That’s the word from Serena Armstrong, owner of FarmHouseUrban, a retail and interior design shop within the Mill Valley Lumber Yard, about Heath Owen Consulting, the eponymous handle for the small business consulting firm launched earlier this year by the former longtime operations manager at Makers Market.
In recent months, Owen has helped Armstrong merge her new in-store point-of-sale system with a new ecommerce infrastructure. She needed the two systems to speak the same language.
“He really tightened everything up,” she says. “When you have a consultant that you trust, before you can start to see measurable results with regard to something as clear cut as sales, you first get that feeling of being able to breathe and know that this is not problematic anymore. That’s a blessing to a small business that doesn’t quite know how to take the tiny bit of money they have to dedicate to something and help the business stay afloat.”
“He’s taken years of me working so hard and not achieving great success and he’s allowed me to shine,” says Molly de Vries, owner of Ambatalia, a designer and maker of “modern ecological textiles to support a non-disposable life,” also at MVLY.
For Owen, a Bay Area native, launching his own small business consulting firm was a natural progression. He says he’s been gripped by a small business-focused, entrepreneurial spirit since he was a teen. In high school, he became president of his local chapter of DECA, which was founded as “Distributive Education Clubs of America” and seeks to “prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.” Through the organization, Owen was able to participate in mock mock business competitions, connecting with CEOs and executives at companies to hone his business skills at a young age.
Rather than take the du jour Bay Area path and chart a path as a developer at a major tech conglomerate, Owen knew his heart was in small business, creativity and design. He garnered an associate of arts degree and a bachelor’s degree in business from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising.
The foundation of Owen’s work is in web design and building and optimizing small business websites, helping brands create a sustainable online presence that is built around cohesive branding guidelines and incorporates clear processes and inventory management systems. Over time, he’s also honed his skills in product design and development, merchandising, graphic design and marketing – all critically important pieces of the small business ecosystem.
After college, Owen linked with Makers Market founder Suzy Ekman, who was in the nascent stages of building her retail brand that showcases and celebrates the products of independent creators, artists and makers. Those years of skill development and managing a growing brand made Owen ready for this particularly tumultuous, complex moment we’re all living through right now amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
“Over the past many months, there’s been this overwhelming need for businesses to pivot in the midst of the pandemic,” Owen says. “Businesses are really looking to update the way that they do business to adapt to this crazy world, which continues with no obvious really no end in sight.”
“There are so many mom and pop shops that I want to be able to support in any way that I can,” Owen adds. “I want to help them pivot to create a sustainable business model to go towards what the retail landscape is going to look like in the future
He’s recommending to a lot of his retail clients that they really push hard on the ecommerce side of their business, generating steady income that isn’t reliant on vaccines or weather and doesn’t carry a lot of overhead.
Owen is crystal clear about one thing with his clients: instead of being the guy you have to call every time something breaks, and thus generating regular business from the same clients, his goal is create sustainable, simplified platforms and processes are user-friendly and customizable, supported by succinct procedural manuals “so that if they have a problem and question, they don’t need to come to me.”
“Everything I do is created so that I am not being relied on constantly,” he adds. “It’s about creating independence and getting it automated and optimized so that it doesn’t have to be managed. We’re not throwing money at problems.”
“I found it refreshing in the world of hiring consultants that Heath’s not third-party app happy – he’s not saying ‘there’s an app for that’ at every turn,” Armstrong says. “He thinks like I do in that I don’t need the additional expense of third party apps but it can also be confusing. He’s really great that way.”
“Heath saw that I have a lot of great intentions and integrity, but that business has never never been my forte,” de Vries says. “I have a great little nugget of a business, and he has helped me connect so many dots, from my website to the wholesale and retail slices of my business to linking Quickbooks and my inventory systems. He cleaned everything up and made it self-sustaining.”
For both Armstrong and de Vries, Owen brings social emotional skills that go beyond his youthful years.
“He’s just a delight to work with,” de Vries says. “And he understands the purpose of what I do, and he listens really well. He’s brilliant, and an amazing guy.”