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Monday, September 07, 2009

What Not To Do - Or...

MotherandChildinArt

This year has been so discouraging that I have been thinking seriously about what options and resources are available for opening a small business.  Having been a small business owner in the past, I carry with me a bungalow of optimism when it comes to starting a business, however, I know how much energy, time, and effort goes into the building, creating, and financing of a business as well.  It's a lot of work - and that's an understatement.

When I was in my early 20s and a single mother with 2 little girls, I started "Real Estate Services of South Florida."  I had worked as a legal secretary for a number of years and found myself specializing in Real Estate settlements.  I did such a great job of preparing documents, making calls, and organizing the process that other attorneys in the area who came to the law firm that I worked for asked me if I would help them with their settlements or train their legal secretary to do what I was doing.  And so, to make a little extra cash on the side, that is what I did for about 2 years, and then my life moved on to other things and in a completely different direction, but it was a great experience.

I was a dreamer in my 20s - in a big way.  My mind was always giving me new ideas and creative ways to change and grow, sometimes to my detriment, and other times to my success.  I flipped-flopped around a lot.  Not necessarily a good thing. 

While I had my real estate services business, and was raising 2 baby girls, I was also going to college.  And every other week I was getting my nails done, and back in the 80s that was a new and exciting business.  Nail salons were not something you find on every street corner like today, and incredibly, it cost more to get your nails done in the 80s than it does now!  Still, I was getting my nails done and thought "This sure would be a fun business." And, so, I started to ask questions and I got to know the owner of the salon I went to every other week. 

I moved back to Maryland (where I am from) from South Florida where I had been living for 5 years with my girls.  I love Maryland, although it is more expensive to live there than South Florida.  Still, I moved back to be with someone I had loved and dated back when I was in high school and to start a new life with my girls.  When I got there, the first thing I noticed was that there were no nail salons - anywhere.  So, you can imagine what big ideas started to circle through my brain.

So, with money from my guy (who is still a dear friend), my piddly savings, and a small bank loan, we, together, opened a nail salon in Olney, Maryland.  We called it "Armonds Nail Salon."  It was our first attempt at a brick & mortar retail / services business.  It was exhausting, but - and this is a big "but" - it was profitable, and in a very short time.  That is because as I said earlier, there were no nail salons.  My salon was the first nail salon in Montgomery County, Maryland and I had business coming out of the woodwork.  It wasn't long before we were turning a profit, so much so that Mike, my Naval Academy guy and Kathleen's daddy, quit his job and joined me in growing the business.  That turned out to be the death of our relationship.

CassattBreakfastinBed

We worked 14-16 hour days 6 days a week, and on our day off we cleaned the salon.  It became all consuming to the point that it affected the lives of my girls, my health, and our relationship.  Women were constantly flirting with Mike and I was upset.  Actually, I was an emotional, hormonal basketcase back then.  It wasn't fun.  Our salon was gorgeous, and Mike and I were both very proud of it, but it destroyed "us" and nearly buried me.  Was it worth it?  Well, no.  Not really.  Hindsight is 20/20.  There was no "balance" and I have learned over the years that we all need "balance" in everything we do.  Without balance, something is bound to suffer - whether it be the laundry or something more important like family - something will suffer.  I still struggle with finding the right balance in my life for all the things I do, and many days I fail at it miserably, but I try.  Back in the 80s I didn't have a clue what balance was all about and pretty much lived each day by the seat of my pants.  Let's just say I was "wingin it" most of the time.

Without getting into the ugly details, I will tell you this - I left Maryland, left Mike, and took the salon with me lock, stock, and barrell - to Florida, where I then promptly opened a new salon "Altesse Nails" (Altesse I think is French for a strong woman or something like that). Anyway,  I opened my new salon, with the help of my mother, in Boca Raton, Florida.  To decorate the walls, and instead of purchasing ridiculously expensive framed prints from Ethan Allen which is what Mike and I had done in Maryland, I purchased some large canvas, oil paints, medium, brushes, and an easel, and whipped me up some paintings to cover my walls.

Altesse Nails was beautiful (of course it was, because I have good taste), but although I must admit I ran a better business, was more balanced, and was better able to get a grip on reality and on the basics of business management, I still struggled.  By the time I opened Altesse Nails I was 29 years old with a 10 year old daughter and an 8 year old daughter.  I had painted about 20 canvases in 2 months and sold every one of them for profit.  So, somewhere in South Florida, my oil paintings are floating around.  Or maybe not.  Although they sold quickly, I tend to think they must have been crappy.  I knew nothing about oil painting and whipped up abstract stuff that complimented the colors in the salon.  No rhyme or reason to my paintings.  I didn't photograph them (wish I had) but I did sign them (Susan Smith).  Anybody out there have an abstract oil painting from Susan Smith? It is probably mine. I kept having to paint to keep my walls covered.

