Just a short trip up Interstate 10 can transport you from the urban jungle of downtown San Antonio to the Texas Hill Country charm of Boerne. Settled by German immigrants more than 150 years ago, Boerne has a heritage that is reflected in everything from the shops and restaurants that line the quaint main street to the more than 140 historic structures that grace the cityscape. But don’t let the old-fashioned, small-town feel of this unique city fool you. Alongside the antique dealers and specialty shops are trendy boutiques, fashionable cafes, urban coffee bars and hip wineries. There is no shortage of things to see and do in Boerne, and businesses thrive. The three women featured here have all left a big imprint on the small town that they call home, and they continue to embrace the culture and community that have made them successful.
Julia Grossman, Owner, Kelani Yogurt
One of the newest businesses on Boerne’s Main Street, Kelani (formerly Kuhl) Yogurt is quite literally one of the coolest places in town. Every afternoon the self-serve shop is packed with kids and families enjoying healthy and delicious frozen treats in an environment that invites them to kick back and stay a while.
“We wanted to create a place where young people could hang out in a safe and healthy environment,” says owner Julia Grossman, herself the mother of one middle-school and one high-school student. She traveled all over the world as an international business manager before marrying and settling with her family in Boerne. She explains that they chose the Hill Country city for its idyllic setting and small-town values. “After living all over the world, those qualities were very appealing to me,” she says. However, it wasn’t long before the California native noticed the conspicuous absence of a “froyo” shop, something that was a prominent feature in her home state. “Whenever I went back to California to visit, I noticed the self-serve yogurt business really taking off,” she says.
Realizing the potential for such a business in Boerne, Grossman secured the Main Street location and set about creating the perfect “hangout.” Rather than embrace the bold, stark, environment of other trendy yogurt shops, Grossman incorporated her own personal style. Walls are painted in pink, turquoise and lime green. A living room area is outfitted with sofas, comfy chairs and big pillows for lounging and watching the large flat-screen television. “We want people to feel at home here,” says Grossman of the interior design.
She also wants them to have fun while enjoying a healthy snack. Grossman spares no expense when it comes to offering her customers the highest-quality product. All of the Kelani yogurts have live and active cultures, exceeding the national recommendations for probiotics by at least 10 percent. “This is not just low-fat ice cream that we are calling yogurt,” she says proudly. Nine flavors ranging from tart to sweet are offered daily, and customers can mix and blend their own unique concoctions. All the flavors are gluten-free, most are fat-free, and the tart flavors and sorbets have the added benefit of being all-natural. Once customers have selected the flavors, then comes the real fun: choosing from the more than 100 toppings. From granola and fruit to cereal and candy, there is a topping for every taste bud. Grossman says it is really all about balance. “The yogurt provides a healthy alternative, but you can top it off with something more decadent,” she says. Other Kelani favorites include smoothies, shakes and hot and cold coffee drinks made with illy coffee. They are created by a friendly staff, which consists mostly of young people in the community. “I feel strongly about serving as a mentor and coach to our youth,” says Grossman of why she prefers to hire the teens. “I can share with them what owning and running a small business is all about.”
Part of what it is all about is managing growth. In the less than three years since its doors opened, Kelani Yogurt has expanded to include two shops in Kerrville, one in Fredericksburg and one slated to open in the Dominion Ridge. In addition, Grossman took over a Heavenly Yogurt in Spring Branch and is gradually converting it to her brand. Grossman gives back to the communities in which she opens her shops by supporting the organizations that are important to her customers. Through the “My School is Kuhl” program, Grossman donates a portion of sales to a designated area school, and the business also supports local teams and youth organizations. “Being able to give back to the community is so important and rewarding to me,” she says. The biggest reward for Grossman, however, comes in the satisfaction of providing what she deems a “happy” business. “The best thing is when people tell me how much they enjoy the yogurt,” she says. “It is gratifying to have a business where people come in happy.”
Deb Colton, Owner, Traditions At The Depot
Many women look forward to retirement as a time of rest and relaxation. Not Deb Colton. When this feisty executive retired after 32 years with USAA, she quickly realized that business was in her blood. With limited experience in retail, she and a former business colleague purchased Traditions at the Depot, a Main Street staple in Boerne. Within less than two years, she had transformed the shop into a fashion destination for women who travel from all across the state to let Colton help them look their best. “I’ve always been interested in fashion,” says the stylish Colton. “I love putting outfits together and helping ladies look their best.” That love of fashion combined with her business acumen acquired during her years at USAA has helped her create a unique environment where women can feel comfortable. The large five-room shop is filled with everything from clothing to shoes, accessories and even home décor and gift items. Her shop is now the only Brighton store in Boerne, and she carries such highend lines as Claudia Lobao, Frank Lyman and Finley. “We focus on casual contemporary fashions and try to appeal to a wide range of body types,” says Colton, adding that the bulk of her customers are in their 30s to 40s and beyond. “We work hard at finding what looks good on our customer because you have to be comfortable in what you wear.”
