In Focus: Teachers.Net Community|
by Kathleen Carpenter, Contributing Editor
Apples 'n' Acorns and the Story of an Internet Entrepreneur
Lori Worline of Maumee, Ohio is the owner and operator of Apples 'n' Acorns, a small but successful supplier of teaching materials, and the long-time sponsor of 4-Blocks Literacy resources here at Teachers.Net. Lori is a model for those who dream of, or are forced into, striking out in new directions toward self-sufficiency and success. The many obstacles she encountered and overcame never derailed her as she ventured out from her original career to a new and exciting business venture.
Lori began teaching
part-time in a private Kindergarten program in 1982 when her sons were 3 years and 3 months old. After the birth of her daughter, Lori secured a full-time position in a pilot program teaching Developmental Kindergarten in Swanton, Ohio. After two years, she sought a new challenge and moved into a grade 1-2 looping position being piloted in the same school. As the result of a successful grant application, Lori was able to accept yet another challenge, team teaching in a multiage program. Lori's daughter was one of her students and both enjoyed the experience immensely. Working with a very team-oriented group of educators, Lori enjoyed the collaboration and immersed herself in studying and reading as much research as she could find related to multiage grouping. But soon another change swept her away from Ohio to Indianapolis, Indiana.
"I had just begun to really implement our new multiage practices when, in 1996 our family was transferred to Indianapolis. I wanted to hold off on jumping into a new teaching job because I was very concerned about how my children would make all the new adjustments... a new school, new neighborhood, new friends, no direct family support and a general fear of the unknown. I spent a lot of time volunteering in classrooms and on field trips to help my children adjust."
Once her children became acclimated to their new home, Lori began to feel a need to explore new vistas.
"Once we all began to feel a little more comfortable, I realized now was my chance to do what I wanted to do. I began researching other options for myself. It was time to do something else I had always wanted to do... own and operate a small business."
"The Internet was very new at the time. I first began looking at teacher gift shops on the Internet. I met various small business owners on the 'net and began further exploring my options. All of this led me to realize how little I knew about the Internet and web sites, so I began to research and teach myself how to navigate the Internet. I spent a lot of time discussing and working with people who could help me take a few steps toward opening a small business of some type on the 'net. It took me a while to decide what exactly I wanted to do. I knew I had to do something that I knew well...which had to do with teaching. So, I worked with someone who helped me construct a web site for the purpose of selling teaching supplies."
" I contacted various vendors of teaching materials and soon began my start-up business, Apples 'n' Acorns. I started with Instructional Fair products and soon found a market with the homeschooling community. I began to do homeschool shows in the Indianapolis area and had a lot of fun while I learned much about marketing, sales, and people."
Lori learned that being entrepreneur had ups and downs, but trials and errors served only to make her feel she was learning and moving in the right direction.
"I had a lot to learn about business. I had taught but I had no real experience with good bookkeeping techniques, etc. I soon learned what I could do to get by and keep everything straight. Also, the Internet was growing at an incredible rate by this time and there were constantly new things to learn in order to keep up."
"In 1998 we were transferred back to the Toledo, Ohio area. We took the move back because all of our family was in Ohio and we were really far away from what we all missed and loved so much. And, my business was portable! So, I moved us all back home while I continued to work on my business."
Lori learned that with a successful business come new problems and challenges.
"As Apples 'n' Acorns began to really take off, I ran into many difficulties with organizing, hiring and keeping employees, bookkeeping, marketing, human relations, etc. All of this transpired while I dealt with getting my children settled back into new schools and all that's involved in relocating a family. I also found myself dealing with the illness and imminent death of my mother from breast cancer. She had been diagnosed a few months after I had first moved to Indianapolis, and passed away on December 4, 2000."
During the final months of her mother's terrible illness, Lori was also dealing with the end of her 19 year marriage, followed by preparations to move into a new home and set up a new business office. But Lori knows how to work with change, and seems determined to continue indefatigably along a path of life-long learning lined with new and interesting challenges. At age 41, with 3 children (Ryan, 18; James "Jamie," 15; Sarah, 12), Lori runs Apples 'n' Acorns, works as a substitute teacher in her children's school system and has enrolled in an online course, Teaching Economics Through Children's Literature, through Wright State University.
Lori Worline appears to have a knack for balancing her many roles. During and immediately following the worst of her mother's illness and death, it seemed everything was going wrong with the business. Hardware, software, web site technology, staff, and wholesale suppliers all failed her to some degree, causing some disruption in the service she is committed to provide to her customers.
"But teachers are wonderful and compassionate. I have many devoted customers, a few of whom knew that the crash of my web site and a few delayed orders weren't the result of incompetence. They understood that my mother's illness, the relocation, failing marriage, and unavoidable business difficulties were only temporary set-backs and that Apples 'n' Acorns would rally very soon."
It didn't take long for Lori to pull the business back on track. In her new space with a stable staff, Lori has again steered Apples 'n' Acorns in the direction she wants it to go. She is very proud to report that Carson Dellosa has informed her that Apples 'n' Acorns is their largest online Dealer of Four Blocks Materials in the Midwest. When asked how she has done it, Lori shrugs off any suggestion that she has worked any miracles.
"We're dedicated to serving our customers in the best way possible to ensure satisfaction. The teachers have been patient and supportive, so I reward them with the best service and best prices possible. They keep coming back, and they tell their colleagues and school administrators about Apples 'n' Acorns. I just appreciate their loyalty and support. I read the 4-Blocks mailring messages and am always impressed and inspired by how dedicated and hard working they are. I just want to give them the service they deserve."
An inspirational message posted recently on the company web site provides additional insight into Lori's winning attitude:
"The difference between winners and losers is that winners do things losers don't want to do."
Phone: 419-877-5249 Fax: 419-877-5295.