After three decades as a hairstylist, Lahoma Chase took the leap into entrepreneurship during the coronavirus pandemic and started a sweets business — in a portable building.
It's a bit of a trend tapped by Rontrell Bethley, who sold her the building. He has been in the used car business for more than a decade but had stood up a portable building business on his Airline Highway car lot about two years ago. In a typical month, he would sell six units.
But last summer he received dozens of orders, coming mostly from customers buying online. Soon, he was selling 40 portable buildings each month and over a four-month stint generated $600,000 in sales.
Most of his customers were opening new businesses themselves, ranging from sno-ball shops to snack stands, in buildings between 150 square feet to 600 square feet. Some even moved out of retail shopping centers to save on rent, either buying a vacant lot or setting up shop in their backyards. Others used the portable buildings as tiny houses for loved ones struggling to pay rent during the economic recession.
For Chase, the state-imposed stay-at-home order early in the pandemic shutdown then restricted capacity as a phased reopening began at hair salons and many other businesses' operations. Plus, many of her clients, typically older, were too afraid to get their hair done because of the coronavirus.
Using her grandmother's recipe, the Port Allen native had made pecan candies for her family during Easter, a holiday favorite, but soon began getting messages about whether she'd sell the sweets to friends.
"We quickly outgrew our kitchen," Chase said. "It just took off."
Chase's Treats has been producing pecan praline candies, along with cakes and other sweets, in the past few months from a portable building she and her husband bought and placed in their backyard in Central.
"I had no idea that so many people would be interested in these buildings," Bethley said.
At first during the coronavirus pandemic, there was little customer traffic, said Bethley, who has been through hard times before. He had to start from scratch after the 2016 flood wiped out his auto dealership's vehicles and pushed water into his office.
At one point last summer, there were more portable buildings on his used vehicle lot than cars, he said.
"We had a spike in sales but also our turnaround time slowed down. It went from four to six weeks (delivery time) to 14 to 16 weeks during the peak of the pandemic," Bethley said.
As for Chase and her pecan praline candy business, she's looking to expand.
"We are actually contemplating getting another (portable) building; it's now a little too small," Chase said.
The couple does local delivery to customers, ships the product and is building out a website. Chase also is dedicating all of her time to experimenting with more treats, such as sweet potato pies or a 7UP Bundt cake with praline topping.
"I'm not going back into the beauty business," she said.