Census reports number of women business owners increasing

Katie Hilbert

Doris Brown likes being and acting like a lady, but that doesn’t imply that she doesn’t mean business.

Or know it for that matter.

Brown, a real estate agent for Cutler Real Estate, got involved with the business in 1964, when most agents were men.

“I was never not allowed to do something because I was a woman,” Brown said. “But you know, I was never one of the guys, either.”

Brown laughed and said she never wanted to be one of the guys, though.

“I always wanted to be a lady,” she said.

Brown also was the first female president of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce in 1982.

Years ago, Brown said it was more difficult for women to get financing if they wanted to start their own businesses. Today she said women are encouraged to start their own businesses. The world is more accepting now, she explained.

“(People) have recognized the strengths that women bring to situations,” she said.

Statistics indicate Brown might be right.

Between 1997 and 2002, the number of women-owned businesses increased 20 percent, which is twice the national average for all businesses, according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau last month.

Small businesses are becoming more prevalent, said Dan Smith, executive director of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce. He said this prevalence includes an increase in women entrepreneurs in Kent.

Getting started

Take Jennifer Melchiori-Chlad and Michelle Homula-Borrelli, for example. The two friends opened Trend Zone, a salon and spa service, about a year ago.

Originally, the salon was located in Streetsboro, but after about 10 months, they moved it to Kent because they weren’t happy with their location, Melchiori-Chlad said. The salon is now located at 715 N. Mantua St.

Melchiori-Chlad, who is a Kent State junior, explained that it was Homula-Borrelli’s idea to open the salon. Melchiori-Chlad said she is taking a year off to get the business going.

The aspiring 33-year-old business owners lucked out when they found the salon in Streetsboro, they said.

“We just kind of walked into it,” Homula-Borrelli said.

The previous owner was leaving, so they got to keep her clientele, and all they had to do was change the name and buy their own equipment, she said.

“It was pretty much a risk-free investment originally because of the fact that it was an existing salon,” Melchiori-Chlad said.

Moving to Kent brought a few challenges, though.

“Financially, it’s been a stretch,” Melchiori-Chlad said.

When they opened the salon in Kent, they had to do some cosmetic work to get it looking the way it does now, she said. Trend Zone now boasts brightly painted yellow, orange, green and red walls that create an energizing atmosphere.

“We didn’t just walk into the place looking nice,” Melchiori-Chlad said. “We had to throw a little bit of money into it.”

In addition to financing, knowing how to grow the business is another major challenge for women starting businesses, said Nancy Paul, president of the Columbus chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.

“Keeping your business sustainable is a challenge for anyone, man or woman, in today’s market,” she said.

The business of persevering

Pam Petrus knows about the challenges involved with keeping a business going. She is the CEO and president of DIVERSA Inc., an advertising, research and public relations agency – but it wasn’t always this way.

“I got started in this business because of my husband,” Petrus said.

Her husband was the president and CEO of the company, and she worked on the art end, she said.

But Petrus has been the president since 1992, after her husband died in an airplane crash.

“That really made it extremely challenging,” she said. “As it turned out, I had to switch roles because I didn’t want to just give the business up because it was something he and I had started. But it’s been a challenge, you know, being a woman in business, especially not having the support there,” she said of losing her husband.

Petrus also said she has noticed that sometimes men prefer dealing with men in the business world.

“I still think in this day and age there still is a difference between being a male or a female in business, especially when you’re dealing with large corporations,” she said.

Petrus has experienced this herself, she said. She recalled being at a presentation in a conference room with all men, and the company she wanted to do business with chose the company with the male representative, rather than DIVERSA. Sometimes men feel more secure and trust men more than they do women, she said.

Petrus said other challenges she faces while running her business include the current state of the economy in Ohio.

“You have to be really smart and use good judgment when it comes to cost-cutting,” she said.

Entrepreneurial advice

For those who have enticing entrepreneurial dreams, Paul suggests thoroughly researching the idea.

“I would say talk, ask, interview,” she said.

Talk to female business owners and male business owners, she said, to understand what is involved with getting a company off the ground and surviving during the first few years.

Put together an advisory board, which would consist of an attorney, a banker and a CPA, she said.

Petrus said she would give the following advice to women trying to start their own businesses: Learn from your mistakes, take pride in your work and keep a positive, progressive attitude.

“I think the best advice would be never to give up, to be strong,” she said.

She certainly has been.

Contact public affairs reporter Katie Hilbert at [email protected]