These businesswomen met a need and found success
Growing aggravation. A plan. Then full speed ahead. That sums up how Shirley Crandall started Crandall & Associates, Inc. in 1987, by herself.
“I had worked for an insurance company for four years. They kept taking little pieces of my money away,” she explains. “I thought, ‘This is crazy. I have to work harder, and then they take a little more.’ ”
Her business advisor suggested Crandall start her own insurance business, but only after planning for a year, which she did.
“I quit in December and started in January with no accounts,” she remembers. She survived on a willingness to do what a lot of people don’t like to do. “I called on people, wrote down names off buildings and trucks and called them to ask who the decision maker was. I knocked on doors, left a card with the receptionist and followed up.”
She was SNK (single, no kids). “I had saved enough money for six months. I figured if I had to, I could eat sandwiches at my mom’s house,” she says. But because of her tenacity, her business grew and she didn’t have to rely on her mom.
Today this 40-something woman employs 12 people. “You want to hire the right people and make sure they have a willingness to keep advancing their knowledge. I push them to do that,” she says. Crandall continues to formulate insurance packages for other businesses. “Insurance is expensive,” she says. “I enjoy trying creative ideas and new approaches to keeping the premiums affordable, yet still providing coverage which clients will see as an added benefit.” Ninety-five percent of her accounts are comprised of general liability, workman’s comp, property and commercial auto insurance and group medical plans.
Her company continues to grow. In September of this year, she opened a Dallas office with an associate she met at her former employer’s company.
After 16 years, her advice remains the same: “Stay focused, and don’t turn down a small account. Everybody wants the big ones. Help the smaller ones, too, because if it were you, you’d want them to help you.” And she makes this offer: “If anyone ever wants some mentoring to help get her own business started, I would be willing to help her do that.”
NANCY SCOTT JONES
Her dream was to be a journalist. But in 1979, reality struck.
“I realized I wasn’t on the fast track to a Pulitzer Prize,” former San Antonio Express-News reporter Nancy Scott Jones remembers.
She had long noticed how intimidated people were by the media. “I could see that many people don’t know how to tell their story,” says Jones, 51. “They don’t understand how you build reputations, and the importance of repetition.”
To help people develop their public messages, she switched gears in midstream. She joined the staff of the largest advertising and public relations firm in South Texas at the time, the Pitluk Group. There she was mentored by the head of the PR division and the president, Louis Pitluk himself.
“I found my niche in helping people learn how to communicate to their audiences,” she says. Within two years she developed a burning desire to start her own PR company. In 1981, at age 29, she took a bold leap and opened Nancy Scott Jones Communication alone.
“Very early it became an exciting career for me,” says Jones. “It’s not a desk job,” she explains. “You have to be savvy about what’s going on in the world and your own community. Contacts are very important, as well as knowing how to link people together.” Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s she employed as many as 10 people, but in 1998, she downsized to two. “I like a smaller company,” she says. “And I know quality is not determined by size.” In 1989, Women in Communications gave Jones the “Best PR Campaign of the Year” award for her work with the Las Casas Foundation. The campaign reopened the Majestic Theater and stimulated the formation of the Cultural Arts District downtown.
After 22 years, she’s seen what it takes to keep a business going. Asked what advice she would offer others, she responded with several ideas.
• Stay on the cutting edge of your business. “Don’t ever assume you’ve learned all there is to know.”
• Always have at least one mentor.
• Find some community cause and participate actively. “It helps you see what it takes to run an effective city or state.”
• Stay in touch with your peers.
• Learn how to balance time with your family. “A supportive family will sustain your business and help it grow.”
• Expect both exceptional and flat years in business. “Know how to ride out those flat years.”
• Take time away from your business. “You can get obsessive about your work. So do something that is renewing and stimulating.”
On a visible shelf at home sits a sock doll Kathy Hoermann, 52, made in third grade. “It’s ugly, but I keep it,” she says. It represents her earliest foray into making things with cloth — a desire she continues today in her own business at the Painted Pony.
The Painted Pony is a wholesale ladies’ apparel manufacturing company on Recoleta. There, within the 13,500-square-foot warehouse, novelty jackets and related sportswear come to life. “We make jackets out of all kinds of material most people wouldn’t use,” she says. “We started with cotton throws, and then used upholstery fabrics and chenille. We use a lot of faux fur right now.” With independent sales reps in all the major apparel markets, including Dallas and New York, she sells to high-end boutiques, catalogs and department stores such as Nordstrom. Hoermann sells the extra merchandise inventory and samples in her Painted Pony retail store on McCullough. It excites her to see someone on the street wearing one of her creations. At times, she introduces herself, saying, “I made that.” The individual always seem thrilled. “You did? It’s your company?” It’s a rewarding moment when she knows she has pleased a customer.
