Entrepreneurs find their niche in Southeast Arizona

Fields holds up a custom sarsaparilla bottle holder. (Photo by: Kaleigh Shufeldt / Arizona Sonora News)
Fields holds up a custom sarsaparilla bottle holder. (Photo by: Kaleigh Shufeldt / Arizona Sonora News)

John Fields drove to Tombstone in 2009 with his dog Jenny and never left.

Living in Mesa and selling RVs, Fields said after the market crashed he decided to pack up his few belongings, attach a trailer to his car and drive to Tombstone.

Fields, known as Johnny One Dog, created Johnny One Dog Marketing Company in 2010 to sell Tombstone Sarsaparilla.

He did what business experts say entrepreneurs should do: find a need or a niche market and then create a business to satisfy that need.

In a small town or thriving metropolis, entrepreneurism comes down to providing for the customers and taking a chance.

Entrepreneurs have no formula or set of rules when it comes to business. Generating an idea and growing that into a profitable company is a risk. Some entrepreneurs may have a background in the industry, they may know the rules, but many don’t.

For the better part of a year, Fields spent his days walking his dog through the western town and observing tourists. They were always eating or drinking something, Fields said.

One day, after going to the general store, Fields realized something was missing. Sarsaparilla. The store sold Sioux City Sarsaparilla, Fields said. “It had nothing to do with the west.”

He thought to himself, the people of Tombstone “should have their own sarsaparilla.”

Fields started to draw designs with famous Tombstone figures and had them turned into labels.

After research and plenty of taste tests, Fields found a company in Kansas to microbrew the root beer.

Five years later, the one-man business, sells 50,000 bottles of sarsaparilla a year in Tombstone. Sixteen businesses in Tombstone carry the soda, Fields said. He delivers the sarsaparilla to businesses around the town in his golf cart seven days a week.

While Fields did not go to business school and said he is not an entrepreneur, it is clear he has that entrepreneurial spirit. Creating Tombstone Sarsaparilla was a risk, “I have never done anything like this before,” Fields said.

If you are willing to turn an idea into a business, to take a risk and spend your money, you are an entrepreneur, said Lauren Bailey, mentorship coordinator for Entrepreneurs’ Organization Arizona.

Starting a business, bringing a single idea into fruition, takes perseverance and grit, Bailey said.

A business plan is necessary, Bailey said, but a background in business isn’t vital to succeed.

Most business ideas are generated because there is a need, Bailey said. Entrepreneurs “see something that isn’t working in the world or a need that people have and they fill that.”

Custom made logos for Tombstone Sarsaparilla. (Photo by: Kaleigh Shufeldt / Arizona Sonora News)
Custom made logos for Tombstone Sarsaparilla. (Photo by: Kaleigh Shufeldt / Arizona Sonora News.

Selling in a small town versus an urban city doesn’t necessarily matter. Any business needs a good location with a lot of foot traffic, said Mark Schmitt, Cochise College Small Business Development Center director.

The center provides assistance to small businesses throughout the county. Last year, the company helped start 47 businesses in the area, Schmitt said. 

Owning a business in a small town is not a limiting factor, said Meggen Connolley, owner and designer of Magnetic Threads, a custom clothing company based in Bisbee, Ariz.

For Connolley, living in Bisbee is beneficial because of the town’s low cost of living. That way she can put all of her money into the business.

The Internet is very helpful, Connolley said. Magnetic threads has a storefront in Bisbee and a large presence online, through the company website and Etsy.

With the Internet, businesses can go global, Schmitt said. Find a need or idea that can be sold to a billion people.

While there is not necessarily a need when it comes to custom clothing, Connolley said, “When you create something really interesting, you can capture a lot of business.”

In January 2012 Connolley, originally selling t-shirts with her artwork, learned to sew and in June of that same year she started Magnetic Threads.

In the last two years, Magnetic Threads has been in fashion weeks across the country, Connolley said. And Magnetic Threads was recently invited to fall 2015 New York Fashion Week. 

Her theory is simple, “basically just launch yourself right into it. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you will learn.”

Kaleigh Shufeldt is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at kshufeldt@email.arizona.edu 

Click here for high-resolution photos. 

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