Imagine riding the high of being a businesswoman with a new store that is due to open. You research everything, making sure that the inventory is being delivered, the bookkeeping is up-to-date, and your staff is in place—ready to go! Then the pandemic hits. It was enough to knock some off their feet. But it was not enough to stop Jessica Thompson.
While much of the country hunkered down, restaurants switched to take-out only, retailers ramped up online sales, and women everywhere discovered the true color of their roots. This is the snapshot into the lives of three women who are a part of our community, and learning how to succeed while adjusting to our New Normal.
We’re talking to:
Jeannie Henderson: Owner of Jeannie Cleaning – Home & office sanitizing and cleaning services.
Katie Timber: Executive Director at SPCA Southwest Michigan – a not-for-profit no-kill shelter.
Jessica Thompson: Owner of Bee Joyful Shop, Michigan’s first zero-waste market.
Q – What about opening your business turned out to be much harder to accomplish than you expected?
Henderson – One of the biggest challenges I have had to overcome is to create a positive, rewarding, and engaging work culture that attracts the best talent and improves employee retention. Business is always about the people and having the right people in the right seats. At Jeannie Cleaning, we started to get on the right track by defining our purpose and our values and we put them up on our wall for everyone to see. We live them out in every decision, every plan and every action. It has been so rewarding to work with our team now that we are all committed to the same set of values and headed in the same direction. Our business went from frustrating to joyful – just by going through the process of defining our values and then living them out.
Timber – I think the challenging part is that most people assume we are part of the ASPCA or a nationally funded organization. We aren’t! We are your local No-kill shelter that exists thanks to the generosity of our community. Animals do not qualify for funding from most corporations and foundations. Partnerships, donations, adoptions, and volunteerism are the driving force behind the success of The SPCA of SWMICH.
Thompson – Obviously, the COVID-19 outbreak presented an unexpected roadblock because it kept the store from opening when I had planned. But I know that’s only temporary. Before COVID-19, the answer to the question would have been finding vendors who are strict adherents to a no-plastic philosophy, particularly when it comes to shipping their product(s). I’ve been occasionally surprised when opening a box of plastic-free product to find it wrapped or surrounded in plastic shipping material. Being plastic-free is intentional because in many cases, it’s not what we’ve been trained to do. So when I get product that is packaged and shipped plastic-free, I know that vendor and I are on the same wavelength.
Q – Share with us, an unexpected bonus about running your business?
Henderson – The unexpected bonus of running Jeannie Cleaning is meeting so many great people throughout Kalamazoo and seeing parts of our beautiful county where I had never ventured before. Our customers are so friendly and kind, and it’s a joy getting to know them and to help them to have more free time to do the things they love to do. The additional networking that I’m doing has also been a blessing as well. I love all the new friends I have, and how we are able to help each other succeed. One can NEVER have too many friends!
Timber – Relationships—I have a pretty nontraditional family. The SPCA makes up mine. My board, the staff, volunteers, and our partners are all very close. Some people may think that looking at our pets as members of our family is odd, but fortunately for me, my family is not only supportive of my relationship with animals, they also feel the same. The support of my SPCA family inspires me personally and professionally every day.
Thompson – Community support has been great! First, the local business community has been helpful and welcoming. To have so many neighboring small businesses offering advice and support has been very encouraging, and sets an example for me to follow in years to come. Also, I’ve been happily surprised by how many have reached out to me on my social media pages to offer encouragement and to let me know that they plan to shop at the store as soon as we’re able to open. There’s a demand for plastic-free products in our community. I know because people are telling me every day!
Q – What advice would you give women starting a business today?
Henderson – Whenever someone asks me about starting a new business, the first thing I suggest is to find a great coach or mentor who has been there before you. Someone who has been successful and who enjoys helping others achieve their dreams. It took me a year after starting Jeannie Cleaning to find my coach. I had to fix a lot of mistakes which could have been avoided. Having a coach has inspired me so much that I am now in the process of becoming a certified Cleaning Business Fundamentals Coach so that I can use what I have learned to help others find success and fulfillment in their businesses.
- Adopt a cat or dog. We all need the emotional support.
- Listen and be realistic while being passionate.
- Be willing to learn, and include the opposite perspective.
- Be confident, and know that sometimes things aren’t going to go your way.
- Be humble, but also remember what President, Lyndon B. Johnsons said. “I’d rather have him inside the tent peeing out, than outside the tent peeing in.” YOU can do this.
Thompson – As trite as it sounds, I would say, “go for it!” If you have a strong passion for something, find a way to make it work. Do your homework and have a good plan, of course, but don’t let fear stop you from giving it a shot. That’s what I’m doing!
Here’s a thought… as the economy rebounds, it will likely do so at a slower pace than we would all like. Not only will it be helpful, it will be critical that we do our part in shopping local, and supporting our locally-owned businesses. At the end of the day, we need them as much as they need us.