Thursday, August 09, 2018

Notes from the Other Side of the Counter...

Since Allegory Gallery's recent SCORE American Small Business Championship win, a lot of focus has been put towards our experiences as small business owners.  It seems like I get questions from people almost every week about running a creative-based small business.  I'm all too happy to help, because when we started off, we had an abundance of advice and that has definitely contributed to us being as successful as we are now.

As I wrote the responses, I realized that a lot of the ground that I was going over was already covered in a ten-part series of blog posts I did a few years ago called, "Notes from the Other Side of the Counter: Candid Advice from a Brick and Mortar Gallery Owner".

I thought that I would share them again, in case others might find value in them.  I think the information is still pertinent and I think that I'll revisit this series and maybe offer some more content that I've picked up along the way.

Here is a list of links to all of the existing posts:

1. Letting Go of Ego.
2. Doing Homework.
3. First Date.
4. Dress to Impress.
5. Break It Down.
6. Playing Hardball.
7. Red Flags.
8. The Bitter Pill.
9. It Takes Two to Tango.
10. Mind Your Business.

Do you run a creative-based small business?  What's some of the best small business advice that you've received?  What's something that you would tell to someone who's looking to start their own small business?

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Art Bead Collection: Owl Eyes On You...

Even when I was little, I was fascinated by owls.  The house that I grew up in had an old red barn.  One of my earliest memories is of me running in the backyard, racing to the barn and flinging the doors open.  Out swooped an owl, right above my head.   I remember being captivated instantly and completely by this majestic creature!  My owl collection started not long after that.  One of my great aunts gave me a tiny porcelain snowy owl figurine.  I used to carry it in my pocket everywhere I went.  The poor thing!  The feet and a wingtip broke off.  The feet were lost to time, but with the help of my mother, I  haphazardly glued the tip back on.  My mom still has it!  She keeps it in a box with other childhood treasures.

That little banged up owl figurine was just the start of my collection!  I have several hundred now, each different and unique.  My love of owls merged with love of art beads, resulting in several owl jewelry components!  I thought about doing one epic post with all my owl art beads, but I thought that it'd be a little overwhelming.  So I am going to spread out the owl love and do a few different posts featuring them.

Anne Choi
Anne Choi makes some of my favorite art beads!  She starts off by reverse carving molds, pressing wax sheet in them, casting them (primarily in sterling silver), forming them, and then soldering them together.  That's a pretty simplistic rundown of a labor-intensive exactly method for creating little works of art!

Diane Hawkey
Working in clay stretches back millennia.  Luckily for us, the tradition continues and marches forward.  One of my favorite ceramic artists is Diane Hawkey.  All of her pieces convey her unique style.

Cynthia Thornton
This piece was created by my family at Green Girl Studios in Asheville, NC.  It is one of their special pieces that isn't apart of their regular line.  It's cast in shibuichi, a copper and silver alloy, and set with tiny rose-cut sapphire eyes.  Sometimes they'll list special pieces like this in their Etsy shop or they'll make them for shows.

Gaea Cannaday
Gaea Cannaday is another fabulous artist who works primarily in ceramic clay.  This particular sleeping owl head bead was embellished afterwards with Gliders' Paste.

Joan Miller
One of the coolest things to me is how different artists can use the same medium, but use different techniques to produce distinctively unique work.  For instance, Joan Miller works in ceramic porcelain clay, but the way she works is a little bit different than others.  She builds up layers of colored slip clay to produce her signature style.

Kylie Parry
So very graphic, this ceramic pendant was made by Kylie Parry.  She used a decal method to transfer the illustration the owl onto her pendant.  I love the nutty, red brown of the illustration.

Laurel Moon
Normally when you think of making metal components, pictures of standing in front of a huge fire with spinning centrifuges may pop into your head.  But this one was create differently!  Using acid, Laurel Moon creates these striking etched copper pendants.


These are just a few of my owl-themed art beads.  I hope you enjoyed this look into my private collection!

Friday, August 03, 2018

Healing Arrow Point Pendant...

Healing Arrow Point Pendant by Andrew Thornton and Cynthia Thornton
Let's face it, modern day living can wear one down mentally and physically. It can be abrasive and make even the most cherished of times lackluster. But we believe that if you focus on the positive and concentrate your energy, even the most troubling of times can turn around.

