Just off Madison’s Capitol Square sits Revel, a craft bar whose patrons “drink and DIY”—sip beverages and complete a selected craft project to take home. Popular for team-building outings, sorority gatherings, bridal showers, and birthday parties, Revel is the brainchild of former IT executive Sarah Van Dyke.
Van Dyke began her career in hospitality, where she worked “wild hours” and loved her job but craved balance and stability.
“My mom is a nurse manager in Milwaukee, and she told me about a company in Madison that serves popcorn at their monthly meetings—Epic, of course—so I applied,” says Van Dyke. Her success at Epic led to a ten-year career in IT, during which she met her husband and welcomed her daughter. After ten years in IT, Van Dyke was ready for something new.
“Being a parent changes your perspective,” Van Dyke says. “At my career milestone of ten years, I wanted to feel passionate and excited about going to work every day.”
No stranger to entrepreneurship, Van Dyke grew up with a grandfather who ran multiple small businesses; a grandmother who sold antiques; and parents who made and sold crafts, while simultaneously raising five children. Van Dyke and her husband successfully launched, ran, and sold a mobile flipbook studio, so when Van Dyke broached the subject of launching Revel, her family lined up behind her.
“I have a supportive spouse and extended family,” says Van Dyke. “They got it.”
Van Dyke’s sisters helped conceptualize Revel but have full-time day jobs, so after eighteen months of preparation, Van Dyke struck out independently to manage the business.
“Brick and mortar is a big leap from a small side business, but having prior business experience helped our realtor and landlord to believe in us,” says Van Dyke.
Revel opened in the summer of 2016 and was busy through the fall and the holiday season, with the spring of 2017 their busiest time yet.
“We hosted bachelorette parties, bridal showers, and sorority events,” says Van Dyke. “People were stir-crazy and ready to get out and do something fun and new.”
When things finally slowed down that summer, Van Dyke took advantage of the break to schedule a consulting meeting with SBDC director Michelle Somes-Booher in June 2017.
“At our first meeting, I related to Michelle,” says Van Dyke. “She had a paint-your-own-pottery studio, so she immediately understood what we’re doing at Revel.”
Somes-Booher helped Van Dyke set both business and personal goals, and the pair check in on both sets of goals at their regular meetings. Van Dyke says Somes-Booher helped her assign metrics to her professional goals, like by how many customers a month she wants to increase craft bar traffic, and assess whether or not that goal was achieved at the end of the year.
Van Dyke and Somes-Booher also look at Van Dyke’s budget and determine how much Van Dyke can spend to invest in employees or on marketing.
“Now I have a template that I can look at, to know what is and isn’t realistic,” says Van Dyke. “It gives me a back-up check to know if I’m way off.”
Van Dyke took the six-week SBDC financial management series in the winter of 2019 and gained confidence in talking about her retail numbers.
“We had useful homework assignments, like running ratios and seeing how they came out, or running reports out of QuickBooks and analyzing specific things,” Van Dyke says. “The instructor gave us tangible ways to apply each week’s lessons, which gave me confidence to determine whether the business is on the right track and if there are additional things we should start doing.”
Van Dyke is currently leveraging her knowledge of financials and Somes-Booher’s insight on the retail market to explore new avenues for the business, like online and in-store retail offerings to diversity revenue and develop a passive income stream.
“I appreciate Michelle’s insight—I have zero retail background, and she’s gained insight from retail clients,” says Van Dyke. “I’m actively thinking about new revenue streams and how I can apply what we’ve done to new demographics and regions. We’re ramping up our offsites, doing pop-ups, and setting up events at local companies like ZenDesk.”
Van Dyke is working on a startup kit for other entrepreneurs to advise them on how to set up a business like Revel in their own hometowns.
“I’m combining content, resources, and consulting time,” Van Dyke explains. “My first client is actually someone from Madison who’s moving to Florida and at a career crossroads.”
Revel receives regular news coverage and sends out a monthly newsletter. The team hosts in-person events in the form of pop-ups at local restaurants and retail shops, at the Madison Night Markets, and at wedding shows.
“We’ve found a lot of corporate business doubles as marketing, when one person brings coworkers to Revel for an event and returns with friends, family, or for a date night,” says Van Dyke. “We’re a social brand and love building connections within the community and with other business owners.”
Van Dyke says her favorite part of running a business like Revel is the satisfaction of problem solving.
“Small business is all-encompassing, especially brick and mortar,” says Van Dyke. “I enjoy working and find lots of self-worth in my work.”
Van Dyke says Somes-Booher meets her where she is.
“Sometimes, I go in to see Michelle, and I’m scattered,” says Van Dyke. “Her response is always so good. She says, ‘That’s why you’re here; let’s make a plan going forward.’ She starts from wherever I am and makes our time useful. It’s really been a gift.”