At the ripe old age of 11 I took over the paper route that a neighborhood kid (I can’t even remember who it was now) no longer wanted. As a young girl this obviously wasn’t the norm – only boys had paper routes. But I wasn’t thinking of it from that stand point. My main goal was to have my own money and I knew I could make a decent “living” with this particular job. I lived in a condominium complex at the time and had approximately 65 customers, which fluctuated up and down by a couple of papers per week. I started making money and was able to buy things for myself that my friends couldn’t.
This led me to my next venture which was to create my own business cards on index cards and pass them out for babysitting. My first real babysitting job was at the age of 12 and as that money started rolling in I knew I was meant to be a business owner someday. I just “knew” in my heart that owning a business was what I was meant to do.
While in high school I started working the typical part-time retail jobs like everyone else. It all started with my first “real” job as the elevator operator at Kerrison’s department store in downtown Charleston, SC. It was my job to greet the customers in a friendly manner and take them to the 2nd floor for gift wrapping, layaway, or fur storage or the 4th floor for the credit department where the customers were able to pay their store account bill (it was a little different in the early 1980s). The Customer Service Manager was so impressed with me (I mean, who wouldn’t be…) that she asked me to work in customer service handling gift wrapping, layaway and the fur storage accounts. I was the youngest employee they had ever had. This position led me to another department eventually where my mother worked – the credit department. At 15 years old I answered phone calls from customers calling about their credit accounts. I felt pretty good about myself!
When we moved back to CT I got back into retail, again working for a small, family-owned department store (D&L). Along with my part-time job at D&L I also worked after school at the Town Hall in the tax assessor’s office Monday – Friday from 2:45 to 4:30 and on the nights I worked at D&L I would go from the Town Hall to there and then work 5:00 to 9:00. It was good stuff! I was making money, and I was buying great clothes! I spent approximately two years at D&L and then went on to bigger and better – Filene’s! Again I did the night time after school and weekend gig, but I also worked every summer until I graduated high school. I worked my way up from a clerk in the junior department to Misses (this is where the Liz Claiborne and higher end clothing was so it was a big deal to work in this department). My manager slowly began having me assist with the nightly closing procedures of the store which included going to other departments and closing down extra registers and checking the daily totals for the departments. From there I was asked to become a store trainer for new hires and to work in the cash office doing the daily deposit and everything pertaining to the cash operations of the store with the exception of actually running balance sheets and cash flow statements. I continued working part-time at Filene’s even after graduation and while working my first “real” full-time job in what some may call Corporate America. Filene’s lasted a total of 7 years until I found my “true love” which is the beauty industry. A friend of mine did my nails for years and eventually taught me the craft. I became a part-time nail technician performing manicures and acrylic nails in the evenings after my full-time job and on weekends. I also worked at the front desk as a Salon Coordinator and eventually became the manager of the salon (when I finally left the automotive industry after 8 years…to be discussed briefly in the next paragraph).
So…my first “real” job was actually a short stint at Electric Boat (where submarines are built) and realized rather quickly that it wasn’t for me and took a job at Lathrop Honda as a title clerk. I worked my way up from title clerk to sales secretary. When Lathrop Honda hit a bumpy road I left after being offered a position at Westbrook Honda. This is where I met a woman, Shirley, who had a great impact on my life – her advice to me, which I will never forget was “If you ever want to be more than you are today you have to teach someone what you are doing today.” At first I had a hard time with this philosophy. For me I felt it was easier to just go ahead and “do it” instead of take the time to teach someone else. It probably took me until my late 20s or early 30s to ever really get what she meant by that. I finally realized it when I was working my way up with a company here in Georgia that I started working for as a Training Coordinator (fancy name for Administrative Assistant).
During my employment with that company I moved with my family to Austell, GA. While searching for a new church home I met a woman who began talking to my mother and the subject of salons and spas came up. Because the salon industry has truly been my passion since my days at the salon in CT (and a brief employment at a beautiful resort spa in Norwich, CT) the conversation came up on my radar. The woman asked me if I would like to buy her spa…the story being that she had owned it since she was 19 (so by the time I met her the salon had been in existence for approximately 35 years) and she was looking forward to being able to spend more time with her family. On this particular day that we met it just so happened that her mother was in the hospital due to a heart attack. I went to see the salon and take pictures the very next day. Two weeks later her mother died of a massive stroke while in the hospital and 45 minutes later her brother died from terminal cancer.
I worked with a counselor at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for over a year to prepare the documentation needed to get a loan to purchase the business. It was a long road and on the day I signed on the dotted line I could not be happier. The happiness lingered for a while and we had our share of ups and downs in the business, but each day that I woke up I was excited to be going to my OWN business. This was what I was meant to do. I worked very hard, I made changes (big and small), I dedicated every minute of my day to making the salon/spa a success. In the end it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, but I learned a lot of terrific lessons, met wonderful people, and wouldn’t trade any of it (well, okay, maybe some of it) for the world!
On Thursday, April 24th I announced to my staff that I could no longer afford to continue the business and would be closing effective that moment. Up until an hour before that I was still not sure what would happen because I was waiting on final word from the bank as to whether or not they would extend credit to continue to grow my business. When the word came back from the bank that they were unable to extend credit I knew my only option was closing. Please understand that for me failure was NEVER an option. Upon telling my staff (all of whom I had – and still would if they didn’t mind – called my friends) I had a slight nervous break down and thought I was having a heart attack. I just never saw me closing any business in this manner. My staff has all moved on and I’m sure they believe they have gone on to better things. Some may one day admit that they learned a lot working with/for me, but I don’t blame them if they have nothing good to say. Ending a business in this manner is horrible for all involved. When I closed I hadn’t paid myself a paycheck since January – times were very tough! I was at the brink of losing everything (and some days I still wonder how I will make it, but thanks to my faith I am making it one small step at a time).
I am here today to tell you that despite what happened and the feelings failure I am ready to try it again someday (hopefully sooner rather than later). I enrolled in Cosmetology school and my first quarter just ended – only a million more to go (Just kidding – I will be done in September 2009 as long as all goes well). I am beginning to put together new ideas and strategies for the next time I do this. I will NOT buy an existing business again (unless it is a 2nd location and I already have my own place established), I will start small (the place I bought was located in 5,000 square feet), I will be able to step in and provide services if needed (I was strictly a business owner last time and now with my Cosmetology license I can do whatever it takes to build my business), and I will enlist the help of others. The biggest lesson I learned was not enlisting the help of others until it was too late – I will put my pride aside and ask for help! Next time I am thinking way outside the box! I am looking for new and exciting ways to attract investors, provide them a ROI, and attract great clients!
I’m here to say it is never okay to quit…so I will live by one of my favorite quotes is “Never, never, never quit!” ~ Winston Churchill And one my new favorites is this: Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted…
Believe me when I say I didn’t get what I wanted. My goal was always to own my own business and make enough money to take care of my parents (mother, step-father, father, step-mother) no matter what they need. I don’t think it’s too late to make that happen! If I truly work at it this can still come to fruition. I have great family and friends cheering me along the way and I am convinced the next time will be well worth the trip! I hope you will join me on my journey to the top!