We created this pendant as a talisman. It is a touchstone and a reminder to focus on positive, healing energies all around us. The distinctive arrowhead shape directs good energy right into the heart. The web motif, reminiscent of sacred geometry, acts as a dream catcher, attracting and capturing positive thoughts and feelings. The bezel-set stone absorbs and radiates the transformational affirmation. Believe. Heal. Create.

The pendant was handcrafted by me and my sister, Cynthia Thornton of Green Girl Studios, in the mountains of North Carolina. It is composed of lost wax cast bronze and has a nice, comforting heft.  Each pendant from this limited-edition series measures approximately 6.25 cm X 3.5cm. This pendant also features a hand-set stone that was hand selected and carefully meditated over. The stone, hugged by a fine silver bezel, is a luscious, rose-cut garnet that has a lot of depth and romance. I felt the earthly dark red of the stone complimented the honey-toned bronze nicely.

A little over two years ago, Cynthia and I collaborated on the idea and design.  Cynthia then carved the wax masters that were then molded and the original series was cast in sterling silver by her husband (Greg Ogden).  For this round, we wanted to work in bronze.  Bronze has a beautiful golden warmth and has a long history that stretches back millennia.  Once the pendants were cast, I then bezel-set the stone and polished and burnished the pendant by hand.  During the creation of these pieces, it was important to all of the artists involved to keep their minds focused on positive thoughts and good intentions. We hope that the wearer of this piece enjoys it and that it brings the owner much luck, love, prosperity, abundant healing energy, and is a repository and amplifier of positive energy.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

On the Road...

We just got back a few days ago from a quick trip down South to see my family in Asheville.  It's an annual trip we make to shop the gem shows in Franklin, but it's more than that.  It's a restorative time, when I spend time with my sister and her family, make things, and fill our bellies full of good food.  We laugh and share stories and work on projects.  This time we were joined by the lovely Candie Cooper, who was also in town when we were.  We had a fabulous time and dreamed up all kinds of plans!

When I'm on the road, it seems as though I give myself permission to relax.  When I'm home, oftentimes I get so wrapped up in the day to day goings on that it's easy to feel a little overwhelmed.  Don't get me wrong!  I love my life and feel blessed by the abundance of good energy.  But... I still think it's easy to get caught up in the rush to keep all the spinning plates going.

We got back and I felt that overwhelming feeling sink in with a vengeance.  I started to feel guilty about taking the extra few days and  I started to get apprehensive about not doing all the things that I had on my docket.  Did I answer all the emails?  Did I miss a meeting?  Did I forget something?

As I sat there, immobilized, caught up in the spinning cycle of my own self-defeating thoughts... I got fed up!  How is it that one day I feel relaxed and at ease and the next I'm a bundle of exposed nerves?  How is it that one day I'm enjoying the simple pleasures and the next I'm worrying so hard that my jaw feels clenched, my neck stiff, and my stomach sour?

And really... there is no reason.

The difference boils down to a change of perception.  A change of pace and scenery alters the way we see the world.  The worries I had upon returned weren't new.  They were always there.  But the difference is that I let it bother me.  I opened the door to let these nagging voices in.  And if I had the power to open the door, I also had the power to close it.

I decided to make a list.  It wasn't the usual kind of list that I make that lists all the things on my mind, but a briefer, more succinct list.  From the list, I prioritized what was important to me at that moment.  And I set about crossing those things off.  If I get to it, good.  If I don't, it's okay.  The list will be there tomorrow and I can only do so much.  Sometimes things work out.  Sometimes they don't.  When they don't go according to plan, this isn't an invitation to worry or fret.  It's an acceptance that it is what it is.  Knowing what I have to work with, I can adjust my plans accordingly and swim with the current, as opposed to against it.

We have choices about how we live.  We don't have to be defined by our scenery or circumstance, but how we see the world and choose to interact with it.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Bead and Craft Bloggers...

I'm always blown away by the talent of the Bead and Craft Bloggers group!  Each of them uses their creativity and enthusiasm to create really amazing things!  Even when experiments don't work out, you can see them growing and developing as artists.

Beautiful Awareness
Awareness can take many forms.  In this post, TappingflamingoBling shows off her surfer style with these autism awareness bracelets!  The best part is that a portion of the sales will benefit a nonprofit that supports autism awareness.