While going to market and shopping for customers is fun, Colton says the biggest challenge of owning her own business is juggling all of the roles. She explains that in a large corporate environment like USAA, you have a vast support system through the various departments. She says that the biggest adjustment for her as a business owner was realizing that she had to be all the departments at once. “You have to wear so many different hats while trying to appeal to as many customers as you can,” she says. “ You have to keep up with trends and stay in touch with customers. Social media helps, but it’s still a challenge.”
Colton has never been one to shy away from challenges. While working at USAA, this, at the time, single mom put herself through college by attending night school for eight years. She overcame a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 19 and is a 13-year breast cancer survivor. It was the latter that inspired her to start the charity tennis tournament, Game. Set. Cure, now in its 13th year. The tournament is held in Fair Oaks Ranch, but is open to all communities. Next to her business, it is the accomplishment of which she is most proud.
“The tournament has been a tremendous success,” says Colton, herself an avid tennis player. “It has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for WINGS (Women Involved in Nurturing, Giving, Sharing).” Drawing on her life experiences has given Colton a certain advantage when dealing with her customers. She describes her store as the culmination of all she has done in her life, and she takes great pride in helping women feel good about themselves. “We are a service company, and we are here for the ladies,” she says. “This is a feel-good industry, and the biggest reward for me is seeing happy, satisfied customers.”
Beth Coyle, CEO, Coyle SDA
At the age of 6, when most little girls want to spend their days jumping rope, Beth Coyle was happily learning the ropes of her family’s cattle auction business in Bryan. Little did she know at the time that she was developing all of the necessary skills to become a highly successful and well-respected businesswoman in her own right. Coyle and her husband, Mike, are the founders of Coyle Engineering Inc., a company they began in 1995 and recently sold to Spalding DeDecker Associates Inc. In addition to staying on with the company and continuing to serve as CEO, Coyle and her husband also own and operate a property management company, and she is the sole proprietor of her own photography business. It’s a very full plate for this former head coach and yearbook advisor at San Antonio Christian School, who would go on to be profiled in Forbes Magazine. But Coyle, who cut her teeth in business, makes it all look easy.
“I learned a lot of business principles while working in my family’s business from the age of 6 until I was 17,” says Coyle, who holds a BA in communications from Texas A&M University. One of the things she learned was how to be taken seriously as a woman in a male-dominated industry. Her mother set the tone, having what Coyle describes as the attitude of a “kindly nurse dealing with a mental patient.” Coyle, who admits that it was difficult for her in the beginning, tried to take that same approach. She recalls how, nearly 20 years ago, she received her fair share of “honey,” “sweetie” and “darlin’” from the men in the field. “You can’t get offended or riled up,” she says. “You just have to get cheerfully firm with them. It only has to happen one time, and they realize that they can’t take advantage of you because you are a woman.” Another valuable lesson that Coyle learned at the knees of her parents was how to live and work together. She watched her mother and father create harmony by taking on separate roles within the business. That is something that Coyle and her husband have emulated. “There has to be a division of labor, and there has to be respect,” she states. That meant that she left the engineering and technical roles to her husband, while she took care of the financial, business and marketing aspects. With their roles firmly in place, the Coyles quickly grew their business to the point where they required more office space. Rather than pay rent to someone else, they purchased a building and leased a portion of it to an insurance company. This led to the development of 4C Property Management, the second company the Coyles founded together. The name represents the couple and their twin daughters. Through this company, the Coyles purchase and lease properties to professional service tenants. Often these tenants have either worked together or with the Coyles, which creates a synergy between them. Since its inception in 1999, 4C Property Management has grown into its own thriving entity.
“It’s really all just started because the engineering company needed more space,” laughs Coyle, adding that they could not have grown into this second venture without the help of a very strong support team consisting of a CPA, a business adviser and a corporate attorney, to name a few. “Anyone even thinking about starting their own business must have a good team in place. You really can’t do it alone,” she comments. In between juggling the responsibilities associated with owning and operating two companies, Coyle found the time to devote to what she calls her true passion: photography. Beth Coyle Photography began in 1997 with Coyle shooting family portraits. But like the other businesses, it has evolved over the years and now consists of fine art photos as well as corporate and architectural commissions. Coyle is a member of the Boerne Professional Artists, and her work is featured in the Daily Grind Coffee Shop on Main Street. “My favorite is the fine art photography,” says Coyle, whose office features some of her work from her travels in Italy. “I like to capture slices of life from all over the world and bring it back to show people how others live.”
Both the property management company and the photography business are what Coyle calls “backups.” She and her husband have only three more years left in the terms of the contract with SDA before they are free to “retire.” Of course, retirement to this driven businesswoman doesn’t mean the same thing as it does to most people. In addition to traveling, attending Spurs and Aggies games, tending to the family’s home with its 31-acres of wildlife management and serving on numerous boards and committees, Coyle will focus her attention on the other two businesses once retired.
“Another important lesson I learned from my parents is that every business has an end,” she says. “You have to have something to retire to.”