Palm Desert Adds a Little Spice to El Paseo

A year since opening, owner Mary Cardas shares insights into running a small business.

Owner Mary Cardas stocks an inventory of more than 400 spices.

Jim Powers

Owner: Mary Cardas

Business: Savory Spice Shop

Location: 73399 El Paseo, Palm Desert

Employees: Dennis Wood, Katie Meyer, Susan Flanigan and Michael McCullough.

What began as an innocent trip to the spice store became Mary Cardas’ first venture in running her own business.

“I just had a great time,” Cardas recalled. “I had no intention of spending any money and probably dropped $100. They had great products, a very knowledgeable staff and it was really fascinating.

A year ago, Cardas opened a franchise of Savory Spice Shop featuring more than 500 varieties. Walk into the store and the aroma is intoxicating.

Across the country, there are more than 23 million small businesses. More than 600,000 franchise small businesses account for 40 percent of all retail sales nationally and provide more than 8 million jobs, according to the Small Business Administration website.

This weekend represents one of biggest shopping bonanzas of the year, and two years ago Small Business Saturday was created to recognize the local business community around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Cardas shared some insights into what’s it’s been like starting her own business.

Are you a Spice Girl?

Most of my experience is in very high-end audio and video products – stereos, home theatres. This, to me, is that same model. I’m selling to people who want the best. They want to understand why they are paying for these ingredients. Why should I be making this investment? Why is it different because you are coming out of your way? Part of it is telling the story. Why is it special?

Why a franchise?

I liked the turnkey aspect of it. For this kind of thing to do it by myself and do it on a shoestring budget just hoping in five years I get somewhere, the franchise was more and more attractive. The support I get from the parent company in terms of product has been wonderful. I just have to sell the concept, get people in and do the marketing.

So the franchise tag made it easier?

Oh God, no. It’s absolutely terrifying. Here, you are paying it all up front. If it fails tomorrow, I still have a mortgage. I still owe that money. Intellectually, yes. It’s over 10 years. It will be OK. We’ll figure it out. It’s a long-term investment. Each investment made sense. Emotionally? No. I don’t have the faith that this is a good idea and it does work in this Valley.

Biggest pitfall to be wary of?

That summer thing. You really have to be ready. A lot of people here don’t realize how hard that is both emotionally and to your bottom line. You’re starting your own business; you do take it personally.

What is your counter-punch?

Capitalizing on word of mouth has really been a big deal. That has been the backbone of my marketing campaign. Here, taste this, smell this, here’s a sample to take home, experiment with it, tell us what you liked about it and didn’t like about it. That works really well.

Location, Location, Location?

From a prestige standpoint, this has the name. The city has done a great job marketing the name El Paseo to visitors as the place you have to go, shop. I need to have some percentage of local customers. I had to determine what really is central to the Valley that they would consider coming to.

Biggest challenge after the first year?

Letting people know I’m here. Asking our customers to help us bring in more people. Come see us in August. Getting the word out in general, to a lot of business owners that we are here for their personal use and corporate gifting.

Best part of your job?

Interacting with the customers. Whether it’s someone who comes in and it never occurred to then, smell brought them in to show them different things, things that fit in with their lifestyles, or people who come in and ask for something really exotic.

Worst part?

Everything that isn’t that. You know it’s there and it has to be done. It’s like using a different part of your brain and personality. It’s being able to keep up with one when the other surges.

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