Russian Spiral Rope
When I mention the word, "Russian" in certain circles, it can start a tizzy of heated conversations and political debates.  Luckily this post has nothing to do with THAT.  Cyndi shares her fondness for the Russian Spiral rope that she learned from Carol Ohl's article in Beadwork magazine.

Details Count
Tammy shares a tiny Blythe Doll dress and discusses the importance of adding details, especially when working on such a small scale.

Wild at Heart
Design kits can be a fun way to push you out of your comfort zone and propel your creativity forward.  In this blog, Ann shows what she made with the Wild Jungle kit from Allegory Gallery.

Adornments Retreat
Venturing to Galena, Illinois, Sarajo attended the annual Adornments Retreat.  Learn more about this mixed media jewelry experience here!

New Treasures
Allegory Gallery is constantly getting things in!  Want to see what's new at this local bead store in Ligonier, PA?

Book Club with a Twist
Each month, the Inspired by Reading Book Club has a new selection.  After the book is read, members are encouraged to make something inspired by what they read!  See what Andrew created with Rainbow Rowell's book, "Eleanor & Park" as inspiration!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Inspired by Reading: Eleanor & Park...

Can you believe that Allegory Gallery's Inspired by Reading Book Club is still going on after five and a half years?  It seems like several lifetimes ago that we started.  And maybe, because in a way, it has been.  We've read stacks and stacks of books, each one containing generations of people and countless far off places.  We've lived so many lives vicariously.  While I would like to think that I would have read all these books on my own, truthfully, without the book club, I probably wouldn't have.  I pretty much stay in my lane, but the book club has introduced so many new and different voices that were a joy to discover.  If you aren't familiar with our group, it's like most book clubs, but with a twist!  We read a book each month, but then we create something inspired by what we read.  It can be anything!  Most of us make jewelry, so a lot of projects tend to lean that direction.  At the end of the month, we share our creations in our Facebook group and have an in-person get together.

Summer is a busy time for most of the members of the Inspired by Reading Book Club and as such, our regulars haven't had a chance to get together for the past few months.  Luckily we were able to meet up and catch up this month!  I almost forgot how nice it was just to talk with other people.  When I'm on a serious work bender, it can sometimes be weeks where the only person I talk to in person is William.

For July, we read "Eleanor & Park" by Rainbow Rowell.  I must admit that I have a weak spot for young adult fiction; I can put an audiobook on and get to work.  I'm smitten with Rainbow Rowell's work.  She has a wonderful way of weaving together quirky pop culture references and peppering her writing with her own characters from her other books.  If you're looking for something light and fluffy though, keep moving.  Rowell tackles the complexity of facing challenges while growing up.

"Eleanor & Park" struck really close to home and I found myself reliving past adolescent experiences through the different characters.  The premise of the story is a coming of age story focusing on Eleanor, the new girl in school who has a troubled home-life, and Park, the seemingly average kid who is secretly conflicted over his mixed parentage and rebelling against the ideas of what it means to be masculine.  The unlikely duo get to know each other through riding the school bus together, eventually bonding over comic books and mixed tapes.
One of the images that really stuck out to me were the mixed tapes.  My best friend and I used to trade tapes. It wasn't just about sharing music, but it was about sharing emotions.  We used to try and tell a story with the songs we'd pick.  They also were special, because it took time to put them together.  If you were recording something off the radio, sometimes you'd have to listen all day, just so that you could catch it and record it.  Ideally you wouldn't miss too much of the beginning of the song and not unintentionally add too much of the next song.

So, I made these earrings.  I drew a picture of a mixed tape and used our laser to create these etched acrylic components.  I then dangled them off earwires with jump rings.  They're simple and a little bit kitschy, but I like them.  They've got a great throwback feel and reminds of riding the school bus with my best friend.

If you'd like to see the full list of books for this year, CLICK HERE.  (We will be voting on new selections soon.)  If you'd like to join the Facebook group, so that you can see the other creations and find out more about the group, CLICK HERE.  And if you'd like to get a copy of "Eleanor & Park", you can CLICK HERE to get your own copy.  I also recommend, "Carry On" by Rainbow Rowell; it has a different style with fantastical elements, but there's still some of that awkward-teenagers-trying-to-figure-their-stuff-out character development that she's so good at writing.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Bead and Craft Bloggers..

It has been a busy week for the Bead and Craft Bloggers!  There's a wonderful array of different projects, experiments, experiences, kits, challenges, tutorials, and all kinds of creative goodness!

