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Expiration Date …What’s That? A BOTN Friday Fail with Maria Erna.

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Karen Stoychoff

In this season 1 episode of Back of the Napkin - Friday Fails, Maria Erna, owner of WaG Grooming Salon and Spa, a holistic dog spa in Salem, New Hampshire, shares an early failure due to a missing coupon expiration date, and recalls a fight for M&Ms.


Maria Erna started a party planning business fresh out of high school at age 18. “I would bring in the catering, the decorations, the staff, the food, the music, entertainment, everything that you needed,” said Erna. “We did it all.”

Her business model consisted of outsourcing everything. She made deals with vendors. She’d take a cut of what they would charge and promote them as premier event partners. It was a sweet set up for the young entrepreneur. It also provided her with the first bitter taste of failure.

The School of Hard Knocks Has No Expiration Date.

She looked to grow her business in the early days by placing a 10% off ad in the newspaper. There was just one problem.

I never put an expiration date on it,” said Erna.

That turned out to be one BIG problem. Erna put together a large party, with lobster, clam chowder, a bar, DJ, parquet floor, bartenders and waitstaff, tents – the whole nine yards. After the party, the customer revealed the 10% coupon. Erna realized that it was going to eat up all her profits and then some. She was not going to be able to pay her vendors.

“I'm a person of my word. I could have probably fought and said, ‘Oh, well you had to tell me about that when you booked the party and you didn't,’ but I believe in what goes around, comes around,” said Erna. “I didn't fight her. I just remember tears welling up in my eyes because I knew that I had to pay all of these people.” Luckily for her, she had some understanding vendors and was eventually able to pay everyone. But that wasn’t even her lowest point.

You Take One “M,” I’ll Take the Other.

It got even worse later that night when Erna was in her apartment with her dog. She was hungry, and the only food she had was two M&M’s. She dropped one and the dog retrieved it first. “I can still feel it right now because I take a lot of pride in what I do, and when I screw up, it hurts,” said Erna. “When you disappoint someone, it's such a harsh feeling and I was so disappointed in myself.

Erna acknowledged that failures offer an important lesson, and an exercise in resilience. She notes that once you get a few failures under your belt as a business owner, you start to realize there is nothing so terrible that you can't recover … if you're willing to do the work.

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