Though her college degree is in accounting, her broader background is in art.
“I enjoy color and have always enjoyed making novelty things,” she says. She officially opened in 1988 with one employee — a teenager from Alamo Heights High School. Fifteen years later, she has 16 employees and still does some of the designing. To fill orders, she contracts the sewing out to local businesses.
For a creative person like Hoermann, financing and all the paperwork involved in a business were early challenges. Simply coming up with new ideas keeps even a creative person on her toes. “There’s nothing new in this business,” says Hoermann, “but we interpret it in a different way, using lots of color.”
In 2000, Hoermann was named the Natural Fiber Designer of the Year by the Texas Department of Agriculture. Her advice to those with an eye for commerce is to take some related courses in high school or college “because business is always a challenge.”
Whenever you see an ad on television, realize that someone had to negotiate, buy, and plan that 30-second piece of time. That someone might be Helen Thompson, owner of Helen Thompson Media (HTM). “We are media planners, buyers and negotiators for other companies,” she explains. Her company handles a variety of media outlets, such as radio, outdoor signs and trade journals, to name a few. After working briefly for a television station and a radio station and then 17 years with the Pitluk Group (an advertising agency), she was ready to strike out and make some money of her own. “I had the confidence to know that if I couldn’t make it, I’d get a job some place else,” she says. The first year, she had very little business. “My lifestyle changed considerably,” she says. Even with her husband working, her family engaged in a very conservative lifestyle — no more clothes-shopping sprees, no new home like her peers were buying, no vacation. “That only lasted about four years,” Thompson remembers. In the beginning, she spent time networking and establishing relationships. Even today, she still does business with two of her earliest accounts, Jordan Ford and AAMCO. “It’s been a very slow but positive growth,” she says.
She credits the Pitluk Group with nurturing her discipline. “I would moan and groan about it all the time,” she recalls. “But now, every day, I think about the discipline they taught me and realize that they are a great part of my success.” And now there are five employees, including Thompson, who do nothing but plan, buy, negotiate and strategize media for clients. “We have a shared receptionist and a bookkeeper. That’s the size of the company,” says Thompson.
She believes she has succeeded because of her company’s emphasis on being responsive (“we turn things around very quickly”) and customizing clients’ needs. New clients are stunned at the information and the data they get from HTM that they did not receive from previous companies. “It makes us look really good,” Thompson says. She plans to retire in four years when she is 62. She believes people are most successful when they know their own personalities and strengths and dwell on their strengths. “They also have to like themselves, because that evolves into self-confidence,” says this woman, who didn’t start her own company until she was 44.
Don’t knock beauty pageants. Jackeline Cacho, news reporter and anchor for KWEX Univision, learned plenty about life through her experiences with five such events. When she was crowned Miss Peru International in 1994, her title opened many doors. As she traveled through Peru presenting seminars on motivation and etiquette, she was also learning about the history, politics and social problems of South America. With the modeling contract she won, she moved to the United States, not knowing a word of English. Working around modeling jobs, she took two English classes a day. Having worked in television in Peru, she found jobs in American TV and radio that eventually led to her move to San Antonio in 2000. But Cacho remembered what her father, an entrepreneur who sold lumber, had said. “The only way you are going to be independent economically is when you open your own business. You will be working harder than in a regular office,” he told her.“But you have to do what your dream drives you to do, and do it with your whole heart.”
So when friend and expert hair stylist Marcela Marquez told her about a day spa that was for sale, Cacho was interested. A third partner, Gloria Rodriquez, was also on board, with a 12-year background in the hotel spa business. The three got together, prayed and shared the concept of what they wanted.
On May 27, 2003, the Dominion Salon and Day Spa held its grand opening. “This is my passion — to help women look and feel better about themselves,” says Cacho. Business had grown enough in three month to double the staff from four people to eight. Cacho brings all her experience to bear as image consultant in this newest venture. “It’s a total experience,” she says. “We have clients who come for just a haircut. But by the time they leave, they have not only a haircut, but a clothes consultation and a make-over.” In addition, the salon specializes in pampering brides for a day. To help with spiritual balance, a prayer room on the premises allows clients solitude for prayer or meditation. “It’s even more important to find beauty within yourself,” says Cacho.
She still hasn’t strayed far from beauty pageants. Serving as a pageant coach, she teaches contestants what she learned, which includes etiquette, public speaking skills, respect for self, perseverance and, of course, beauty tips. She also gives talks to teenagers in the community about developing self-respect.
None of these women will give up.
As Shirley Crandall says about starting out and staying there, “I guess I didn’t have time to be scared — I was determined to make it work. When you quit your job and tell them what you’re going to do, you sure don’t ever want to go back and say, ‘Hey, it didn’t work.’”
By Paula Syptak Price