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Rising Stars: Meet Jennifer Herko

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Herko. 

Hi Jennifer, so excited to have you on the platform. So, before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
My self-employment story begins with the birth of my daughter in 2006. I had planned to return to traditional employment in 2007, but she was a colicky baby. I felt I needed something I could do from home that used my own sewing talent.

So I started my handmade appliance covers business January of 2007 and sold the covers on eBay. The business gave me the work-life balance I was seeking.

Self-employment has solved many of my life event issues that occurred in recent years. For example, I became a caregiver to my grandmother in my 40s. I found traditional employers didn’t want to offer me flexibility to do both. I also had a major health issue and was treated at the Cleveland Clinic. That involved a 6-week recovery. Self-employment got me through that.

Consumer demand led to the design and creation of the zipper toaster covers. When more than one customer asked about zipper toaster covers, I knew I needed to sell those.

Zipper toaster covers solve a problem that many of my customers have, which is large bugs, rodents like mice, and “critters” getting into their toasters. The customers told me they had to throw away their toasters because a mouse got in there and left droppings. I admit I was very reluctant to sew zipper toaster covers at first. Because it took months for me to discover there’s a design trick to getting it right. I’m glad I could finally help solve this problem for customers.

March 2020 I was expecting to have time off when Ohio shutdown due to Covid. I still remember the day the CDC talked about recommending everyone wear masks. I knew what that was going to mean for my business. And it was going to be a challenge, especially with the fabric supply shop being closed. I don’t normally jog or run, but that day I had so much anxiety about what was to come that I ran quite a distance in my neighborhood!

2021 I made it to the top 1% of Etsy sellers. But the growth and new status came with challenges. I managed to break 5 sergers beyond repair just trying to keep up with orders. I was using cheap used sergers, but these machines were only intended for hobby sewers. It was time to invest in a top-of-the-line Babylock serger.

As far as financing or mentoring help, I can’t say any small business development centers are going to be part of my story. Every time I’ve turned to them for assistance, they tell me they don’t understand my business and can’t help me.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
No, it hasn’t been a smooth road. Despite the existence of small business development centers, I’ve found they offer very generalized advice. In 2017 I turned to my local Youngstown Small Business Development Office for help and advice. I took the time to explain why I was seeking assistance. I explained I was an established business, I had customers who were seeking the zipper toaster covers and I was looking for marketing and funding. The woman I was talking to said to me, “Well, I’m not sure there’s a market for that.” I told her I just got done explaining there was a market for this product. Then she admitted “I don’t know how to market you. ” I said Goodbye.

The second time I contacted the Youngstown Small business Development Office another woman actually scolded me for asking about funding during the time when the PPE money was widely available.

I’ve had to take a few pauses over the years from the business. Etsy’s a great platform, but again, offers generalized advice to sellers. The biggest struggle for me has been with custom appliance cover work. It’s the most time-consuming work that I do. I learned that I had to develop a questionnaire with LOTS of boundaries in order to keep doing it.

Another challenge was when my sewing room, that is located in my basement flooded! I was home at the time fortunately. My daughter and I quickly grabbed all the equipment, fabric, and covers we could. We moved everything upstairs to 3 different rooms until a roto-rooter business could help me.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I sell a full line of quilted and non-quilted small appliance covers. I specialize in the zipper toaster cover. In 2021 I made it to the top 1% of Etsy sellers.

I think what sets me apart from the competition is the quick turnaround time and the overall style of the covers.

What does success mean to you?
I define success as being able to support myself 100% through small business and entrepreneurship.

Pricing:

  • $3
  • $8
  • $20
  • $100

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