Vermont businesswoman turns setbacks into opportunities

“At 35, I had to start over,” she said. “So I decided to start college.”

Vance worked two jobs while pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Southern New Hampshire University. She graduated with honors in 2018.

Pictured: Maria Vance, owner of Cheaptotes, holds a bespoke tote. Courtesy photo.

Shortly after graduation, a former factory colleague offered him a job.

He had started an online business selling blank, custom-printed tote bags, but was uninterested in managing day-to-day operations.

“He taught me everything,” Vance said. “I started learning screen printing and digital printing and was about to learn navigation when he suddenly passed away.”

The owner’s family continued to run the business with support from Vance and two other employees.

“In that first year, we created a new website and I taught myself digital art on YouTube,” Vance said.

But at the end of that year, the owners decided to sell.

Vance couldn’t imagine giving up the business she had spent so much time and energy learning. So she and her husband started taking steps to buy the business.

When their first attempt at obtaining financing was turned down, the bank loan officer suggested Vance contact Ross Hart, an advisor at the Vermont Small Business Development Center, to help him develop cash flow projections and a plan. business.

“Thank goodness for Ross,” Vance said.

After reviewing company records with Vance, Hart found that the business could be profitable, but was simply not being managed properly.

Vance ultimately completed the loan in July 2021.

“The only reason this happened was because Ross helped me develop a business plan and control cash flow,” Vance said. “Fortunately, I had that year to understand what was going on with the business in order to make informed decisions for the future. Ross taught me how to prepare better.

Several years after quitting her job, Vance is back at the factory – only as a business owner instead of an employee.

His company, Cheaptotes, sells budget tote bags and t-shirts, with optional custom logo and photo printing.

They carry out all their own printing work at their factory in St Johnsbury Center, using state of the art printing machinery and digital laser printing.

Currently, about 99% of sales are through the company’s website, Vance said. But she would like to expand her business locally, offering her products and services to more Vermont businesses and organizations.

For information: cheaptotes.com

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