jacqueline Kessman (they have been friends for more than ten years), and mentoring has helped her with the details of legal partnership, financial equity, and moving beyond her strengths in merchandising, marketing, and building a community.

SCORE Offers Free, Unbiased, Expert Advice

“I recommend SCORE to friends considering starting their own business, as well as current business owners because you are getting free, unbiased expert advice from someone who wants you to consider issues and new skills that are often beyond your personal strengths and interests,” said Amanda.

Amanda was able to grow her business revenue by 30 percent during the pandemic by building The Observatory Shop into a local community of knitters. She had weekly Zoom sessions called “Stitch and Bitch” – a time for knitters to gather together to knit, chat, learn something new, and have fun. She continued to be active on Instagram, Facebook, and e-mail marketing (70 percent of sales are in-store and 30 percent are from her website:   Amanda had curbside product pick-up when the store was closed due to pandemic restrictions and personally delivered same-day orders to local customers. 

“Knitting materials have a long shelf life, so it was less risky compared to other retail shops that require more changes in inventory, due to selling to a trend or a season.  We also offer knitting classes, home accessories, and lifestyle items like candles, textiles, jewelry, and apparel.  The unifying connection is that everything is made by hand, locally or in small quantities – nothing is mass-produced.” 

Amanda said that an important part of her marketing includes community relations in Hastings-on-Hudson --  offering student discounts, a school knitting club, shopping nights, sidewalk sales, and knitting classes.

She appreciates how her SCORE mentor was offering guidance when the store existed only as a business plan, and now they are discussing financial opportunities for expanding the business. Future growth directions could include seasonal pop-up shops in other locations, franchising The Observatory Shop, adding another retail store, and expanding online marketing.

“I love being my own boss – defining and managing my business is rewarding,” Amanda said.  “Plus, it’s gratifying to build a supportive and friendly community of knitters and non-knitters at the store, through online activities and social media communications.”

To request your own SCORE mentor, click here.

From left: Amanda Hsiao (co-owner), Kit Demirdelen, Jacqueline Kessman (co-owner)