Business Spotlight: Women-Owned Businesses on Main Street (Part 3)

November 17, 2020 | Business Spotlight: Women-Owned Businesses on Main Street (Part 3) | 

October may have come to an end, but we’re still celebrating Women’s Small Business Month! This week, we are featuring a fresh roundup of interviews with women small business owners from around the Network. This week’s collection includes:

Amber Lane Roberts owns Amber Lane Photo, a full-service boudoir and maternity studio, located in downtown Russellville, Arkansas. Amber Lane aims to help each of their clients see themselves confidently as the beautiful and strong person that they are. Roberts has been in business for three years.

Tonya Smothers
owns Stylz 4 Less, a retail clothing store for men and women, in Biddeford, Maine. Smothers has been living in Biddeford for over 20 years, and says that setting up a small business in the downtown district has always been a goal of hers. She has been in business for almost two years.

Iraida (Iris) Bender
owns Taste of Havana in Lenoir, North Carolina. Bender was born in Cuba and moved to the U.S. 22 years ago. Of her home in Lenoir, she says, “I love to share my heritage with our town. It is a great experience to introduce our cuisine and culture with those around me.” Bender has been in business for just over a year.

Stephanie Nugent
owns CyberSpyder Marketing Services in Fort Smith, Arkansas. CyberSpyder is a team of ten providing services in advertisement and content creation. Nugent reports having over 300 clients, 90% of whom are local businesses. Nugent has been in business for 20 years.

Jill Canfield
owns Arts & Drafts, a fun paint-and-sip studio in Grand Island, Nebraska. At Arts & Drafts, groups are led step-by-step through a painting project. They also offer a cash bar to "help" in the creative process. Arts & Drafts has been in business for over five years.

Heather Bryant
owns High Country Herbs in Lenoir, North Carolina. High County Herbs is a fully integrated farm with a retail location in downtown Lenoir. They grow, process, and sell their own crops as well as products from other local farms. Their main crop is industrial hemp. The farm has been in operation for three years, and the retail location has been open for about a year.

Learn more about these entrepreneurs and their small business story in the selection of interviews below.

The farm and farm-fresh products offered at High County Herbs. Photo credit: High County Herbs

What drew you to owning your own small business? Why did you become a small business owner?

Lane: After working in the photography field for several years, I found a drive and passion that came from helping women realize their true beauty through boudoir. I felt there was a gap in this kind of photography, especially as a full-service experience. I wanted for all women to have the opportunity to go through a photo session that would leave them feeling confident and beautiful.

Bryant: For our farm, it was the fulfillment of working with the earth and getting back to our roots. With our retail location, we wanted to offer our community a place of local goodness. We are able to show our customers where the product is grown, how it is processed (i.e. making hemp into oil), and have it available for purchase—all in the same location.

Bender: I am a true entrepreneur at heart. I believe we make our opportunities. As a Hispanic female, I felt 40 was the right age to make it happen. I’ve worked very hard over the years to make my small business goal a reality. I look forward to growing this business into more locations in the future.

Smothers: I decided to open a clothing store here in Biddeford where I have lived for 30 years. I have worked in the past for other companies, but I wanted to be able to direct my own future so I became a small business—a step I’ve always wanted to take!

Nugent: I was a mother with elementary-aged kids. There were not many women in my field. I worked for another company in town, but realized I wanted to do things differently and put people first. Other firms try to talk over the head of clients, making things sound complicated so they can charge extra. Instead, my company tries to explain everything in a way they can easily understand. It's the fair thing to do!

Canfield: I had never really planned on owning my own business until I went to a similar business in another city. The business model was so fun and engaging, I wanted to bring something like it to my hometown. With my family's encouragement, I was able to get it up and running.

One of the walls in Cyber Spyder's office space has been painted to look like an Internet browser, and features posters of the company's reviews. Photo credit: Cyber Spyder Marketing Services

What do you like most about owning and running your own business? Any particular successes you’d like to share?

Lane: My favorite thing about owning my own business is being able to represent something bigger to other women. By being myself and following my passion, it serves as permission to the women I know to do the same. I love using my platform to inspire confidence in my clients and community to use their own unique gifts to bring beauty and talent to the world.