Adding a Little Color
Breathing new life into components, Ann and her mom experiment with adding surface treatments using Vintaj Patinas and old papers with Mod Podge.

Customizing Dolls
Sometimes you find something that speaks directly to your heart and you know it's the things you've been waiting for your entire life... and sometimes you don't.  Tammy talks about how she thought she'd be a Blythe doll customizer, but realized it was just not meant to be.

How Does Your Garden Grow
Cyndi has used Nora Toth's design from Bead&Button magazine to create a bead-woven flower pendant using dagger beads and put her own spin on the pattern.

To Etsy or Not to Etsy
The road to monetizing your passion can always have unexpected challenges.  Terry discusses her journey with her Etsy shop and questions whether she should keep it going or give it up!

Going Coastal
Allegory Gallery launches their new kit, Coral Coast.  Inspired by sun-kissed beaches and warm days spent beachcombing by the water, the new design challenge incorporates shades of peachy coral, pinkish reds, and creamy ivory.

Jewelry Worth Cawing About
Sarajo teams up with her husband each month to create a new Honey Do List challenge.  Eric shares a photo and she creates something based off it.  July is a flutter of activity with a beautiful crow photo as inspiration.

Bugging Out
In this post, I share some of my creepy crawly bug-inspired art beads from my private collection.

Instagram...

There are so many social media platforms, aren't there?  I find myself gravitating towards Instagram more and more these days.  It's such a visual platform and while I enjoy staying informed about politics and current events, I find myself getting overwhelmed on Facebook and exhausted by all the divisiveness.  Even people that I agree with can be a little TOO MUCH for me at times.  I know the importance of being "woke" nowadays, but do I really need to be on a rollercoaster of rage and despair all day? Nope!  It literally makes me want to curl up into a ball and hide in a dark room at times.  I don't like to feel like that and find that it's counterproductive to me actually doing something about the problems that I see in the world.  It might be different for others, and that's perfectly fine.  But for me, I have to be more mindful of what I consume.

The other thing that I appreciate about Instagram is that there aren't memes making fun of people or graphic posts about animal cruelty.  (At least not the people I currently follow.)  It wasn't a conscious decision, but I find myself hanging out more on Instagram for my own mental well-being.  I still spend a considerable amount of time over on Facebook and a little on Twitter, but I can feel myself mentally disengaging and not interacting as much.

In any event, I try to keep the content fresh on each platform.  Sometimes there's crossover, but I try not to do that too much.  And if you haven't noticed, I'm trying my best to blog again and get back into a regular routine.  It's a work in progress.  I forgot just how much time I used to spend on my blog.  One of the benefits of the other social media platforms is how easy and instantaneous posting can be (for better or worse).   If you'd like to see what I've got cooking over on Instagram, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Art Bead Collection: A Bug's Life...

Over the years, I've amassed quite the collection of art beads and jewelry components.  I thought it might be fun to start up a series of blog posts that take a peek into my private collection.  But where to start?  After so many years of serious collecting, the prospect of diving in and documenting all my treasures is a little daunting.  I decided to start off small.  One might say, small as a bug!  It's summer and that means it's prime time for our tiny bug friends.  During the day, when I'm out in the garden, I'll see caterpillars inching along, beetles scuttling about, and butterflies drunkenly dipping from flower to flower.  In the early evenings, the twilight is punctuated with the glow of fireflies.  And if you're quiet, you can hear the hushed thudding beat of moth wings against the porch light, crickets playing their chirping leg violins, and the electric trilling and buzz of cicadas. So why not start with a sampling of art beads inspired by the insect world?
Anne Choi
This sterling silver barrel bead was created by Atlanta-based metalsmith, Anne Choi.  I love pieces so much!  They're inspired by little snatches of literature and poetry or motifs she discovered through her background in antiques and folklore.

Wendy Wallin Malinow
I think that Portland-based artist, Wendy Wallin Malinow, originally intended this to be a holiday ornament, but this laser-cut and printed wooden pendant is too nice not to admire all year long.

Gina Chalfant
Pittsburgh-based artist, Gina Chalfant of White Swan Illuminations, uses ceramic decals that she's drawn herself to adorn this honey-colored ceramic pendant.  When Gina isn't using her decals, she also creates hand-glazed vases and tableware based off Medieval and antiquarian inspirations.

