Xpress spoke with four female business owners and leaders on their experiences running businesses and networking in the Asheville area. The following are excerpts from these conversations.
Natalie Pollard, owner of homestead supply store Villagers (formerly Small Terrain)
When and why did you open Villagers? It was October 2012. [Villagers] is multifaceted because of personal motivation. I’ve been exploring activities around sustainability and wanted to create work around nurturing things. On the flipside, there was a need for a place like this that makes it more approachable and accessible. Just trying to make it easier for them [the public] to do it.
Do you ever feel there are more obstacles for female business owners than men? No, not that comes to mind. I feel supported by the strong women that are doing things. I’m surrounded by women-owned businesses and supported. … I’ve never run a business like this outside of Asheville, but my overall feeling hasn’t been gender-based. I just felt supported by the community, by men and women. I haven’t felt that any of it has to do with my gender. Maybe there’s a few (mostly men) that have come in here with good intentions have given advice that might be condescending, but that’s almost being set up by the question.
What keeps you going? I’d say the community and the support. I [recently] announced that I changed my business name due to a trademark [dispute] from Urban Outfitters, and people came in to show support and say they believed in what I’m doing. I get emails thanking me for what I’m doing. That’s motivation. It’s been one of most challenging things [I’ve] experienced, being bullied by a corporation. That’s been definitely challenging. I am motivated by the fact that I am supporting people in their efforts to live a healthier, more sustainable existence.
What advice do you have for women wanting to go into business here? For me, I guess there’s a couple of things. I recommend going to Mountain Bizworks. I found it very important and helpful in writing a business plan. Business plans are very helpful because it helped me work through a lot of different ideas and narrow it down to one. Beyond that, starting small is wise and not taking too much on. I also believe that you should try and work within your means and not take on too much debt. Let it grow organically. I think one of the biggest things is to ask for help. It’s OK to ask for help. Reach out to your community, friends and family. I was really surprised at how much support I received when I started doing that. Don’t pursue anything you don’t truly believe in.
Dawn Chitwood, owner of Asheville Marketing Solutions and president of FemCity Asheville
What exactly is Asheville Marketing Solutions? It’s a marketing and strategy company. We design websites, do a lot of social media marketing [and] search engine optimization.
Why did you start your business? We moved from the Outer Banks and sold our restaurant [that we owned there]. Coming here was reinvention. This is my third business; I’ve got a passion for business. I could use my experience in marketing. I used to be a graphic designer in Charleston. I could use my passion for business and helping small-business owners.
Women business owners are still in the minority, statistically. Does it feel that way in Asheville? They’re also the fastest-rising demographic. My experience has been that most of my clients are women.
What is owning a business as a woman in a field dominated by men like? It is a challenge. It’s very interesting. I’m also the president of a national organization [Femfessionals]. The basic mission statement is that we are in that competitive business. We [live] in an age where we were in such a male-dominated business world, and we were taught to be very aggressive and very competitive. We’re coming into a time when it’s time to bridge the gap. I haven’t had a problem with that.
What keeps you going? Family drives me. Having a family has been the biggest catalyst in propelling myself into my career. It feeds my passion. I love business, passion, generating ideas and helping people.
What’s it like working in the eastern part of the state as compared to working here? The Outer Banks is a very unique location. Because it’s so small and tourist driven, I think women drove the economy there.
What advice do you have for women wanting to go into business here? Decide what makes you unique and what you have to offer. Don’t sacrifice your passion and dreams to fit into the mold the business world might try to put you in. There’s a way to balance being a woman and being successful.
Lucretia Piercy, president of the Sky-Hy chapter of the American Business Women’s Association
Why was the Sky-Hy chapter founded? It was chartered from another chapter called High Hopes, which is no longer in existence.
How long have you been president? This is my fourth term as president and my 17th year as a member.
What drew you to the ABWA? ABWA is an excellent way to grow, personally and professionally. It’s helped me and my personal career to master public speaking, to improve self-esteem, get a better job, all those things.
What are the benefits of having this chapter in the area? It’s always nice to have something in your hometown. We have friendships for life. We call it the sisterhood of ABWA. We’re with each other through birth, death, weddings and everything in between.
What subjects do you go over in the meetings? We have different programs every month. Recently, we have had financial aid, retirement services, anything entrepreneurial. We try to make it a wide variety … with different speakers throughout the city.
What is it like to be a business woman in Asheville? It requires a lot of stamina. You have to be able to fight your ground and say what you mean and back it up with knowledge.
Have you noticed any trends? We’re a pretty diverse group. There are no generalizations at all. I’ve been a business woman for the past 30 years.
What advice do you have for women wanting to go into business here? You need to find a mentor, someone that can help you along the way and give advice on how to establish a business. You need good advertising and girlfriends.
Elizabeth Pou, facilitator for SCORE’s Women’s Roundtable
How long have you been involved with SCORE’s Women’s Roundtable? I’m a volunteer for SCORE, which is a group of local business people offering free business advice. It’s an arm of the Small Business Administration. There are 45 of them. The Roundtable came out of Dollie Smith-Feldmeth. It was her idea and we started off with a handful of women. Now we have a mailing list of 200.
What happens at the meetings? We meet at A-B Tech once a month. Meetings are around an hour and half. The first and last 15 minutes are [for] networking. Volunteers offer advice.
What are the benefits of joining a local business group? They’re a nice opportunity for women in business. They’re an opportunity for local women entrepreneurs to find out what’s going on in the business world. It’s a very good networking tool. It’s a good way to show actual experiences rather than sit in on a lecture.
Do you think Asheville is a good area for women in business? Yes, in a sense. Women are very willing to be helpful to each other. Women are willing to share experience. Mountain Bizworks has worked with a lot of women.
What advice would you give to a woman who want to go into business? I’d say take some time to put thoughts in writing. The benefit of a business plan is that it requires you to think through issues with your business. SCORE provides nice services for business people in Asheville area and free advice.