Are entrepreneurs born or made? Are the sacrifices worth the risk? The Jewish Times spoke with six women business owners to find out what they’ve learned from their entrepreneurial endeavors, and what advice they have for women who want to be their own bosses.
Margaret Rome saw entrepreneurship as the next step in her long career in real estate. She worked for years at what she called a “big box firm” when she asked her broker: “How do you know it’s time to go out on your own?” Her broker answered: “When you no longer need a manager or a broker, that’s the time.” Rome remembers: “I thought that was a brilliant answer.” Rome, who had been working so long in the field she found herself advising managers who came to her with questions, said, “It was a very easy transition. I took the broker’s exam and became official.”
Australian-born Callie Tein, owner of Modern Trousseau, found her path into the bridal design business by landing her dream job after college — and realizing she hated it. “I got a great job, as a stylist. I hated it. It wasn’t for me,” she said. Because of that experience, Tein realized she was a designer. Tein started selling her designs to stores from the basement of her house. “I did all the designing, cutting, sewing, sales calls, trunk shows,” she recalled. She was able to hire a seamstress who works for her to this day. After showing in group shows in New York City, Tein rented a showroom. Today, Tein owns eight Modern Trousseau stores, including one in downtown Baltimore.
Sometimes entrepreneurship presents itself as an investment opportunity. Amazing Lash Studio owner Nancy Boone wasn’t new to entrepreneurship or franchise ownership when she opened an Amazing Lash Studio in January 2018 in Owings Mills. “My husband and I own and operate a general contracting construction business,” she said. She also owned Massage Envy franchises. “I was introduced to the Amazing Lash Studio concept in 2016 and, loving the idea, decided to invest” with a partner.
Vanessa Pivec bought her boutique, Panache, with help from her family. “I always knew from a young age I wanted to own a women’s designer boutique,” she said. After working for Henri Bendel in Chicago, Pivec said: “I knew that I could take all of my connections and the knowledge I had learned and do it one day for myself. I moved back to Baltimore and started working for my friend who owned Panache. When she decided to retire I knew that this was the space for me.”
All the women interviewed acknowledged sacrifice goes hand in hand with business ownership.
“Everything’s exhausting,” Tein half-joked, saying that 15-hour days are not uncommon for her. “I’m very hands-on every day. We create custom dresses. I spent today dying organza ombre lavender. You can’t say, ‘I want it but I’m not willing to give something up to achieve it.’ You’ll give up a lot. A lot of weekends, a lot of time I don’t get to spend with my children.”
Janet Garman, vice president of Glyndon Lord Baltimore Cleaners, said, “Owning your own business means you are not only responsible for yourself, but for your employees and their families as well. Knowing you have that level of responsibility to people you care deeply about is something that can keep you up at night.”
“Owning your own business comes with a lot of stress,” Pivec said. “Especially owning a small retail business. I am a single mother raising three children, and that is challenging enough. I try to stay positive and stay ahead of the game. I am always looking for new and different lines that are not so mainstream. I need to be different and give people a reason to want to come to my store. There is a lot of competition … and new stores open all the time. It’s the loyal customers that really carry my business.”
For those who can tolerate the risks and the hard work, the payoffs can be great. Most of the women interviewed cited personal connection with family, staff and customers as their greatest personal reward.
Garman is proud her business spans back three generations in her family. “The business began as a residential pick-up and delivery laundry service in 1921. Ninety-seven years later, we are still providing residential pick-up and delivery laundry service, but our list of services has evolved to encompass the cleaning and care of wardrobe to home textiles. I love that each day is a new and different day with its own joys and challenges. Getting to know our customers and business partners is extremely rewarding as well.”
“I’m a people person,” said Boone. “I love interacting with and making others feel better about themselves. I take pride in creating a great culture for my family of employees and treat them all like family. I’m not about the all mighty dollar but focus on making sure the employees are well taken care of, have benefits that aren’t usually common in the beauty industry, and they enjoy coming to work.”
Lynn Polashuk and Mindi Leikin run lingerie store Necessary Secrets, which Leikin and her mother Judie Cohen started as Bare Necessities in 1984. Polashuk said, “We really enjoy helping women feel good about themselves, when they see how much better their bodies look once they put on the correct undergarments.”
Pivec echoes this sentiment: “The best reward for me in life is making people happy. I go to work every day and experience joy and happiness. Shopping makes people smile and that makes me smile. I love the interaction with people, and love making them feel special and beautiful.”
Because, in the end, business is about people, and to succeed, you have to enjoy working with them. “Real estate is not about sticks and bricks,” said Rome. “Every single thing I’ve done has been fun and exciting. And I’ve loved every single minute.”
Erica Rimlinger is a local freelance writer.