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Patriotic part

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 7:30 a.m. July 19, 2013
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Entrepreneurs
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Local veterinarian Molly Caldwell Kraut's business passion for the last 15 years has been in animals, not necessarily the American spirit.

But her new venture, a retail-general store that only sells products totally assembled and manufactured in the U.S., from Elmer's Glue to Texas Jeans, is all about patriotic entrepreneurialism. The store, US Mart, in a Venice strip mall next to a Subway and an Italian restaurant, carries national pride down its phone number: 941-412-1USA. Kraut is even in the final stages of opening a U.S. Post Office branch inside the 3,000-square-foot store.

US Mart is the culmination of several conversations Kraut has had with her daughter and father-in-law. Those chats focused on the idea that it's hard to find genuine made in America products all in one place. “I didn't want a Web store,” says Kraut. “I wanted to be able to pick up something and know it's made in the U.S.A.”

Kraut, who also runs Venice Pines Veterinary Clinic, researched the concept for the store for a few years. She discovered a similar store in Ohio and met with the owner. Those two patriotic entrepreneurs were going to enter into a partnership, where Kraut would open a sister store in Venice. The Ohio partner, however, ultimately closed his store, the original US Mart. He sold the inventory, and the website, to Kraut late last year.

Kraut took out a $100,000 loan from Venice-based Florida Shores Bank to get going, and she later invested more money into the store. The opportunity to build a success with this concept, says Kraut, overcame a fear of failure.

“It wasn't like 'why do this?'” says Kraut. “It was like 'why not?'”

US Mart held an official grand opening on President's Day in February. Business, says Kraut, has since come in spurts. “People want to support us,” she adds, “but if customers can get it cheaper somewhere else, they often do that.”

Core retail challenges, such as getting people into the store and pricing, aren't completely new to Kraut, who once ran an equine clinic in Australia. She's worked in retail before, and her husband previously worked for the retail king, Wal-Mart, which included a stint opening stores in Puerto Rico. Kraut's family, further, is entrepreneurial: Her mom ran a local property management business, and her father and brother, Roland Caldwell and Kelly Caldwell, started Caldwell Trust Co., which has offices in Sarasota and Venice.

One challenge specific to US Mart, says Kraut, is to make sure the products are 100% domestic. That includes parts, pieces and packaging, no easy task with a global supply chain for thousands of goods. More than a few times, says Kraut, she and her employees have found a Made in China designation on a product that was covered up with a Made in America sticker. That product doesn't make it to the US Mart shelves.

Another challenge Kraut faces is to build an Internet and social media marketing presence, which would help capitalize on some recent buzz. Indeed, three local TV News stations, including two from Tampa, interviewed Kraut July 4. Kraut, finally, says time management, given she still runs a busy veterinarian clinic with two doctors and 15 employees, is another challenge.

Kraut is philosophical, not only patriotic, on the challenges at US Mart. “If I don't have success it's my own fault,” says Kraut, adding that the possibility of starting a ripple effect is worth her efforts. “It's only a possible loss of money and time.”


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