Growing up in Orem, Lyn Johnson was “super aware” of marketing companies on many levels. They marked one of the only major industries to tap the many women who had left the workforce, she realized.
But to work for these companies, women often have to pay up front, she said, and rely on selling to friends and family. Sometimes MLMs can turn “predatory,” Johnson said, pointing to recent attention to LuLaRoe, a California clothing company accused of operating like a pyramid scheme.
“We just felt there had to be a better, more positive alternative to that,” one that doesn’t require women to use their own capital to sell someone else’s product, Johnson said. .
So she teamed up with Sara Sparhawk, her business partner and Brigham Young University graduate, to create an alternative: West Tenth.
Launched in 2019, West Tenth provides an app where people can sell and buy in small, female-owned home businesses including professional gifts, bakers, jewelry designers, baby sleep consultants and assistants. personal, among others.
By the end of November, the company had nearly a thousand sellers on the app, mostly based in Southern California and the Salt Lake City Valley, with plans to expand into Phoenix and Austin. The app is free for customers and businesses to register and use. There is no initial capital or registration fee, Johnson said. And MLMs are not allowed.
“We only make money [9.5%] when we guaranteed a sale to a woman, ”Johnson said.
[Read: Want to support women-owned businesses? There’s a directory Utahns can use.]
Sparhawk and Johnson, both 41, could not have predicted the role their business would play during the coronavirus pandemic as women disproportionately left the workforce due to “additional responsibilities at home Johnson said.
This is why West Tenth created the Commitment #TisHerSeason, asking consumers and businesses to do 50% of their holiday shopping at women-owned businesses. While about 40% of businesses in the United States are owned by women, only about 4% of the income went to them in recent years, Sparhawk said.
“We put it in place as a way to say ‘thank you’ to these women, who carry this burden, this economic burden, by taking care of their families,” she said. “They have really paid the price for the pandemic. “
The engagement centers around the Christmas season, but Sparhawk and Johnson hope their business will help shoppers connect with women-owned businesses beyond December.
“We have needed it for a long time”
West Tenth is currently a team of five, with Johnson mostly working in California and Sparhawk in New York. But they come to Utah regularly. And the Beehive State felt like a natural place to launch West Tenth, they said.
“You have a lot of women who have left the workforce and may feel, quite frankly, excluded from mainstream jobs,” Johnson said. “But they know they have a skill set, and they’re really eager to use [it]. “
At the same time, Johnson said: “You have a lot of women who are overwhelmed with all the responsibilities that come their way,” and West Tenth makes it easy for them to connect with other women in their community.
Stephanie McKinley-Thompson, 30, started making charcuterie boards in 2018 for friends. When Christmas arrived, she started getting more requests. She decided she had to find a way to do it while still making some money.
McKinley-Thompson was one of the first companies to join West Tenth, running “family creations” while working from home in Salt Lake City. This allowed her to have a creative side project that allows her to earn extra money. In addition to planks, she also makes and sells sourdough bread – a skill she learned during the pandemic.
Food is a way to show people you love them, a notion McKinley-Thompson said she was brought up to think about. So it’s been fun to help with people’s birthdays and weddings, she said.
A few years ago Britney Wood, who lives in Provo, started an interior design and gift business with a friend. But he quickly grew, absorbing the important time they wanted with their families.
“Your website runs your life,” said Wood, 48, who has six children. So they closed it.
With West Tenth, she didn’t have to pay for a website and she could close her shop when she wanted to go on vacation or be with family. The flexibility prompted her to start a new business on the platform: Copper Gate Gifting, where she works as a personal gift giver.
Wood has always loved finding gifts, she says. Her friends compare her to Leslie Knope, a character on the “Parks and Recreation” television show known for giving thoughtful gifts.
She has created personalized gift baskets for businesses and real estate agents. She was also part of intimate moments in people’s lives – choosing a gift for someone who has lost a loved one to suicide or miscarriage, or finding the perfect way to celebrate someone who has found a new job or bought a home.
“I shop for a living to make other people happy,” said Wood. “It’s just not improving.”
Still looking for gifts this holiday season?
Britney Wood, founder and owner of Copper Gate Gifting in Provo, offers advice on her Instagram (coppergategifting). Here are some of his suggestions.
Don’t overthink it. A gift is a gesture that tells someone you’re grateful for them, she said. Think about this person and what they would appreciate.
In general, Wood said people tell him it’s hard to shop for men, in-laws, and people who already have everything. She recommends buying something consumable, like food or candy. Tea towels are another option.
Wood said she liked that West Tenth felt like she was sharing her business with her neighbors. As platforms like Etsy have gone global, West Tenth is focusing on local goods and services, according to Johnson.
“Our focus and our demographics are primarily women,” Johnson said, because “we think that’s where the opportunity is.”
Whenever Johnson and Sparhawk explain West Tenth to consumers and potential business owners in Utah, “we just get this, ‘Oh my gosh, yeah, we’ve needed this a long time. “… Why hasn’t this been built before?” “
“And our answer is, ‘Well, there aren’t enough funded women entrepreneurs,’ Johnson said.
As a child, Sparhawk watched his stay-at-home mom run a business from their home in Rexburg, Idaho.
“She was a party planner and she did really well,” said Sparhawk. “But it was really hard for her to sell herself,” and she eventually had to shut down.
With West Tenth, Sparhawk thought, “This is an amazing way to give back and fight back for women like my mom who have amazing skills besides taking care of our family” and “helping these women succeed and succeed. develop their businesses. . “
To do this, West Tenth created the The foundry, a “business school for home businesses”.
“A lot of the women on our platform have never run a business before and don’t know how,” Sparhawk said. “And so we’re really there to… provide a support system, to help them get sales and be seen. “
Sellers can network and hear from experts in the community on how to start a business, obtain a business license, and market their products, among other topics. Classes are recorded so people can watch when it suits them.
“It’s really focused on this one-man entrepreneur, what he can handle… the tools he really needs,” Sparhawk said.
Christina Nielson, 55, said the classes helped her with her Lehi-based interior design business. She spoke with other owners about how they find clients, she said, and learned tips for making photos look more professional on a website.
Nielson primarily led HIVE Restyle & Design through word-of-mouth, and she feared the business could stall during the pandemic. But “it was absolutely the opposite,” she said, as people stayed home and stared at their walls, scrolling through Pinterest and Instagram.
“I was bombed, absolutely bombarded with people who wanted to modernize their homes,” Nielson said. She has since taken clients from across the country, consulting virtually.
Nielson said she appreciates the flexibility of being her own boss, so she can be available when her two children come and go. During COVID-19, she could work and take care of them if they got sick.
Nielson appreciates that West Tenth makes him and other women feel valued as stay-at-home moms and entrepreneurs.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh, that’s cute. You make jewelry from your home, ”she said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, you make such beautiful jewelry. Let’s get the word out for you. There is value, and people are interested and want to pay us.
Sparhawk said there are several ways that women need to create income for their homes and families. It can be a traditional workplace or starting a home business. But it’s important to let women know that “this is all OK,” she said.
“We really want to take the burden off women, but then put money in other women’s pockets,” Johnson said.
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America member of the body and writes on the status of women in Utah for the Salt Lake Tribune. Your matching donation to our RFA grant helps her continue to write stories like this; please consider making a tax deductible donation of any amount today by clicking here.