Melissa Skaggs shares the buzz around The Hive
Running a business

Melissa Skaggs shares the buzz around The Hive

In honor of Disability Employment Awareness Month, QuickBooks is spotlighting entrepreneurs who play a vital role in creating inclusive and meaningful work for all.

Name: Melissa Skaggs

Location: Willard, MO

Business: Hive of the Ozarks (The Hive)

Tell us about your business: 

We are an eatery/coffee shop/tea room with really good, house-crafted food. We are also a non-profit with the mission of providing opportunities for job skills to people with differing abilities.

Why did you decide to start your own business? 

I have 32 years of public education experience. I never set out to own a business. My desire was to continue being a school counselor and retire when my youngest child graduates (2023). 

This business of creating a fully inclusive workplace, where people with differing abilities work alongside their typically developing peers, is a sweet idea—one that is so necessary, not only for those with disabilities. Typically developing people who are going into fields where they will be working with those different from them need the experience we offer. 

I kept thinking someone else would do this. But it wasn't happening, so I decided it could be me… maybe I was the "somebody." 

Where did the idea come from and how did you put it into action? 

My community had a gap—we needed a coffee shop, a meeting place, etc. I gathered my tribe, talked to everyone I knew, reached out to people I thought would mentor me in the business side of things, and found an incredible local food guy (a former student of mine) who was willing to mentor me on running a cafe. In the beginning, it was lots of looking up businesses and programs online.

What makes your business unique in its field? 

Half of our staff are differently abled. We place our employees based on personality, not disability. We presume competence and find tasks our employees can or want to master. Some of our typically developing employees don't want to run the cash register or take orders. We encourage them to try! It is a hard skill.

How does your business support people with disabilities? 

We open our application process to all, we’re willing to spend more time training people with disabilities, and we work hard to make our space as accessible as possible. 

It’s my hope that more small businesses will adopt this inclusive business model—any business where customers are coming in and out. This is where the "magic" happens; the unexpected interplay between a customer and an employee with differing needs. I have witnessed so much good in the six months we've been open. The same magic I witnessed between peers as a school counselor and teacher. There are some amazing humans out there who treat others with differing needs exactly as they should.

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I have witnessed so much good in the six months we've been open.

What has been most rewarding about starting your business? 

The support of our community! Our business model is a 500-hour paid internship. Once their 500 hours are up, we work with local businesses to find permanent job placements for our “graduates.” Some of our employees take over a year to reach 500 hours, and that’s okay! Not all of our employees end up in a food-related job—or even want to. But the basic job skills they learn at The Hive help them all the same. 

Our first Hive "graduate" recently got a job with our local school district. We are all very excited for him! I went to his school building after he started to interview him about his experience (look for his story on our website!). While at the school, I ran into one of our typically developing employees (who treats everyone so well) and interviewed him too. It's obvious how well our business model works when you listen to this high school kid talk about his experience. 

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner? 

What comes to mind first is the naysayers. The people I thought would/should/could support this business are the people who said it wouldn't work. On the flip side, people I barely know have swooped in and helped or donated. So I guess the glossy answer here is "the support.” Because when the support comes—whether in the form of volunteers or monetary donations—I am always so very grateful… and surprised!

What is an aspect of running a business that you needed to learn more about when you started? 

The paperwork side of things. I still need to learn more! But I found and connected with business owners of similar businesses who mentor me.  

How does running your own business make you feel? 

Like a mama bear! But also proud, humble, passionate, and creative. 

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome as a business owner? 

There are not enough hours in the day! Balancing work and life outside The Hive’s walls has been a challenge. In my house, Thursday nights are family dinners. My goal has been to keep these going. 

I have to remember what my big goals are. Otherwise, I could easily spend 18 hours a day in my cafe trying to make it better. The vision I have for The Hive, how it looks and how we operate, is different from reality—I want to bring my vision to life!  

What are your proudest moments? 

Without a doubt, getting the news that I was the Quickbooks + Mailchimp Small Business Hero. That moment was surreal! 

What are the next big plans you have for your business? 

We want to add some outdoor seating and raised garden beds where we can grow ingredients. We also plan to purchase a freeze dryer, get vending machines in some bigger businesses around the community, and add even more community events.

What are three things you feel have contributed to your success as a business owner? 

Winning the Small Business Hero prize of $20,000—that much capital can be life-changing for a small business! Beyond that, my business mentors have significantly contributed to The Hive’s success, as well as our unique business model of employing people who have differing abilities. 

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting their own business? 

Question your passion. Is it truly yours? Find the gap in your community. This will make your passion more viable. Talk to others who have done something similar—even if you have to jump on a plane and travel. Being in their space and talking with them is different than a having a phone call or meeting over Zoom. 

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going? 

This one is easy for me! Seeing the interaction between our customers and our employees with differing needs. We know not 100% of our interactions are perfect, but if you were to hang out in our cafe, you would witness some amazing interactions that would renew your faith in humanity.

What’s your “power song” and why? 

Oh, this changes a lot! Lately, it's been MattyB's "The Circle.” MattyB is a kid from Atlanta who has a special needs sibling. The lyrics in this song capture what we’re hoping to accomplish at The Hive.

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