Bob Burkett
Bob Burkett, located in California, has inspired a generation of metalsmiths.  This double scarab bead is made out of cast sterling silver.  You can see the influence of the swirling arabesques of Art Nouveau on his work.

Jenny Davies-Reazor
Intrigued by fantasy, folktales, and mythic arts, Delaware-based artist Jenny Davies-Reazor, uses nature to fuel her ceramic and mixed media creations.  This moth pendant is made of ceramic and is embellished with lovely, satiny matte glazes.

Heather Powers
Artwork and nature play a big role in the work of Heather Powers of Humble Beads.  This author and artist uses polymer clay and mixed media jewelry making techniques to express her unique interpretations.  This cicada pendant was crafted out of polymer clay.

Kerri Fuhr
Canada-based artist, Kerri Fuhr, uses molten glass, heated with the flame of a torch, to make beads like this butterfly one.  To capture this painterly style, she mixes sculpture and drawing techniques.
  
LeaAnne Hartman Edwards
Do you like moving things?  This mixed metal pendant by Albuquerque-based artisan LeaAnne Hartman Edwards is articulated!  The body is made out of a metal alloy called shibuichi, which is a mix of copper and silver.  The wings are made of cast sterling silver.  You can usually find LeaAnne's work through Maureen Henriques of Pumpkin Hill Beads.

Diane Hawkey
Hailing from Detroit, artist Diane Hawkey utilizes her unique aesthetic and artistic sensibilities to transform ceramic clay into little works of art.  This cicada pendant is an example of her mastery of the medium.

Dwayne Thornton
Speaking of shibuichi, this elaborate focal pendant was made by my brother, Dwayne Thornton, out of this unique material.  Shibuichi, depending on how it is treated, can take on deep cherry reds, nutty browns, steely grays, or rainbowy silvers.  He doesn't make jewelry components much these days, but every now and then he'll make new work.


Weren't these fun?  I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into collection!  Do you have a favorite art bead maker who creates bug-inspired work?  I'd love to hear!  This is just the first of many posts highlighting some of my favorites from my collection and scratches the surface of the hoard. I plan to add more curated selections as time goes on, exploring different themes, mediums, and techniques.  

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Bead and Craft Bloggers...

It's been a little while since I last posted a Bead and Craft Bloggers round up.  Several of us felt the spark to post again, and so here we are...

Quilting on the Fly
My mom and my grandma used to quilt, so reading how the Crafty Princess picked up quilting brought back all kinds of memories.  In this blog post, Tammy discusses the process of picking up an unfinished quilt that her grandmother started many year ago.  The blog post also includes a short video, describing her hopes of completing this piece of family history.

Black and White
Using a collection of art bead components from Jenny Davies-Reazor and SagaHus Components, Ann creates an elegant necklace in black and white.

Lovely in Lilac Bead Embroidery
Inspired by Pantone's Pink Lavender, Cyndi shares a tutorial on how to create this bead embroidered button pendant.  Such lovely, soft colors!

More than Love
Hearts aren't just a symbol for love!  Allegory Gallery debuts their new heart-themed laser-engraved wooden pendants!  You could use them as they are, or embellish them with paints or pigments.

Sun, Moon, and Stars
Seizing upon the Artisans Create Together monthly challenge for July,  Sarajo gets her celestial groove on with an array of art bead laden earrings, bracelets, and necklaces!

The Little Bead Shop that Could
While many local bead stores are closing or are in decline, this one isn't!  In this post, I describe our experience as one of the winners of SCORE's 2018 American Small Business Championship.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

SCORE American Small Business Championship 2018...

And just like that, we're done. The characters were counted. The form was filled out. The button was pushed. And now there's no more that can be added or changed. This part of the American Small Business Championship has come to an end.

After an adventure out west to Reno, where we met some amazing people and heard empowering, educational, and encouraging speakers and small business experts, and months of work implementing those ideas... we're done. It's hard to fit all those many days and all those many hours into 1000 characters. It's hard to summarize all the time and energy we've spent evaluating our business and trying to make it better. It's hard to wrap our minds around what an incredible experience this has been and convey it.

When William and I decided to put Allegory Gallery forward for consideration for SCORE Mentors's American Small Business Championship, we were just coming off of a near win with another national small business competition. We were semi-finalists and had put so much into the contest and when we found out that we didn't win, we were crestfallen. Of course, we were happy for the winner, but so many of our customers and supporters had believed in us and put forth so much time and energy into helping us get to the finish line and when we just barely missed the mark, we felt like we had let down our friends and customers. So we were apprehensive about jumping back into another competition.

