Female Entrepreneurship: An Interview with the Co-Owner of Steeltown Garage Co.
A few months ago, I was riding the bus down Barton Street, and I noticed a really cool-looking store that I had never seen before. It looked like a mix between a coffee shop and a clothing store, but it also looked like a motorcycle shop? Nonetheless, it was a unique combination of things all mixed together into one, and I was really curious about what it was.
It’s exactly what it looked like. The store, Steeltown Garage Co., is a retail store/espresso bar and is also a place to hang out for motorcycle enthusiasts, as well as non-riders. (Do I count as a biker if I ride a bicycle everywhere though?)
I had an opportunity to interview the co-owner of the shop, Tania, and ask her a few questions about being a young entrepreneur in Hamilton.
Tania grew up in Woodbridge, and is a professional interior designer with a degree in fine arts, and she co-owns Steeltown Garage Co. with her husband, Jeff. Jeff grew up in Mississauga and has been a chef, film maker, author, and journalist who has spent the last few years building custom motorcycles. Steeltown Garage Co. was born from this mixture of different interests.
Check out this exclusive Pop the Bubble interview to learn more about them and their journey as entrepreneurs.
Why not?! Hamilton is a great city full of cool people, cool places and we wanted to be a part of the scene and thought that Steeltown Garage Co. could offer all kinds of people a place to come together.
What struggles/problems did you face?
There were a few unknowns we encountered along the way, but nothing I would call a real “struggle.” As an entrepreneur and business owner, there are so many “unknowns” that constantly need to be addressed, but accepting that the “unknowns” are only simple problems that all have solutions makes the process of going through starting a business much easier to endure. Being an entrepreneur requires one to be extremely flexible – when a problem would present itself to myself and my business partner (who also happens to be my husband) we’d try to calmly find a solution; and if we couldn’t come up with a solution ourselves, we hired professionals to take over. I can’t really think of any one particular problem we encountered as each day was filled with new challenges and successes….I just tried to roll with the punches!
Why did you choose to specifically do coffee and bikes, that’s a pretty unique combination!
It may be a unique combination, but it makes total sense to us! Motorcycles and coffee have always been a winning combination – motorcyclists like to go for rides and need somewhere to take a break and ideally socialize with other riders. Steeltown Garage Co. is just that place because riders can enjoy a coffee (a non-alcoholic drink) and meet other riders. And while motorcycle enthusiasts can come by to ask questions about how to get into riding, non-riders are also welcome to come by to enjoy coffee or do some shopping.
How did you get your family involved in this business?
My family has been wonderful throughout the process of getting Steeltown Garage Co. up and running. Both my parents and my husband’s parents have offered us a hand in setting up the store by physically helping us with the construction phase, tagging clothing before our opening, and providing us with encouragement on the long days when we were getting set up and we were so tired that we could barely think or speak. Our families have been happy to lend a helping hand, a pre-cooked meal (thanks, Mom!) and an endless supply of encouragement.
What did you do before you started this business?
Before starting this business, I ran my own small Interior Design consulting firm and also worked as a project manager for other companies. I have always had a streak of entrepreneurism in me and have run a few online publications with my husband, as well. My experience being my own boss has helped me hone in on my time management skills and also recognize the importance of balancing work and life. As an entrepreneur, you have take on many different roles for yourself – I have had to be the marketing manager, the project manager, the book keeper, the contractor, the interior designer and more… but I also have to maintain a healthy lifestyle at home. Being an entrepreneur is like having 20 jobs at once, but it is all worth it to be able to look back at how far you’ve come and realize there’s still so much fun ahead. I continue to try to master the art of multi-tasking!
What made you start this business?
My husband and I started this business together because we have always been interested in being in business for ourselves and wanted to set a life up for ourselves that would allow us to work together. There is plenty for both of us to do at Steeltown Garage Co. and it’s nice to be able to share some of the responsibility of the business with each other. We wished Hamilton had a place like Steeltown Garage Co. for us to ride to and enjoy a coffee (as motorcyclists and as coffee-drinkers), and when a place that we were looking for didn’t exist, we decided to make it happen. We pretty much built ourselves a hangout place that we wished we could go to.
What is your favourite thing about being an entrepreneur?
I have been able to meet such wonderful people through Steeltown Garage Co. and while it is a LOT of work to run a retail store and a cafe at the same time, it’s been very rewarding to have been welcomed by fellow business owners and the general community. My favourite thing about being an entrepreneur is also the worst thing about being an entrepreneur – it’s challenging. I like a challenge, even though it can be very difficult… Even when I have been working 15 hour days and haven’t had a day-off in 8 consecutive months, it somehow all seems worth it at the end of the day to know that I am making my dream of being a business owner come true.
What are the challenges?
There are oh-so-many challenges being an entrepreneur, but one of the main challenges for me is trying to balance work and home life. As an entrepreneur, I am my own boss and I know I could technically give myself a day-off here or there, but I know it’s not in the best interest of my business to do so. So I don’t take time off. It is a real challenge trying to maintain a social life and family life when running a full-time business. I am working on achieving a better sense of balance by implementing some simple strategies to help separate work and home life. When we close the store and go home for the evening, my husband and I try to exercise a couple of hours without our cellphones or computers – we don’t answer emails, respond to social media inquiries or do any work-related correspondence. Instead, we cook dinner together, enjoy some conversation outside of “work-talk”, and listen to music. Sometimes this means we have to wake up earlier the next day to tackle a long inbox of emails, but it’s important that we try to take some time away from the business to give our minds a break.
What’s your advice for young entrepreneurs?
My advice to young entrepreneurs is to stick it out and stay focused. Being your own boss will have a lot of perks in the long run, but the start-up period can be very difficult. Managing your finances and starting out as a new business can be daunting and it *is* easier to work for someone else and give up – but don’t give up. It will be worth it in the end!
Shout out to Tania for taking the time to answer all these questions! If you’re ever around the James and Barton Street area, drop by Steeltown Garage Co., say hi, and grab a coffee. It’s people like Jeff and Tania that make Hamilton such a great place to discover local businesses and meet entrepreneurs, and get outside of the McMaster bubble!