Sheila Jimenez is back home, and that’s exactly where she wants to be. After fifteen years in Chicago, she returned to Winamac, Indiana, population 2,490 (U.S. Census, 2010). Only a handful of Indiana’s 92 counties have a smaller population than Pulaski, where the county seat of Winamac boasts three stoplights.
When Sheila was among the hundred or so annual graduates of Winamac High School, she never dreamed that one day she’d be selling Coffee News ads to fellow alumni. But since February 1, 2016, she’s been doing exactly that. “There are a lot of people I went to high school with who now own their own businesses in Winamac. Surprisingly, people that I do know are the hardest to sell.” But she doesn’t let that bother her. “I think most of it is just waiting to see if it’s going to stick before they invest in it.” Her franchise is very new, after all. She published her first issue on February 27.
Her ten-year-old son attends the same school that Sheila did. Having lived in Chicago for nine years, he can’t believe that everybody knows his mom. His teacher is one of Sheila’s high school classmates.
Both her mother and her son have been helping in her new business. “I’ll have him hop out and help me do deliveries,” she says, “trying to show him to be responsible. He thinks I’m the worst mom ever.” But Sheila used to think the same thing when she was a kid. “He’ll appreciate it at some point,” she laughs.
She comes from an entrepreneurial family, and that was good training to be a Coffee News franchisee. “I know small businesses and that’s where I think I have my niche. I get what they need and what they want. I speak their language.” For twelve years she worked in succession of businesses owned by her father. “He’s had everything from a gas station to a sports bar to a pizza place, wholesale company, liquor importer. One always led to the next.”
But for all of her small business background, she had no prior sales experience. “I don’t think I know what I’m doing, but it’s working out,” she says. When she took over, the edition had no ads, just filler. For her first cold call, she says, “I kind of pumped myself up in the car, took five big breaths, and walked in. I did my spiel, waited the eight seconds. The minute I was about to open my mouth, they said, ‘OK, we’ll take a year and we’ll pay in full.’ Thank goodness I didn’t open my mouth!
“You know that feeling when you almost hit something in your car, or being in a roller coaster? That was the feeling I had in my stomach. Thank goodness that was my first sales experience, to know that this works, to go into someplace else and to have the confidence.” Since then, she’s had no problem selling ads. “It’s just about being local and promoting local businesses to build back up our community.” As of early March, she’d sold ten.
The small town of Winamac was impacted by the recession, but it’s starting to come back. A theme park called Rugged Adventures will open in April. They’ve bought an ad, and so have a gas station chain, a plumbing-heating-cooling business, a direct marketing company, the local hardware store, and a crop services company that sells fertilizer. “We’re in farmland,” Sheila explains.
Winamac also is home to the international headquarters of Braun Corporation, which employs 900 people building wheelchair lifts for vans. “It’s definitely a generating force of income in the area,” she says.
Businesses in small towns can have difficulty staying afloat. Sheila considers Coffee News a great avenue for them, and wants to help them so they can generate more business. She never would have considered a Coffee News franchise in Chicago. But back in Winamac? “I’ve always wanted to own my own business. After doing this for a few weeks, I feel like I was born to do this.”
And here at home, she’s made great start.