Four women, owners of both new and long-existing Martinsville businesses, joined two female journalists recently for a morning of fellowship, conversation and advice.
Before the meeting began, one of the women said she may be interrupted by a call from a workman.
“Isn’t it just typical,” said Mary Rives Brown, who owns Berry-Elliott Realtors along with Doris Berry, who also was at the meeting. “Women are juggling about 10 things all at one time.”
As if to illustrate the point, a fifth business owner who had been scheduled to join them had had to cancel because her child care had fallen through; another during the meeting kept receiving text messages from a child at school; and a third received a phone call from her adult son.
Yet their conversation carried on, weaving tales of raising children and balancing chores in and around various aspects of running a business.
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Mignon Grant owns Grant’s Unisex Salon and has been a business owner since 1990. Grant started out working in Herford’s Unisex Salon on Fayette Street and when the owners no longer wanted to run the salon, Grant said that they had seen how busy she was with clients and asked her if she would like to take over.
She had been a hair stylist five years when that offer surprised her, and her switch from employee to owner was so sudden that she barely had time to choose the name. If she could go back she would probably call it “Mignon’s Hair Palace” or something close to that, she said.
Brown and Berry had worked together as real estate agents for another company before they decided to go out on their own in 1995. Brown said that Berry had taught a great deal about the field, and when she pondered starting her own business, “I thought, ‘Well, who’s the smartest person in the room?’ at the real estate office where we were and it was her [Berry].”
Berry said, “Mary Rives doesn’t give herself enough credit,” and she had known that Brown had the knowledge, ethics and client relationships that would make her a good business partner.
Brown said they opened their Starling Avenue office three days before Christmas and they were so consumed with that effort that they couldn’t focus on the holiday. Her children “still talk about” the IOUs they got that year instead of gifts.
“We started with a desk, a chair, a lamp, a rotary dial telephone that was it,” she said.
Shatera Stockton Robertson, on top of a job as a registered nurse, owns the floral shop Unique Styles & Designs.
She had been operating an event planning service out of her home since 2006. As she saw her work grow, she took a startup business program through the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation where, she said, she learned a lot. In 2020 she opened her shop on East Church Street in Martinsville.
“Y’all maybe need to know a little bit about where it was versus where it is now,” Brown said. “I want to write a book about the evolution of women in society according to the shoulder pads… You can trace the power of women by the emergence of shoulder pads … It was a real power symbol for women.”
One big change the women noted has been in how consumers spend money.
“There are kids today that don’t know how to write a check,” Berry said.
“They don’t,” Grant agreed.
Grant said she no longer accepts checks because of the risk of fraud. Paying the 2.5% a business is charged to accept a debit card is worth it for the convenience and has the benefit of encouraging people to spend more money, she said.
Back when she still accepted checks, she would not take them during December because “people would come out of the woodworks and they would write me bad checks” more often than usual. In 2012, that loss was almost $700.
“I don’t think a lot of people in my era carry cash,” Robertson said. “We’re not gonna carry that. We’re gonna swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe … Somebody frauds you, you’re gonna call the bank” rather than take a loss.
“Do you remember we used to not be able to get checking accounts without getting a man to co-sign?” Brown said. “I guess I was 22, came back here, opened a checking account” but the banker told her she’d need someone to co-sign for her.
“Really? Are you serious?” Robertson said.
“And he never really told me why, but it was because I was a woman,” Brown said.
“I didn’t encounter that,” Grant said, though she was denied at her first attempt to take out a business loan. “‘You have great credit, but we don’t want to take the risk,’” she said the banker told her. She went straight to another bank, where she was given the loan right away.
“The word ‘entrepreneur’ is misused a lot lately. It’s implying that if you have an idea that there ought to be a way to have it financed by someone else,” Brown said. “And that’s incorrect, and I’m getting tired of hearing it.”
The word means to take your own financial personal risk in business, Brown added, but it has weakened into something else.
“It’s easier to walk away from something when it was a gift you’re not personally invested in it but if you’ve put in the time, you’re own money” it means more, she said.
“She has said a lot,” Robertson said. “I say that because with me, I did not receive startup money to start my business. I started myself up and I’m still working … as a nurse to make it work.”
“I don’t try to discourage anyone, but a lot of people … when they say they want to open up a business they don’t understand what comes with opening up a business,” Robertson said. “They just feel like you open up a business and people just fly in there and their just purchasing from you and that does not work like that … you have to grow a business.”
In starting a business it’s important to “have a plan; don’t just step out,” Grant said. “Try to think about what you’re going to do.”
Grant also said to always further your education and to have a strong drive and passion for the business that you enter into.
“Have a plan and a backup plan,” Robertson added.
She also said that taking advice from people with business experience is a big help as well. “There’s so much I can learn from them and I think that’s awesome.”
“Ask me some questions, I’ll be glad to help you,” Brown said. “That’s the gift and the curse of being really young: You already think you know everything, and then you see them making mistakes” and can learn from that, if you pay attention.
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