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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Home-Based Enterprises at Heart of Business Trend

CLOVIS -- For Sharon Stone of Clovis, home is where the business is. Her spinning and knitting enterprises stretch from the yard, where a lamb named Cardigan roams, to the front room, which serves as a shop for yarns, supplies and handmade garments.

An early entrepreneur, Stone sold her first piece of knitting at age 16 and worked part-time as a professional clown. After settling in Clovis last year, she quickly found a new business opportunity.

"I've had the yarn shop since we moved to New Mexico because I couldn't get yarn and I was too far away (from suppliers) to support my habit," she said, laughing.

Family is at the heart of Stone's business. She homeschools her children, giving them real-life lessons related to the shop. She enjoys the contact with customers, especially young mothers, and having work stories to swap with her husband, a tractor sales representative.

Home-based businesses like Stone's are on the increase, accounting for one in three American businesses by some estimates. New technologies and corporate downsizing have paved the way for consultants and home offices in rural areas.

Computer and technology services make up about 30 percent of home-based businesses, retail sales 12 percent and craft enterprises 4 percent, according to Link Resources, a New York-based market research firm. The remaining 54 percent are a mixture of other business types.

For home-based businesses that lack a company's resources and advertising budget attracting customers is more difficult. Since opening her shop in February, Stone's biggest challenge has been marketing.

"My customers are very specialized, so if I just put it in the paper, I'm not going to meet the people I need to meet," she said.

Stone started by putting up posters in beauty shops, since most knitters are women. One of her strategies for years has been wearing her handmade garments everywhere. When people walk up and ask her where she bought her clothes, she has an opportunity to talk about her business.

To meet more potential customers, Stone does repairs for local dry cleaners, trades business with a quilt shop, displays her wares at a downtown crafters mall and gives demonstrations on spinning and knitting.

She also has worked with agencies like New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, which is part of a regional task force promoting home-based businesses. Stone presents workshops to 4-H and Extension clubs and provided a "Sheep to Shawl" demonstration recently at the Curry County Fair.

Sometimes called "micro" businesses, home-based businesses can give rural economies a sizable boost.

"In this area, home-based businesses are important because we have faced three years of drought that have greatly affected farm and ranch families, small businesses and the economic climate of the entire region," said Darlene Dickson, Curry County Extension home economist.

"We are trying to help entrepreneurs find markets for their unique products by organizing a network of home-based businesses, finding ways to showcase their talents at public events, and publishing a catalog of handmade items from New Mexico."