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B2B ID: Michele Dufresne, Pioneer Valley Books

NAME: Michele Dufresne

JOB TITLE, COMPANY: Co-founder and president, Pioneer Valley Books of Northampton

WEBSITE: www.pioneervalleybooks.com/

AGE: 57

WHEN THE BUSINESS STARTED: In February of 1998. A fellow reading teacher and I printed 10 little black-and-white books, using family and friends in the photos to illustrate the stories. Our motivation was frustration at the lack of good books that teachers could use as a resource.

WHAT YOU DO: I continue to write many of the books that we publish. Pioneer Valley Books now has over 600 titles. Popular characters like our dogs Bella and Rosie have been made into stuffed toys. We also carry magnetic letters, small easels, a series of CDs that allow you to make a customized story with your child’s name, and many other resources for teachers and parents that help children learn to read.

EXPERIENCE: I had no business experience prior to starting our business. I was a reading teacher. Maybe if we had known what it takes to run a business we would not have even started. But each day is an education. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed and discouraged, I get a wonderful letter from a teacher thanking me for a story that helped one of their students. Feedback from our teachers and their students helps motivate all of us.

THE MARKET: Our market is children learning to read. Our books are written to support children that are at the early stage of reading through early Grade 3. We have both fiction and nonfiction books that appeal to a range of young readers.

HOW YOU REACH OUT TO IT: We have a large mailing list. We send out a catalog twice a year. We attend a selection of reading conferences across the country each year. We also have an e-newsletter, website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

WHAT FINANCING HURDLES HAVE YOU FACED AND HOW HAVE YOU HANDLED THEM? Most of how we started was just a lot of hard work that went unpaid in the early days. We worked a lot of nights and weekends. When we went to print our first set of books, we used our savings. Then we printed a second set of books and borrowed money from my father. He probably thought that he was throwing away his money on a crazy idea, but we were able to pay him back within two years. From that point on, our only large financial hurdle was buying a large commercial building. We love our new building — the old Tiger Press building in the Industrial Park in Northampton.

KEY TO SUCCESS: We have a wonderful fan base. Children in particular love the books about the dogs. Teachers tell other teachers about our books, which really has contributed to a lot of our success.

CHALLENGES: Managing growth. We have had to increase space and hire new staff. This takes time and planning.

MISSTEP YOU LEARNED FROM: Our biggest issue has been around not anticipating the large growth.

WHAT OTHERS COULD LEARN FROM YOU: Create something you know and love.

WHO HELPED MENTOR YOU PROFESSIONALLY: We belonged for many years to the UMass Family Business Center. Their women’s roundtable was very helpful as I grappled with many issues as a new business owner.

TOP GOALS FOR 2013: To expand our market to parents. Right now we sell mostly to teachers and schools. We have a new parent-oriented website under construction that will be more user-friendly to parents. We also are exploring new technologies, such as e-books and tablet applications.

ADVICE FOR OTHERS SEEKING BUSINESS SUCCESS: Be ready to work long hours.

PARTING THOUGHT: We are very happy to have joined the Northampton business community.

The B2B ID is compiled by Janice Beetle, the owner of Beetle Press in Easthampton, a PR and communications firm. www.beetlepress.com. To suggest a subject for B2B ID, email Beetle at beetlepress@charter.net.

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