La Verne Magazine
Spring 1998

"La Verne's Small-Town Businesses"

Businesses Return to Home-Sweet-Home

by Andrea Gardner
photography by Christie Reed


Mary Beth Warfel, a La Verne piano teacher, steadily eyes the hands of Carlyle Rubin, 8, as Brian Brophy, 10, patiently waits his turn. Warfel, like many business people, has turned to the comforts of home as her workplace. "I'm booked for two years," says Warfel, whose students range from young children to adults.

Imagine faxing in pajamas, doing payroll over a cup of coffee and taking business calls while making the children cereal. That can be the typical morning for La Verne business owners who choose a home business.

They do not leave the office because the business is part of the house -- the office is in the garage, in a spare bedroom room or even at the coffee table.

They do it to save money, to stay at home with their children or because they do not need an office away from the house.

Having a home business can be more convenient, more relaxed, and sometimes more profitable, but it does not go without its challenges.

For Mary Beth Warfel, a La Verne piano teacher who teaches her piano and organ lessons from the home, advertising is tough, especially when competing with larger shops.

Warfel says she used to teach piano and organ lessons from a commercial facility in San Dimas. When that store went out of business, she decided to try teaching from her home, and her students followed her, helping her establish her home business clientele.

While she says some businesses like hers operate from the home, many people do not get a business license like she did.

Whether the business runs from a busy street or from the sleepy neighborhoods of La Verne, Warfel thinks businesses should get a license, saying, "You have to do it right."

Gary Cole is another home business owner, though his business is not part of his career, but, rather, is his hobby.

Cole runs Gary's Custom Gun -- repairing and refinishing guns for friends and acquaintances who need his help. As a gun collector, Cole remembers friends approaching him and needing help finding or fixing a part for a gun.

"They know I like guns, and they'll say, 'Hey, do you know anything about this -- can you fix this?'" says Cole.

While he says it is not a profitable business, he says he enjoys this hobby, and, due to federal regulations, he has the business license, among other required permits and licenses.

He is hopeful of his business' future though, saying, "By the time I retire in 15 or 20 years, it'll be a nice little business."

Another home-based business owner is Susan Darden, who owns Right Touch Artwear. Darden paints clothing, ranging from t-shirts to formal wear.

While she started designing wreaths and other home interiors, she says she enjoys clothing painting and says the packaging for the clothing is simpler than home interiors.

"It's fun because I change my styles a lot," she says.

Darden normally works three months in advance and does all of the painting herself. She sells her merchandise through gift shows and phone orders.

While there are challenges to her home business, she says the best part is "you can do it on your own time."

To help with the challenges of owning a home business, La Verne's Chamber of Commerce has an organization called "Connections" to help all business owners. Connections meets for breakfast on the third Tuesday of every month at Kelly's Coffee and Fudge and for lunch on the first Wednesday of every month at Mi Ranchito Restaurant.

Tessin says the main focus of the group is the opportunity for other businesses to network and get to know one another.

"We give leads to one another," says Tessin.

One committee that is dedicated to helping home businesses is the Ambassadors of the Chamber of Commerce. Ambassadors primarily are the meeters and greeters of the Chamber, but Tessin says the majority of the Ambassadors are also home business owners themselves.

Because of this, they take special care of new members of the Chamber who own home business, making sure the business runs smoothly and the correct paperwork is completed with the city and the Chamber.

Cindy Torres is the president of the Ambassadors and a home business owner. After 18 years in the corporate world as a marketing manager, she decided to make a change. Now as a professional organizer, Torres uses her home for administrative duties and travels to different businesses and homes in the area, helping them better organize their surroundings and their time management.

While she says the freedom of a home business makes it all worth it, loneliness can be a problem. She says this is one of the reasons the Chamber of Commerce is so helpful to home-based business owners.

"If you work alone, it gets lonely, so the Chamber fills that void for me," says Torres.

When working alone, camaraderie comes from the Chamber and the Connections groups. "It's just a great way to grow your business," says Torres.

Tessin says home business owners can benefit from the Chamber in a variety of ways, especially through exposure, networking and advertising in the Chamber's newsletter, "The Exchange."

Through the networking and camaraderie of the Chamber, the freedom and creativity of the entrepreneur and the simple comforts of home, the plus side of the home business is long. Surely for home-based business owners that conference call at the kitchen table and price inventory in front of the television can attest to that.

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