But we did.

One of the things that I tell people often is that you never get anywhere, unless you try. You might not always succeed and the path might be very different from what you excepted, but you'll never make manifest your dreams by waiting for someone else to turn them into a reality. You've got to want it. You've got to push forward. And sometimes... if you're patient and the circumstances coalesce just right, you'll be successful. But, first, you must try.

Resa Kierstein, Andrew Thornton, and William Jones.
We did try and with the support almost 7,000 votes, we advanced in the championship. Out of thousands of applicants, we were one of the 102 entries that moved forward (and out of Pennsylvania, we were one out of three). We became #bizchampions and joined a family of fellow dreamers and doers from across the country.

This would not have been possible without YOU! You got us here. With your loyal support and encouragement, you helped us get where we are today. And for that I will forever be grateful. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

I think that this is an incredible distinction!  Despite the odds, we're thriving.  We didn't have much money to start with, but little by little we've grown the business and set down roots in the community.  William and I are an openly gay couple in a tiny town in rural Southwestern Pennsylvania.  The population of our town is 1,500 people!  Going by numbers and popular misconceptions, we shouldn't be here.  This is particularly true in an uncertain economic time for local bead stores and brick and mortar stores like ours; so many of them are going out of business.  The fact that we're still here and growing steadily is cause for celebration in itself.

What sets the American Small Business Championship apart from other competitions is SCORE. This competition sponsored by the generosity of Sam's Club is not so much about creating one winner, but empowering and encouraging 102 different small businesses. SCORE is dedicated to mentoring entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams, strengthen the economy, and better society. It's true that there are three Grand Prizes and there's a monetary reward for those winners, but this challenge also incorporated training and networking.

American Small Business Championship Winners 2018
"Training" and "Networking" are two words that describe what took place in Reno, but they're not good enough. How could they be? We were trained to refine our vision, be happier, be more successful, connect better to our customers and supporters, push ourselves creatively to be the best we can be, and how to turn obstacles into opportunities. Networking sounds so clinical, but we met other business owners who moved us with their stories, intrigued us with their products/services, and inspired us. We didn't just meet other small business owners, we made lifelong friendships. In the short time that we've known each other, we've cried together, we've laughed together, we've celebrated together. We've been tech support for one another, collaborated together, bounced ideas off each other, and provided recommendations and sales. So... it's so much more than just merely "training" and "networking".

Ron Cates, Betsey Dougert, Rieva Lesonsky, Giselle Chapman.
Over the past few months, we've worked hard to implement those ideas that we gained. It has inspired us to attend other SCORE events like webinars and local chapter events. We are fortunate to have a SCORE Mentors chapter (555) so close! We've evaluated our business on a financial level, a structural level, a community level, and dare I say it... a spiritual level. We are lucky to share the path with the other champions, as they've been a constant source of guidance and encouragement.  Each day I'll see positive motivational quotes from multiple people.

As I look back over the experience, I'm filled with a sense of possibility. With the other competitions we were in, there was such a feeling of finality. That this is where it stops. This is the winner and the rest of you are not. But with SCORE Mentors's American Small Business Championship, it feels as though we're all winners. I know that might sound cliche, but really, what we've learned and the people we've met will impact the rest of our lives.

Reno skies full of possibility.
While we'd be over the moon to advance to the Grand Prize round, we're happy with the gifts that we've received already. It would be wonderful and change our lives, don't get me wrong, but I feel as though if you listen to the lessons and be mindful about implementation, and we maintain our peer group, then the experience will easily have a tenfold return, far more valuable. I know that I feel more enriched by the experience.

All of us have done our best, crossed our fingers, and now it's up to the judges to award the Grand Champions. I don't envy their jobs! I've come to know several of the other #bizchampions and they are strong, kind, brave, clever, creative, talented, hard working, tenacious, resilient, ambitious, and courageous. Their businesses are no less remarkable. Each of them has worked hard to envision a problem and seek to address it in their own way.

To our fellow #bizchampions, we wish you good luck and continued friendship!

And... once again... to our customers, family, friends, supporters, SCORE Mentors, and Sam's Club who have made this experience possible, THANK YOU!