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Retail Ready Lab helps smooth ruff ride for local entrepreneurs

The new small business incubator at Willy Street Co-op is helping first-time entrepreneurs like author Corina Rogers bring their ideas to market with the benefit of real customer feedback.

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Since its launch in September, the Willy Street Co-op’s Retail Ready Lab — its version of a small business incubator — has already aided several local entrepreneurs in bringing their ideas to market and providing a real-world test of their products.

A special helping paw was extended in the programs second month to first-time author Corina Rogers and her dog, Charley, and English Labrador, about whom she’s written a children’s book, Backwards Dog.

Rogers, a Waunakee High School social studies teacher by day, says she’s wanted to write since she was 13 years old, but because she didn’t personally know any authors she never seriously considered it as a career choice.

However, she kept scribbling bits and pieces of books all over the house, and finally decided to do something about it.

“I took a one-year sabbatical from teaching to write and was spending lots of quality time with Charley,” Rogers says. “He always sat backwards in the family van which was definitely different than most dogs. As a teacher and mother, I started thinking about our differences and how they make us each wonderful and unique. Eventually Charley’s doggy friends realized what he had always known — he was a backwards dog and that was okay.”

She had her book idea, but turning it into reality proved more difficult.

Rogers tried the traditional publishing route to little avail. “I initially had an agent four years ago, but after six months of communication difficulties and the book still unsent, I decided to end the traditional publishing route. At that point, I put it back on my own shelf until last fall when I decided I was ready. I met Kristin Mitchell from Little Creek Press during my sabbatical and picked up the phone.

“As a new author, especially as a non-traditional author, it is up to you to ‘sell’ your book,” Rogers continues. “For me, it’s awkward and uncomfortable at best to self-promote, but I was determined to move the books from my shelf to others’. Nearly every door I knocked on was warm and receptive to selling the book and very happy to promote a project from a local author (Waunakee), illustrator (Milwaukee), publisher (Mineral Point), and printer (Verona). Even the dog is local!”

Rogers says after the book was published this past spring, she found herself wandering the aisles at Willy Street Co-op one day, just “killing time before I was back on carpool duty. I noticed their displays of local products and went, ‘Hmm.’”

She checked out the co-op’s website to learn more about the new Retail Ready Lab, and decided to send an email inquiry. “Angela, from Willy Street, got back to me and said they’d consider Backwards Dog. I was thrilled!”

Since she was picked to participate in the Retail Ready Lab, Rogers says the entire team from Willy Street Co-op has been fantastic to work with. “They answered every question and really cared about the success of my book. Even the employees at each location were excited to meet Charley and help promote the book. I’m hopeful that the visibility at all three locations will not only help spread the word about Backwards Dog but also encourage interest in future books.”


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