Connie Pentek's company might be saved by a voodoo doll.
Pentek, who lives in Santa Clarita, started out in 1992 creating and selling homemade items influenced by the look of the French countryside. She and her husband, Gustav, lovingly made items such as hand-gilded lampshades and candle sconces fashioned from roof tiles.
But apart from these pieces, Pentek created a novelty item that she initially made as a gift for friends. It was a stuffed doll with a muslin exterior, adorned with hand-written symptoms of aging that could be pricked, voodoo style, with a pin.
Sales of the French-inspired items plummeted in recent years, especially as the economy soured. But sales of the voodoo dolls were steady.
"It's not what I love doing, but it is a very popular item in our line," Pentek said.
Ten years ago, sales at the small company amounted to $500,000. That slid to $150,000 in 2006, and this year revenue will probably be less than $50,000.
Pentek has a longtime website, http://www.conniepentekdesigns.com, for wholesale clients. But she readily acknowledges that she is not technologically savvy and the site is not regularly updated. She doesn't even know how many people visit it.
She set up a retail website, http://www.countryfrenchmarket.com, a year ago. "It hasn't been as successful as I had hoped," Pentek said.
The basic problem is that Pentek has not taken full advantage of a product that could be highly successful.
Catherine Grooms, assistant director of the Small Business Development Center at College of the Canyons, made this point while speaking with the Penteks.
"They realize they weren't in the same business they started out in," Grooms said.
Grooms recommended the following:
• Take a hard look at the business. The couple lacks a long-term vision for their company. It's time to rethink "what business are they are really in," Grooms said.
She sees a disconnect between what the business offers and what its customers want.
One example of the disconnect is that the dolls are still offered on a site predominated by the French country items. The Penteks have, however, expanded the lineup of dolls. They even have a Hollywood Actor Doll in which pins can be put in terms such as agent, audition and supporting role.
But they have to make it easier for consumers and even retailers to become aware of the dolls.
"It is hard for [the Penteks] to translate their business model into today's terms and how people find their product," Grooms said.
• Do a financial analysis on the profitability of every product. "They had never actually analyzed the financial results of those items — they know intuitively that the dolls are the top-selling items but they still continue to make many other items that are time-consuming and have low profit margins," Grooms said.
An analysis will reveal the relationship between the products they offer and their financial results, she said.
• Create a new business plan. "They have ideas and they have intuition about their product line, but nothing has been formally developed to support them," Grooms said.
• Find the resources to harness technology. "We talked about the need for them to maintain their websites, to make sure the content and functionality is representative of what their target market needs," she said.
Grooms will help them find a qualified person to assist them with their websites and with online marketing in general.
• Focus on time management. "They have limited resources, so they have to think how they want to spend their time," Grooms said. They also need to carve out time to work on a business plan, set business goals and gather marketing information for the plan, she said. Also, they should be thinking about new products that could catch on with the public.
• Give the dolls some respect. They need to be more clearly labeled as a Connie Pentek Design product and more strongly marketed, Grooms said.
"Her confirmation of the fact that that dolls were something we should definitely, definitely pursue — it was just so reinforcing to hear," Pentek said. "I've got the figures to prove it's a success. We've just never taken it to the next level.
"There's not one suggestion she has made that we are not taking to heart."
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