Back in 2011 when my wife and I made the decision to take Unshoes from a side gig to a full-time job and legitimate business, I knew I would need help. My background is in art which was nice in helping me design the sandals but not so helpful to run a business! I approached the local SBDC (Small Business Development Center) for help. They gave me some information to help me take the next steps, but most of all, I left with a renewed sense of confidence. Every now and then I go back to them with questions that I’m too embarrassed to ask anyone else. They are great people who are patient with me. I have come to know that they really care about me and want the business to succeed.
Several months ago as I was chatting with the director, he mentioned that they might like to highlight Unshoes as a success story on their website. Of course, I agreed. They drafted an article and asked me for my mug shot and a few quotes about the business. I was happy with the final article but I didn’t know exactly what it would mean for us. About a month ago they sent me an email informing me that I was nominated to receive the “Client of the Year” award. There would be an award ceremony at the State Capitol Building as part of the Rural Legislative Day. I was very honored and surprised by this. We were told that there would be a luncheon and award ceremony but other than that we didn’t really know what to expect.
The morning before the award ceremony I received a phone call from the SBDC Assistant Director asking me if we would be able to make it to the Capitol Building early. She said the Senate wanted to recognize the award winners. While I keep updated on current politics, I’ve never had any reason to attend a Senate meeting or even be in the Capitol Building other than as a visitor to admire the architecture. Again, I didn’t know what to expect. We live about 500 miles from Salt Lake City so we left the night before and stayed the night with family. My sister-in-law kindly agreed to let us stay at her house and watch our kids while we attended our meetings. The drive itself was very intense because of weather. The roads were slippery and visibility was very low. Also, part of the freeway was closed due to a shooting.
The next morning we were running a bit late and were afraid that we would miss the senate meeting. We made it there just in the nick of time. I was still tying my tie while I received instructions from the head of the SBDC. My wife and I both wore our Unshoes of course! There were nine business of over 2,300 that were recognized during this event. They called us in and talked about the importance of small businesses in the economy. They then highlighted each business individually and asked us to step forward. I was a little overwhelmed in this meeting! It was like visiting a foreign country for the first time. I’m sure that I had a “deer in the headlights” look on my face!
After the Senate meeting we ate lunch and had the award ceremony. We were first to be presented with the award since the Senator for our region wanted to participate and he had another meeting he needed to attend shortly after. The person who introduced the awards (I’m not really sure who he was) was rather monotone. He didn’t show much emotion until we were just about to sit down and he noticed that we were wearing our sandals. He asked us to “hold up our feet” so everyone could see them!
It turned out to be a bigger deal than we thought. It was a fantastic experience for us and we were very honored to be recognized in such circumstances. Just like my first visit to the SBDC office, it was a much needed shot of confidence to help us take the challenges that lie ahead.