Home is where the job is: Benton couple run pair of businesses from home

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published September 30, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 28, 2012 at 10:26 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Nicole Almond sits at her laptop with her daughter, Aimslee. Almond works from her laptop on the kitchen table to be able to better watch her daughter.

— There are times when Nicole and Matt Almond still feel like 20-somethings — friends come over for a cookout; play dates are arranged.

But most of the time, they feel 20 years older.

For the past few months, the Benton couple have been working from home full time. Nicole, 24, took the plunge first, working with her partner Cadie Ramos on their children’s clothing company, Babee Producks. Soon, Matt, 27, joined the chaos, starting Monkey Business Coating, a powder-coating business, in their garage.

It wasn’t a decision that was easy to make. The couple have a 2-year-old daughter, Aimslee, and a house in Centennial Valley. Despite two full-time jobs, the couple were already on a tight budget.

“[When Nicole] said she wanted to quit her job, I definitely frowned on it,” Matt said. “I knew it’d be extremely hard on just one income. We had to adjust everything. … Going out and all the extra stuff we used to do — we don’t get to do much of that at the moment.”

But with Nicole’s support, Matt left his job at a car dealership this summer to pursue powder-coating full time. He and a friend use the alternative painting method to coat automotive parts, including metal pieces on engines and wheels.

“[Nicole] saw that I got tired of working for other people and kept reassuring me that it would all get better,” Matt said. “She’s a really motivational person. Regardless of how slow things are, she always reminds me that things will come back around.”

Though she now describes herself as a dreamer who’s always looking at the big picture, Nicole wasn’t always so driven. As a student at Bryant High School, she often kept to herself, and she moved back home to Alexander after a semester at Utah State University.

“I was at this point where I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I was depressed,” Nicole said.

She drifted to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with her mind set on a degree in marketing. But before she could do that, she met her husband and had their daughter. That’s when she noticed the online business Ramos, a former co-worker, had started making hand-sewn baby clothes.

“I saw what she had going and thought it needed a website. She needed to do wholesale,” Nicole said. The two teamed up, shifting from the sewn items to printing positive messages and vintage-looking graphic designs on children’s tees. Ramos, a full-time graphic designer for Hobby Lobby in Oklahoma, makes the designs, while Nicole handles the business end of the production.

“The direction that it is now, it never would have been there without Nicole,” said Ramos, who hopes to eventually make Babee Producks her full-time career, once it starts gaining speed.

With both businesses still getting off the ground, Matt and Nicole are often questioned about their sanity.

“Our friends probably think we’re insane,” Nicole said. “A lot of them don’t understand. But when we’re kids, we don’t say that ‘I want to be a doctor only if I can afford the school.’ Then we grow up and lose that.”

Nicole and Ramos try to capitalize on the idea of

keeping dreams and youthful exuberance alive in their designs, always trying to include a positive message. When Nicole packs orders received from the Babee Producks website or Etsy.com page — typically a handful — she includes postcards, stickers and a lollipop and always follows with a thank-you note. Boxes of merchandise pile up in the living room, and both Nicole and Matt fight for computer time to engage with customers online. Nicole’s even picked up a side job taking photos of families and kids to help support the family. It’s a big change from where they were just a few years ago.

“She became a completely different woman than she was when we first met,” Matt said. “She’s basically a 40-year-old woman in a 20-year-old body. She’s extremely dedicated and knows the businesses will succeed.”

Next on the list for Nicole: an expanded marketing effort for the company, maybe a new line of adult tees, buttons and postcards. The line is currently available at Box Turtle in Little Rock and The Painted Butterfly in Bryant.

“We want a Babee Producks empire,” Nicole said.

They are big dreams, and Nicole and Matt both realize that working from home isn’t a lifestyle that everyone is open to trying. Being young also presents an opportunity for doubt.

“I hear people question me all the time when I say that I want to expand this business, and they’ll blow me off, saying, ‘Well, that’s a big ambition,’” Nicole said. “They don’t realize how serious I am.”

Although Matt wasn’t supportive to begin with, the couple are slowly seeing the benefits of both of them working from home. They’re spending more time together than they ever have, and much more time with Aimslee.

“It’s like meeting her for the first time,” Nicole said. “I catch certain facial expressions and her personality. … We’re best friends now. It’s great.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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