Marion Hook, founder of Adobe Rose Inn and ARI Foods, first shared her startup experiences for our 1000 Stories Campaign
After 30 years of building her career, Marion Hook decided to leave it all behind to follow a more exciting path that would take her away from retirement but can potentially bring income. Almost on a whim, Marion and her husband bought the Adobe Rose Inn Bed & Breakfast in Tucson, AZ and started a hospitality business. But just a few years later, the threat of the economic downturn loomed over their new venture. Marion decided to cash in on her strengths – the breakfast every guest raved about. In 2008 she started ARI Foods LLC to manufacture her signature buttermilk scone mix, which is now sold in every Whole Foods store in Arizona.
Reason for starting
I am an “Encore Entrepreneur” and have been for a decade. Ten years ago, I was over 50, weary of a 30 plus year career in education and not for profit management and questioning retirement. Would my husband and I be able to afford to retire? Did we even want to retire? We were both skeptical of a retirement world without the challenges which we were accustomed to in our careers. Our family is independent and scattered literally around the world, from Tennessee to Sydney, Australia. We were open to exploring and creating new opportunities and one of those opportunities was for me to start my own business. We also decided that this new venture would be located in a warm climate. After taking stock of what business strengths we had carefully developed over 30 years, I knew that I wanted to be in an environment that dealt with people. In January of 2003, we learned of the opportunity to purchase the Adobe Rose Inn Bed & Breakfast in Tucson, AZ. In March, we purchased the property and the business. To many who knew us, our decision seemed foolish and involved far too much risk. We decided that making no changes would be the biggest risk to us. The property we purchased, however, is very versatile. It is two quiet blocks from the University of AZ. If running a B&B turned out to be something I didn’t want to do, we could turn the property into long term rental property and explore other avenues. The purchase proved to be a wise move as we just celebrated the tenth anniversary of my business. [pullquote]To many who knew us, our decision seemed foolish and involved far too much risk.[/pullquote] I started ARI Foods LLC in 2008. There were rumors of an economic downturn in the near future and I knew that those of us in the hospitality sector would be hard hit as vacations tend to be placed on the proverbial “Back Burner” during down economic times. I needed something that would stabilize my cash flow during the projected lean years. I went back to exploring and creating new opportunities. The purchase of another B&B wasn’t a profitable possibility and I didn’t want to stray too far from my core business. One of my most notable strengths is my breakfasts. Guests enjoy every bite and savor every crumb of my scones which are made from an original recipe of mine. I started ARI Foods LLC to manufacture a buttermilk scone mix that could be sold to grocery stores, specialty shops and gift shops at attractions. I also started an online presence. The mix is now sold in every Whole Foods store in AZ, in regional specialty and gift shops and online. A local Tucson independent movie theatre purchases scones baked from the mix to sell in its concession stand. My cash flow is more even and cross-marketing opportunities have strengthened both businesses.
How do you define success?
Success is multi-faceted. I need to be in love with my work and excited to begin each day. Each morning I create breakfasts that my guests enjoy. Each morning is a time to converse with people from all over the world, enjoying their world-views and expertise. I have learned more around my breakfast table than I ever did in graduate school about a wide variety of topics. Breakfasts seldom end without a good deal of lively conversation punctuated with laughter. Success is also a life long learning experience. Running a small business is a constant challenge that insists I keep up-to-date with new technologies; industry trends; federal, state and local regulations; public policies; networking skills; food trends – the list is endless. Success is also leading a life that is connected purposefully to other people. Community service as a volunteer is an integral part of success as is a rich family life.
Knowing that the average innkeeper stays an innkeeper for three to four years, the biggest success of my career as an innkeeper is that the Inn is still in business and vibrant after ten years that have been fraught with challenges over which I have had no control. These include the world-wide economic downturn, the seriously dimished tourism, and Arizona’s HB 1070 law dealing with immigration which generated a fear that Tucson was a dangerous place to visit because of its proximity to the border. Conventions and concerts actually boycotted all of Arizona. The biggest success for ARI Foods is that the scone mix went from an idea in my kitchen to the shelves of all of the Whole Foods in Arizona in two months. It usually takes months and sometimes year to accomplish that.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
My top challenge in the Bed & Breakfast industry is finding the right room charge, one that is low enough to meet the needs our largest client, the U of AZ and high enough to allow us to stay in business. I keep flexible rates for UA and actively pursue international clients. I enrolled in the STEP export program sponsored by the SBA and the Arizona Commerce Authority and export destination tourism all over the world concentrating in Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Mexico. My web site is in both English and Spanish. My top challenge in the scone mix business is expansion out of the Arizona market. When “buttermilk scone mix packaged” is Googled, over 500,000 scone sites appear. My mix is #3. I still need more clients. I turned to exporting, concentrating on Australia, Canada and Mexico. I have a distributer in Sydney and in-roads into Vida’s Mayan Palace resort chain in Mexico.
Who is your most important role model?
Katharine Kent, President of The Solar Store in Tucson, AZ, is my most important role model. Katharine completed her Masters of Business Administration. She also has a BS in Chemical Engineering and an MS in Nuclear and Energy Engineering. She has an impressive employment history prior to starting The Solar Store in 1998 with Dow Chemical, the University of Arizona, Peroxidation Systems, Vulcan Chemical and Calgon Carbon. While employed at the University of Arizona, she was awarded the Department of Energy’s Energy Innovation award for work on passive cooling strategies for desert climates. Katharine was named the Society of Women’s Engineer’s Distinguished New Engineer in 1995 and has been appointed to the Arizona Solar Advisory Council. She is immediate past Chair of the Small Minority and Women-owned Business Commission for the City of Tucson. I met Katharine when I joined NAWBO Greater Tucson where she showed me how to make the most of the organization, encouraging me to become involved at a Board level. Following her advice, I became President of the NAWBO Board and made invaluable contacts in both the organization and the community. Katharine also helped me become a member of the Small Minority and Women-owned Business Commission for the City of Tucson. Following her example, I am now Chair of the Commission. I know I can receive reliable, applicable information from Katharine concerning small business development, networking, public policy issues, marketing, sales, community involvement, crisis management, and appropriate reaction to industry trends, among other issues.