Westmoreland small-business owners explore co-working concepts

Deb Cavrak was sitting at home in Penn Township where she runs her business, Design Quack, when she decided there were too many distractions around to properly concentrate on work.

Lisa Lauer of Greensburg, a travel agent and owner of Vida Adventures, was having a similar experience.

“When you’re at home doing everything yourself, it can sometimes be discouraging,” Lauer said. “It can be difficult to find a way to stay motivated.”

Both women believe they’ve found a solution: co-working office spaces.

Lauer is member at Ignite, a co-working office in downtown Youngwood. Cavrak and her sister, Sue, planned May 1 to open The Ahfis, a co-working space at the Blue Spruce Shoppes in Murrysville.

“The concept for co-working was that they could come here, and for one set price, they look bigger than they are,” said Aliccia Laychak, an Allstate insurance agent who started Ignite in the South Fourth Street building she and her husband own. “They have an office space, but they also have a conference room and a kitchen, they have a meeting space, an event space and they have a big (coordinated group) of people.”

Laychak and her husband got the idea for Ignite when both tenants in their building moved out simultaneously. Laychak said she wanted to draw on the concept of organizations like the Women’s Business Network or a local chamber of commerce and find a way to leverage it so that every participating business gains an advantage.

“The co-working group was developed mainly from businesses that were already working together,” she said.

The Cavrak sisters developed the idea for The Ahfis during their weekly get-togethers to homebrew beer.

“We ended up having a lot of business ideas,” Deb said. “My background is in branding, design and marketing, and my sister’s background is in administration and management.”

“Her weaknesses are my strengths,” said Sue Cavrak, also of Penn Township.

While co-working spaces are relatively common in Pittsburgh, they are not as prevalent in Westmoreland County.

“There’s a need out there, and we started doing research on why it wasn’t working,” Sue Cavrak said.

The sisters’ vision is for a slightly upscale office space, and the Blue Spruce Shoppes provide convenient access to the Parkway East, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and several sizable municipalities full of small-business owners.

“We’re targeting 3,000 businesses with four or fewer employees in this area,” Deb said. “They can impress their clients, and they can feel good working here.”

Laychak’s approach brought together small-business owners and remote workers from all different areas of the retail and business worlds, not just to collaborate and give referrals, but to compare notes on running — and growing — a small business.

“That’s our goal: to ignite your business,” Laychak said.

According to Ignite members, it’s working.

“It’s really interesting to see what other people have to say about running their business,” said Kelly Balog of Greensburg, an attorney who specializes in Social Security and disability issues. “It gives me ideas on how to run mine.”

Virginia Altman of Greensburg is a profit coach with The Exit Eagle and helps owners looking to sell their business profitably.

“I’m interested in what Kelly’s doing because I need an attorney I can trust,” Altman said.

Balog, in turn, can draw on fellow members’ knowledge if an issue in her work crosses over.

“Instead of saying to a client, ‘I don’t know about this and I really can’t help you with it,’ I have someone I can talk to or refer them to,” she said.

For financial consultant Stephen Small of Latrobe, Ignite not only gives him a space to meet with clients outside his home, it also helps him learn from members’ experiences.

“There are a lot of differences in our careers, but there are a lot of similarities in areas like client acquisition,” Small said. “And you really get to know (the other members), and it makes you more comfortable referring a client to them.”

Both Laychak and the Cavraks are looking to create an environment where small-business owners can work, collaborate and learn in a supportive environment.

“People here are working together and helping one another,” said Jamie Leonard, a Mt. Pleasant photographer who has been with Ignite since March. “As a new business, that’s something I really need.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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