Successful businesswoman credits customer service
Many persons would probably be flabbergasted at the notion that someone can own the same business for more than 24 years, especially in this economic climate. It's no shock, however, for Maxine Smith Sterling White, owner of Kitchen Plus, which is located on the border of St Ann and St Mary in a pristine area known as White River.
For more than two decades, she has managed to steer her business around the tricky bends and corners that litter Jamaica's economic landscape. And she counts 'great customer service' and 'unique items' as the top reasons why her business continues to thrive.
"I like to serve and so I have a loyal customer base. I am able to maintain my customer base because of good customer service which I insist on from my three full-time staff members."
Nevertheless, she admits that the name of the business is slightly misleading.
"It is more plus than kitchen. People are usually in awe when they come in and see the vast range of household items we offer. It is home decor, gift items, gardening items and, by extension, we offer catering services. Our items are very beautiful and unique."
Many years ago she walked away from her occupation in insurance sales to venture into this field and when she was asked why, she indicated that she was given an offer that she could not refuse, and to this day, does not regret taking it.
"I have a natural passion for the things I sell and I realised that I get immense satisfaction from serving customers. I purchase around 90 per cent of the items from America, Panama and other places overseas. Also, my son flies to the Far East three times a year to purchase unique artefacts."
This importation process, however, has its challenges.
"Kitchen Plus would be in a better position to offer more if importation was more affordable. If I break down the CIF (cost insurance and freight), it is roughly costing me about 75 per cent to the cost of the merchandise."
Teach more technical courses in schools; cut down on imports
The fact that Maxine Smith Sterling White spends so much on cost, insurance and freight (CIF) does little to deter her passion for her business. She is, however, peeved at the fact that not many persons are properly trained in manufacturing in this country and blames it on the limited number of technical courses being offered in schools.
"We sell local art but we are trying to incorporate more. However, over my decades in business, I have come across some very poorly done work. The Government needs to develop the nation's academic curriculum. More technical courses, including craftsmanship, should be offered in school and if this was the case, I would not have to buy so many items abroad. Schooling is supposed to be a way of life for the future and not just a facilitation for certification. So many persons are certified but they are not equipped.
Why is it that so many other countries manufacture extensively and we don't? Manufacturing is done by other human beings who are the same as us, so what is separating us from them? It all goes back to education. We are having certified persons but they are not necessarily educated properly in their craft. Many people I have encountered do not have practical experience or even a willingness to learn."
Education is not the only area that she would like to see improved. She believes that even though Jamaica needs more entrepreneurs, people need to be creative with their business ventures.
"Business is supposed to be a passion, but a lot go into it for the wrong reasons. We then end up with a lot of businesses offering the same things, so they rarely stand out. This is a big problem and it's sad because a lot of things are missing from the local market. If people were more original, Jamaica could be a place of choice. We have so much natural resources, we just don't use them."
When it comes to Kitchen Plus, she plans to develop a garden centre and will join forces with her daughter in the near future to expand the business and possibly go into franchising. She wants young entrepreneurs to stay true to their art and mind their manners in order to attain longevity in the industry.
"Stay true to your art. Look at companies like Smuckers, Planters, J. Wray and Nephew and GraceKennedy, they stay true to their art. Also, be mindful of those you serve. I believe in providing good service and that is why I get so tired. I am mentally, physically and emotionally involved in every aspect of the business."