Military spouses inspired to open businesses overseas

Military spouses inspired to open businesses overseas

by Laurel Anne Powell
Stripes Guam

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE – While orders overseas can be a bleak career prognosis for some spouses, others find inspiration and extra income.

Thanks to social media and word of mouth on base, starting a small business as a military spouse may be more within reach overseas than it would be stateside.

“You can use this time to experiment on what you want to do - like a little test market,” said Michelle Oeil, who runs Oeil Photography out of her home at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan.

Oeil, who started her wedding photography business in Florida, has turned it into a bustling business well known on the Yokosuka base. While she has been a photographer since 2007 and worked at each of the previous three bases her spouse has been assigned, the simple (although sometimes drawn out) approval process and community atmosphere of Yokosuka meant her work, with unique family sessions out in town among kanji and distinctly Japanese backdrops, has been sought after. Her business, she said, gained steady customers within a year.

“An entrepreneur is basically a person who solves a problem,” said another small business owner at Yokosuka, Avita Fleming of Interiornista. “Being that we are such a small community and there are just lots of people that have needs…whatever area, there’s a place to be an entrepreneur and support and help other people.”

Finding inspiration in her desire to serve others, Fleming used time in Virginia to build a business plan and assemble a portfolio. She hit the ground running in Yokosuka and has been busy working with families on base during the eight months her family has been stationed in Japan.

Interiornista’s mission is to “specialize in redesign, which is remixing your home using your same items, furniture, artwork, accessories,” Fleming said. “You don’t have to buy anything extra, just let us come in and freshen you up.”
Fleming was able to make at least one family’s holiday season bright and memorable when a spouse commissioned her to decorate their home on base before their arrival, which included setting up a Christmas tree and stocking the house with snacks.

While her business does provide a unique service to military families, Fleming stressed the advantage any potential business owner has overseas. “It’s free! If you are in the States, you have to get a business license, EIN number for each state that you’re in,” she said. “When you’re starting a business in the States, you have to worry about, can you afford to register your business in that particular state, are you gonna get your tax EIN right away. I mean, there’s a cost to startups.”

Other spouses truly experiment with careers when stationed in Japan.

Brittany Schmidtzinsky, who had worked as a teacher while stationed in the States, decided the chances of finding another teaching job were slim. So she came up with another plan.

Although she had been sewing for years, starting Sew Together, Knot Apart was a result of the overseas move. Schmidtzinsky, who creates wearable items such as scarves and sling purses among other products, said that wearing handmade items and having business cards opened up her business to people she met on base.

While she has run in to typical base issues, such as not being able to find consistent on-base care for her young children and having to work around their bedtimes as her work space is also a bedroom, Schmidtzinsky is grateful for the opportunities found within the military base setting. She said Home Business Expos, which are held several times a year on base, are good for networking and meeting potential customers.

Japan itself has inspired her business in unlikely way. While finding fabric with prints Americans might be used to can be challenge, she capitalizes on the Japanese prints readily available in town and sews one of a kind kimonos for children’s American Girl dolls.

Another benefit to starting a small business on base is the ease of advertising on social media sites such as Facebook. At Yokosuka, all approved businesses can be added to the master list on the “Japan Bases Home Based Creations” page, where potential customers can easily find contact information and pictures. Businesses range from CPA services and multilevel marketing companies such as doTerra and Jamberry, to private painting classes with Kirby Art.

While many spouses come to Japan excited about cultural change and anticipating a new lifestyle, the thought of losing an established career and unwillingly taking time off can dampen spirits. However, most spouses find a way to get involved and thrive at an overseas commands through volunteering, social groups, working for base establishments, and in the case of these women and many other spouses, starting a small business of their own.

Fleming conveyed the sense of resiliency helpful in running a small business and essential to military families: “Life has a way of knocking you down, but it’s how you get up and how you go from there. So just be encouraged to find the power that’s bigger than you to just do your best in everything you do.”

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