Bryant: For me, it's being able to be on my own time. I'm not going to be punished for being late one morning because one of my goats was in labor or something needed fixing in the greenhouse. We opened our retail location right before COVID hit hard, and we have been successful in having it keep us afloat during the difficult months.

Bender: I love the ability to manage every aspect of my career now. It is hard to call your own shots when you work for someone else. Proving to myself I can do this it has been very important to me. Even though many financial challenges have occurred since COVID-19, I like to think the fact that we are still open is outstanding.

Smothers: I enjoy having a place to call my own. I also enjoy being able to select cultured clothing—city style, Hip Hop, young teen, young juniors, and young Mrs. clothing—so my customers can express themselves differently than what is offered here in the state!

Nugent: I get a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that, when we do a good job, we are helping someone else. I like the fast pace of the business and learning about all the different businesses we work with.

Canfield: Arts & Drafts is so much fun to do that I have never really felt like it was work. I have always enjoyed art and creating things but had never really expected to be able to do it as a business. I have met so many wonderful people while doing this, and many of my clients quickly become friends.

Photo credit: Amber Lane Photo

Why did you choose to locate your business where you did?

Lane: I grew up in this community, went to school here, fell in love here, and had my first photoshoot just two blocks from my current studio. So many people who grow up in a small town feel the need to leave to find a place to fit in, but I believe there is merit in carving out your own space and elevating the place where your roots are.

Bender: I love the Historic Downtown area. I believe we need to reenergize what we have and not necessarily build new. Preserving our past will give us a better future.

Canfield: I grew up in Grand Island. I have always loved older buildings and the vibe of the downtown area, and felt it was the perfect location for a creative business like mine. Over the past several years, our downtown has been revitalized and is becoming a destination in our city. I'm very happy to be a small part of that.
Photo credit: Arts & Drafts

What challenges have you faced as a business owner?

Lane: Owning a business, especially your first one, is something that you can never truly plan for. There are so many unknowns, and the slow months can be truly disheartening. Being only three years in, one being during a global pandemic, I still feel grateful for the months we break even. Working on commissions in a creative field is tough, but passion and perseverance can make it work.

Bryant: 2020 as a whole has been a real punch to the gut. Between COVID and massive amounts of rain, both aspects of my business have been hanging by a thread. It is just down to my husband and I now, and we find it challenging to manage the store, five greenhouses, six acres, and all my livestock. As hard as it is, it's fulfilling at the end of the day to know I harvested produce and hemp to sell to my community. CBD is great for COVID stress along with fresh eggs, green beans, and potatoes!

Nugent: Originally, the biggest challenge was being woman in a man's world. Every single call, the caller would ask to talk to my boss. Later, the challenges were prioritizing family time, cash flow, employees, billing, and the normal business issues.
The welcoming interior of Taste of Havana already has us craving empanadas! Photo credit: Taste of Havana

What advice would you give others about how to start a business?

Bryant: Write everything down and keep a good record of all things that happen! Finances, receipts, and important names and numbers are all imperative to keep at hand. I would also suggest finding business advisors and people who are already well-versed in the world of business. They are incredibly helpful when you have questions or have reached any difficult obstacles in your path.

Smothers: If you’re starting a business, sit down and make a very good business plan. Always see what resources are out there to help you and don’t give up.

Nugent: First, be sure you choose something you love and are willing to devote the time and effort to make it work. If you are, don't let anyone talk you out of it. If you fall, get back up, dust yourself off, assess the situation, and figure out what happened. Then get back in there.

Anything else you'd like to share?

Lane: Beyond wanting my own business to succeed, I know that what I do is absolutely needed in my community and beyond. People deserve to feel important and worthy and beautiful without fitting into a specific box. I’m so lucky to help bring that to someone new every week.

Bryant: Running a business is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Stay strong, but don't overexert yourself. There is always tomorrow!

Bender: Owning my business has changed my life. Even though we have found many challenges, the rewards were there every step of the way. I hope a Cuban immigrant like myself can inspire someone else that anything is possible just work hard and all your dreams will come TRUE.

Thank you to these six small business owners for sharing their small business stories with us! Want to hear more small business stories from women around the Network? Meet more women small business owners in Part 1 and Part 2 of our series.