Mr. Handyman

Owners: Steve and Ellen Hawley
Address: 180 E. Bakerview Rd.
Phone: 671-8900
Startup date: June 12
Square Footage: 300

Steve Hawley’s new business, which he opened with his wife Ellen, aims to put a dent in the "honey-do" list of the typical Bellingham homeowner.

    Steve Hawley described his new business — a franchise called Mr. Handyman — as a “honey do” service. As in, anything a wife would ask their husband to do, Mr. Handyman can be hired to do it.
   After working for an insurance company, Hawley and his wife, Ellen — who still works as a claims adjuster — decided to go the franchise route because they liked the idea of owning their own business, but didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, he said.
   “Up here, we saw a glaring need for a handyman industry,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys doing this illegitimately, which hurts homeowners when an issue comes up.”
   Hawley liked that the Mr. Handyman franchise, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., with 208 franchises in the United States, provides a great deal of technical and marketing support, he said.
   The business aims to professionalize the handyman trade, Hawley said. His employees wear bright red uniforms and foot booties to keep customers’ carpets clean. They drive bright red vans and make specific time appointments instead of giving a several-hour range of arrival. All of his employees will go through extensive background checks and customer-service training, and must have at least 15 years experience doing repair work, he said.
   The company’s list of services is long and includes installing appliances, brick landscaping and repair, deck installation and repair and tree removal, to name a few. About the only things they can’t do are services provided by a licensed electrician or plumber.
   “We’ve attempted to professionalize an industry that may not have been as professional in the past,” he said.
   Hawley charges $86 an hour plus cost for materials, a rate he admits is a bit high, but said it’s worth the professional service his employees provide. Since he’s opened, most of his jobs have been two- to three-hour repairs on ceiling fans and decks, pressure-washing, and window cleaning. He said he expects the jobs to be seasonal, with more gutter repair and indoor painting in the fall.
   So far, most of the work has come from customers living in the county, which he attributed to an increase in growth in cities such as Lynden and Ferndale.
   Hawley lives in Snohomish and commutes to Bellingham every workday. The commute is about the same amount of time it would take him to drive to Seattle for work because of the traffic.
   “I would much rather work here,” he said.
   After doing personal home repair for years, Hawley said he couldn’t be happier turning his hobby into a career.
   “I have a passion for home improvement,” he said. “This is a dream come true, to blend a passion with an opportunity to make money.”

the bunch
owner: Tracy Barrick
Address: 960 Harris Ave., Ste. B-104
Phone: 671-5769
Web site:
Startup date: May 20
Square Footage: 1,200

Tracy Barrick’s mother saved her entire adult life to buy a lavender farm, which in turn inspired Tracy to open her own business, the bunch, which specializes in lavender-based products such as soaps and lotions using the raw product from her mother’s farm.

    Growing up, Tracy Barrick’s mother never had much money. So when her mother was able to save up enough to invest in her dream of buying a lavender farm, Barrick was inspired to start her own business.
   “It was amazing,” she said. “It made me realize I could do whatever I wanted.”
   The bunch, Barrick’s retail store on the ground floor of Fairhaven’s Harris Square, sprouted out of her original project of making soaps and lotions from her mother’s lavender.
   But she didn’t want to limit herself to lavender, she said, and eventually got the idea to sell local artists’ handicrafts on consignment as well.
   Pinning down the bunch’s theme results in a sensory experience. The store smells like lavender, herbs and other floral aromas and is painted daisy yellow. Shelves and tables are strewn with lavender soaps, food, candles and fresh bunches of the plant; other soaps and lotions with non-lavender scents made by Barrick; and photographs, watercolors, furniture, hand-felted wool pieces and jewelry made by 20 local artists. Many of the artists are Barrick’s friends and family members.
   She also offers craft classes at the store, such as beading and floral arrangement
   Barrick, at 23, said one of the most challenging things about opening a business has been the experience of being the youngest Fairhaven merchant.
   Another challenge, she said, is that because she can’t afford another employee yet, she hasn’t been able to get away from the store to meet and network with other businessowners in Fairhaven, although she doesn’t mind the hours spent cultivating her shop. In fact, the store is only closed one day a week, but that doesn’t stop her from coming in anyway.
   “Mondays I’m usually bored, so I end up coming here anyway to make soap,” she said.
   Barrick graduated with a degree in East Asian studies from Western Washington University in 2005, but started out as an international business major. After graduation, she began to “work the grind” as a personal assistant for a local real estate company.
   “I learned a lot, but it was really boring,” she said. “If I was going to be working that hard I wanted to do it for myself.”
   She opened the bunch three months later and blooms with excitement when talking about her store that sells mostly undiscovered artists’ talent.
   “Bellingham is full of amazing artists who haven’t had the opportunity to put their art up anywhere,” she said. “Ten of my artists have never sold their art before. I’m proud of that.”

Fairhaven Toy Garden
Owners: Tina Schwindt, Robin Bigelow and Roland Trub
Address: 1147 11th St.
Phone: 714-8552
Web site:
Startup date: April 30
Square Footage: 1,900

Roland Trub and Tina Schwindt, along with co-owner Robin Bigelow (not pictured), opened the Fairhaven Toy Garden on 11th Street in April. The store focuses on "old fashioned," non-electronic, non-plastic toys.

    At the new Fairhaven Toy Garden, visitors are just as likely to see parents and adults excited by the array of colorful toys as they are to see children playing with them.
   The large corner space in the Fairhaven Gardens building is full of wooden castle and ship models framed by drapes of blue and fuchsia gauze. Shelves are stacked with wooden figurines, games and puzzles. Baskets are overflowing with stuffed animals. In one corner the owners have set up two tables for children and parents to draw and color and in another section an entire display is devoted to nostalgic wind-up and slinky toys.
   The three owners met at Whatcom Hills Waldorf School, where all of their children attend, and decided to open the toy store together. Tina Schwindt brought ordering and inventory experience to the endeavor from her job at the school’s small toy store. Roland Trub brought his retail-management experience from a stint as the owner of a Body Shop chain in Denver. Robin Bigelow, an interior designer, brought her decorative expertise to the business.
   The three began discussing the idea in December after noticing the prime corner space was available to lease.
   “We wanted to have a store that has creative and unusual things,” Schwindt said. For the owners, that meant no TV characters, very little plastics and no electronics.
   Instead, they wanted to fill a void in Bellingham’s toy sector by creating a shop filled with unique toys, and a place that was community-oriented, Schwindt said.
   “It has a homey feeling for people. It’s comfortable and not overwhelming,” Trub said. “We have customers that come here every day because their kids just want to play around.”
   They also wanted the store to feel familiar and safe for parents, with toys they might recognize from childhood.
   “At Toys R Us, parents say, ‘I don’t even know these toys,” Trub said. “Here, it’s very safe.”
   Schwindt and Trub both said they like to encourage the children that come into their store to touch and play with the toys, and they even have a built-in fort stuffed with pillows for kids to play in near the front window.
   Trub said that one of the biggest surprises regarding starting the business was how little marketing the owners had to do to get so many customers interested in the store.
   “I’m amazed every day by customers who comment on how great this place is,” he said. “There is a buzz going on out there without us having to do any advertising.”

— Heidi Schiller



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