Being an entrepreneur is “very scary,” especially in a time when a pandemic might cut your revenue in half, said The Elephantz Trunk owner Nina Monroe, the Fluvanna Chamber of Commerce’s businessperson of the month for September.
Monroe, a former bank manager, said starting your own business is especially scary when you have “no cushy job with benefits” and you’re spending your own savings creating a business. “Sometimes you have to spend a lot of money, take a risk,” she said.
Monroe, a Fork Union resident, first tried her business in the Fork Union area, but found there wasn’t enough traffic there, and many of her customers were from Lake Monticello anyway, so she moved to the commercial center on Turkeysag.
After 3-1/2 years running The Elephantz Trunk on Palmyra’s Heritage Drive between the Verizon store and Papa John’s Pizza, being a business owner “is still not without its sleepless nights,” Monroe said. “But I am not unhappy, I’d just like to be more successful.”
In addition to no longer having a boss, Monroe said she loves being able to do what she loves, and banking just didn’t feed her creative side. A quick walk around The Elephantz Trunk certainly shows the creative side – an eclectic mix of furniture, much of which Monroe re-upholstered herself, decorative items, bath and body products, jewelry (much made by Monroe) and even wine.
Right now, upholstery is high on Monroe’s list. She had done upholstery work before and during her bank career, and is finding it’s maybe as much as 1/3 of her business now – and growing. In fact, Monroe is in the process of looking to streamline and increase the upholstery business.
Probably another 1/3 of Monroe’s business is furniture and decorative items, though Monroe isn’t sure yet that she’s got the “lake” vibe that some customers seem to want. Her taste is more traditional, but she’s still trying to define the market for a business that’s just outside the lake. She’s also hoping to expand her bath and body product sales.
“I’m really just here to serve,” Monroe said of her business. “I want people to know they don’t have to go into Charlottesville or Richmond to get quality products. And if I don’t have what they want, if they tell me I’ll try to get it.” She described her products as “not inexpensive, but not unreasonable either. I think it’s fairly priced for quality.”
The pandemic has been a problem, Monroe acknowledges. She shut down entirely for a while, then started gradually re-opening. She’s still only open Wednesday-Sunday. She’s also careful about health, requiring the use of masks and sanitizer for anyone in the shop since she lost a brother-in-law to Covid and has other people close to her that got very sick. The masking requirement probably has cost her some business, she acknowledges but said that’s not likely to change while the pandemic continues.