What killed that business was a nasty custody battle that ensued for the next 3 years.  As a result, I sold my business to pay my attorney's fees, and returned to college, majoring in International business and law.  See how my life came full circle?

MaryCassatt

Let's see if I can sum it up - up to that point anyway ...

Art (childhood stuff)
Child (Kathleen) - that's what you call putting the cart before the horse.
Marriage
Child (Kim)
The Big "D"
Law (legal secretary)
Small Business (Real Estate Services of South Florida)
College (Law studies) (cart before the horse again)
Marriage
Small Business (Armond's Nail Salon)
The Big "D"
Small Business (Altesse Nails)
Art
College (Law studies)

It's amazing I still had my wits about me (I think I did anyway) although I was ready to kick someone's ass back then I did manage to maintain a 4.0 gpa with a full college load of courses and was accepted into Mensa.  That was my way of convincing myself that I was smart I think.  I'm still a proud member of Mensa and still trying to convince myself that there really is something to IQ.  I am 142 thank you very much.  Whatever that means.  What does that really mean anyway? 

Still, I sold Altesse Nails, Mike moved the Maryland salon to bigger and better things (and location) and we spent a couple of years getting past the mess we had made of our lives and our relationship. 

Things were looking up - finally - and believe it or not, that is when I decided to concentrate fully on finishing my college career and becoming a lawyer.  I was living with my mother and doing well.  Not settled mind you, but doing better anyway - between wrestling matches with my first husband and custody battles.

I continued to paint while going to college and even sold a few more paintings.  Somewhere in-between all the chaos, I bought a Harley (Oh, I remember now, that was after I sold my salon in Florida), and that became my main transportation back and forth from college.  I think it was at that time that I had an epiphany - that my harley made me feel strong, sexy, crazy, and in control - all at the same time.  No wonder I enjoyed that machine.  I was also over "men" and decided that I would rather throw my leg over that bike than over a man any day.  - I know, bad humor.  Bear with me.  My life does get better believe it or not.

This reminiscing is kinda fun! ha - - - ho - - - hum.

Mike and I decided to give it the ol' college try again.  He had changed (or so he said) and I had grown (or so I thought).  So, I transferred to Georgetown University and moved back to Maryland, got a job at a law firm as a paralegal, and worked in our old salon with Mike - again.  Kathleen was a teenager and wanted to stay in Florida with all her friends.  Kimberly was back and forth with her father and me.

You'd think I would have learned the first time wouldn't ya?

Anyway, I worked and went to school and things began to deteriorate again from there.  So, I moved to my own place, continued to go to school, and got a job in another salon across town.  Mike and I were still friends though - somehow - someway - we survived another carnage.

8 months later I get notification of my 15 yr. high school reunion.  Mike didn't want to go so I went with a girlfriend and her husband.  Upon entering I run head long into Bobby Vaughn who was an acquaintance in high school.  Friendly (as always) he asked me a few "lead" questions:

Are you living here now? (Yes)

Are you still married? (No)

You want to go to dinner? (Uh .... Sure, why not)

We had a blast, and 6 weeks later, in another "Susan style" we got married.  Only, this time, it has lasted 17 years and will last a lifetime.  He's my Big Bear! 

We had 2 wonderful children whom you know about here in all their glory and then my mother moved in with us.  Then we inherited the joys of our grandson too when he was just 2 weeks old.  Then Bob's parents moved in with us for 4 years.  Then a lot happened in between and we moved to North Carolina and believe it or not, MIke and I are still friends.  I think. 

Somewhere in that time I finished college, became an artist, ticked off my 2 oldest daughters, and went very gray. 

Here I sit. 

So, I'm thinkin' (sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes that's a bad thing) and I'm-a-sittin' and I'm-a-thinkin' that I'd like to open an art gallery.  One that would have a player baby grand piano and beautiful artwork (to start mine and Alison's), and a working studio on the side with lots of windows, that member artists could rent and use for workshops or just for painting.  Oh, and a little cafe too with pastries and coffee and tea and soda and hot cocoa too.  And there'd be music and fine art and artists and friends and relaxation and all the world would be good.

Or not.

But I'm thinkin' here and the last year has been terribly discouraging economically and, well, unemployment doesn't last forever.

So, should I start a new brick & mortar business?  Do I dare? I think it would be different this time.  A lot different.  And, I think it would be successful too.  But then again, I'm an optimist and a dreamer.  Most artists are to some degree.  And that's why I started writing this dang post in the first place - to be a discussion of opening a small business.  How on earth did I end up here?  Hell if I know.

Now that you've read my life story, you can leave now.  Probably never come back.  This has probably been more than you bargained for.  I'm chronicling these things so that in the event I keel over - for good - that at least I wrote it down somewhere so my children will know what "not" to do in their lifetime.

And, if I can find the pictures that chronicle this 50 year roller coaster, I'll add them to this post - bit by bit.

SusieQSignature


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