Nationally, Forbes magazine reported, 90% of startup businesses fail, and the No. 1 reason for this is that “they make products no one wants.” A careful survey of failed startups determined that 42% of them identified the “lack of a market need for their product” as the single biggest reason for their failure.

Enter a business located in the downtown Co-Op Plaza on Second Avenue that started off right — and after 7 years is still in business.

Mrs. Sandra Harley, owner of Rings and Things, started her journey into successful entrepreneurship by earning an AAS in Applied Business Entrepreneurship (insert shameless self-serving plug here), taking courses in accounting, marketing, management, customer service, human relations, etc., to overcome her No. 1 struggle, which Sandra identified as “inner fears, lots of vendors depending on me being successful marketing their products and fear of not being able to support my family and self.”

That was in 2013.

Today, Rings and Things — under Sandra’s management — supports and markets 25 local vendors from her shop in the Co-Op Plaza. 85% of their creations are handmade. She stated that her door is always open to take on new vendors — as long as the products are made in Alaska. She also commits a portion of her business’s profits to her Adopt a Grandparent program. Last year, she provided a pair of winter double fleece gloves to 936 grandparents.

Mrs. Harley began her entrepreneurial career with booths at bazaars and a 10-by-10-foot farmer’s market booth, which grew into a 300-square-foot retail space, to a 900-square-foot space and then to her current 1,200-square-foot space in the downtown Co-Op Plaza. Vendors whose products she takes in the store are provided not only with sales assistance, but also pricing recommendations, marketing, free consulting and exposure to other downtown businesses. On First Fridays, Rings and Things provides its vendors exposure to over 4,500 visitors, businesses and local residents.

Rings and Things is open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. She takes pride in watching her vendors’ businesses expand and grow. She expects their growth and profitability to explode when a coming web presence will allow each vendor to sell online.

Currently, Mrs. Harley is building an ice-cream parlor, which will open in her retail space on Memorial Day.

Charlie Dexter is a professor of applied business emeritus. He may be reached by email at This column is provided as a public service by the UAF Community and Technical Colleges.