Founders Kristin Karotkin + Catherine Willhoit in their first location of The Hive coffee shop.
GBE: What is The Hive?
C+ K:The Hive is a coffee and retail shop located in Hoboken, NJ. We’re centered on fostering community through our in-store offerings, events, and have within our shop a small, creative playspace that’s designed for young families.
GBE: When did you open?
C + K: November 2020.
GBE: How did you come together as business partners?
Catherine: We first met in November 2017 shortly after welcoming our first babies and attending a new moms support group at a local hospital. I found motherhood to be shockingly lonely at first, as my life had gone from working full-time to being home alone with a newborn, and I was shocked to feel very unsettled without connections to other women, so I went to this group each week and eventually worked up the nerve to ask if any of the women would want to get a glass of wine with me one evening. Kristin was one of six women who loved the idea and from there, we’d meet each week for drinks, dinners, coffees, etc. and slowly became good friends. It was about a year into motherhood and our friendship that we both started dreaming of a place we could go with our kids together, that was for us, but had things for our kids to enjoy, too. Nothing like that existed in our city, so it sparked an idea that gradually led us to building our business.
Kristin: Coincidentally Cat and I had both been laid off from our pre-baby corporate jobs, myself at 8 months pregnant and Cat two months after returning from her maternity leave. We both were incredibly eager to return to our professional lives in some way and pursued other paths (Cat freelanced in public relations and I worked for a former boss before the pandemic), but I think the fact that neither of us had a job that ignited passion motivated us to take this leap into entrepreneurship.
GBE: Growing a business alone takes a lot of work, and partnerships present their own benefits and challenges. What’s something that makes your partnership work well?
Kristin: We each bring a very different skillset to our partnership. Catherine is a writer and storyteller by nature, and handles a lot of our creative work, while I thrive on spreadsheets, analysis, and the numbers piece of the business. We both love experimenting with our recipes in the kitchen and we’re also very much on the same level when it comes to the heavy lifting of the business. There’s never been a time when either of us isn’t pulling an equal weight. Despite so many challenges - we each had another baby in between deciding to launch a business and actually opening our shop’s doors, the pandemic, historic floods that demolished our basement and storage (twice!), etc. - we have each other’s backs when needed to lend support. There’s never a question that we’ll both show up when times get really tough. We also honor the friendship from which this business bloomed by getting together socially alone and with our kids and husbands, too. We were friends first and still maintain that camaraderie, which makes working together every day much more fulfilling.
GBE: Tell us about your experience opening a brick and mortar. What were some of the challenges in getting it started? What did you learn?
Catherine: Finding the right space in both layout and location took about one year. We needed a space that was large enough to accommodate all three of our concepts - coffee and baked goods, retail, and our playspace - and we knew that we wanted our first shop (and future locations!) to be neighborhood-centric, rather than on a commuting path or main thoroughfare. We looked for over a year to find the right space and refused to settle, knowing how important location was to us. I also firmly recommend that any woman signing a lease on a brick-and-mortar property interviews her landlord(s). As important as it is for your landlord to see value in you, I think it’s even more important for you to see value in the landlord. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions and strongly negotiate for what you want! We count our current landlords as partners to us, and despite setbacks and challenges, they’re been rock-solid supports to us as we navigate the early stages of our business.
GBE: What would you do differently today if you were going to start over?
Catherine: I wouldn’t change a thing about our journey, including mistakes we’ve made. Rather than dwell, we’ve learned from them and grown, and strive to not make them again.
Kristin: Listen to everyone who told us it was going to cost twice as much and take twice as long to open as we anticipated and planned for. They were all RIGHT!
GBE: What’s been the most surprising thing about your experience starting this shop?
Catherine: How much we love working here. I still get excited every day that I arrive. The work we do is so incredibly demanding in every way (it’s so physical, the days are very long, and managing a business that’s open seven days a week leaves little time to catch a breath) but I’ve never in my life felt so fulfilled by what I do with Kristin.
Kristin: I share the same sentiments as Cat, I LOVE going into work every day. I also never could have imagined we’d build so many amazing friendships with our customers. Owning a business where people come in every day for their morning coffee means seeing them all of the time, on their good days and their bad. I’m so grateful to have become a small part of so many people’s daily lives.
GBE: Congratulations, by the way, on your success over the past year and a half! Growing a successful storefront in the midst of the pandemic challenges is really inspiring. What are you optimistic about as you work on opening your second store?
Kristin: I love that our concept has resonated so strongly with people and am so proud and grateful for the community we’ve been able to build. I’m excited to continue building that within Hoboken and in other cities and locations as we look to expand.
Catherine: I’m so pumped that we’re creating jobs and growth for our team. We’ve been fortunate to work with an extraordinary group of people over the past eighteen months, and I’m so pumped to watch them expand their talents to future shops and the business overall.
GBE: You’re both big on community and support, as are we for our women starting businesses. What has helped each of you the most as individuals to grow this company?
C & K: the support of other business owners in town, even competing ones. From the very beginning, we’ve always been quick to celebrate what fellow entrepreneurs are doing and that camaraderie has been repaid in so many ways (like the day we ran out of straws and our friends at nearby eatery, Alfalfa, gave us two boxes to tide us over). We’ve always found it so strange how competitive and mean people can be to one another when they work in the same space. If you’re confident in your model and love what you do, isn’t there enough room in the proverbial sandbox for all of us to play?
That mindset has really helped us stay laser-focused on our mission and not get caught up in worrying about what other people are doing. So if you’re starting on your own entrepreneurial journey, reach out to people now and hear their stories. Start to form professional relationships, which will no doubt pay off in spades in the long run.
GBE: We hear from so many women who are aspiring to create a business, but don’t know where to start. What advice would you give them?
Kristin: Starting is the hardest part! We started with a Pinterset board of ideas and talking to people about what we wanted to build to get their thoughts and feedback. We worked on a little piece of this idea at a time, until at some point all of the little pieces started coming together to form a business plan. A great place to start is researching other businesses that inspire you and connecting with other entrepreneurs. In the very early stages of our idea, we visited other coffee shops we admired and reached out to the owners to ask about their story. Most people are willing to talk openly about their journey if you simply ask. We tried to soak up as much knowledge as we could from those who had done this before us.
Catherine: Don’t be afraid of the “what if’s”. We prepared ourselves for such silly scenarios that never materialized, but the really tough stuff (historic Hoboken flooding that destroyed our basement…twice, a pandemic, etc.) were things that we never predicted. We lived through them, our business survived, but had we known, we would’ve been scared away!
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