Let me start out by wishing everyone a Happy International Women’s Day! We, at DKI, wanted to recognize and highlight the women that make Kenosha a destination. One of the first tasks assigned to us when Ashley and I came on board was with our Mainstreet US partners to identify female/minority businesses for future business program resources. After detailing this research we found that, of our 350 business partners, Downtown Kenosha is nearly 50% female driven business owners and leading operators. We are a recognized Mainstreet District for our diversity and success, which should be something to be truly proud of!
When I was assigned this article for DKI, my initial thought was that this would be an advertisement of a few of the many women ran businesses in Kenosha. I was picturing the layout as a directory style listing – categorizing each volunteered participant with a picture next to it and set interview questions that I could summarize. But as I started talking with these women I realized that each story and experience was so beautifully detailed and personal, that I would be doing a disservice of just highlighting a couple of minor details to fit on all one page. From these conversations, I was welcomed into rich histories of personal accomplishments, highlighting achievements and innovations in their product/services, and humbly underplaying their role as emerging women in business. And furthermore, from these talks, organic themes started to emerge – that these women shared many common threads of their experience, had strong personalities that helped them stand out against competition, and had the ability to connect in an authentic way with their clientele. I think all these qualities can be applauded and even emulated in our own lives for success.
Here are just a few of the reasons I think our Kenosha leading ladies stand out:
When asked what prompted many of these business ventures, one of the most common themes emerged was the consideration of the family dynamic. When talking with Judy Rossow, at the Copy Center, we chatted about the ease to live above the shop and how her kids just grew up around the machinery watching the process as part of their life. Judy started working at home after the birth of her son, where she established a business as a typist (something innovative at the time as well) and later her and her husband’s connections to the printing industry landed her in Kenosha. They have remained a staple since the ’70s. Her daughter Sharon has taken over many of the operations now. This second generation of business owners has learned so much and grown from the examples of their mothers. When talking with The Lettering Machine about the catalyst of second-generation business, Carolyn said that her mom’s vision was to start a business that could leave a family legacy which is in living action today. Tina made it sound simpler, stating that she wanted a place where her kids (along with the neighborhood kids) could come work and stay out of trouble. Duck Duck Goose came up with their business from the influence of trying to beat a world record for their son; Robins Nest Cakery was started because Robin’s daughter wanted to be a baker. These foundations are unique in the business world. But even if they were not started for this legacy directly, their children have played an integral part of their business dynamic. Shel’s Bridal posts pictures of her daughter modeling their dresses and proudly contributes her success to her family support. These cultivations of the family-run business are because of these women’s need to take on business while raising their children – in some ways a non-traditional approach that male-only driven businesses have not needed. They carved out a niche to fit their family dynamic and it has truly led to their long term success.
Power of Innovation
Another great aspect that drove the success of these businesses was the determination of constant innovation. Talking with Maureen about her accomplishments of Actor’s Craft, she attributes the success of her public speaking program, working with Fortune 500 companies and other business professionals, because she has been taught a very singular technique called the Chubbuck Technique. Sarai from Salon on Sixth was in the middle of a product testing for new innovative techniques called the American Wave – a new perming method in which she is was one of the only certified salons in Southeastern Wisconsin. Judy and Tina both described the ongoing training and keeping ahead of the curve in their machinery for the success of their staying power. Their flexibility and eagerness to continue evolving their business make them stand out against the competition. And while that is a necessary feature in any successful business, these women led initiatives to pave the way for better opportunities in the future. Judy wanted to see a better downtown so she resided as president of the BID when it was established in the ’80s. Shel from Shel’s Bridal wanted to see a place for female encouragement and self-confidence so she brought Miss Wisconsin to Kenosha. These women have become invested in being a stakeholder in their downtown.
Networking with Other Women
One final attribute (although I can go on and on really!) is that I noticed a strong presence of networking with other women in business. Each business I talked with name dropped completely unintentionally other female businesses or organizations they love to work with. Robin showed off her logo exclaiming “Jen Dooley is truly brilliant in this design, you should talk to her!” And Judy mentioned I should see all the work Sarai did on her building with her before and after photos…all encouraging the presence of these downtown women.
Whether it is signing up for our women’s networks downtown or utilizing female business opportunities through WWBIC and other orgs, or maybe getting invested in community action events through fundraisers, steering committees, or literally walking through other shops, all these female business owners excel with building networks to support each other. Also, if you are reading this Judy, please know you were instrumental in many others’ journeys. Sarai talked about how you were the liaison to her city and permitting navigations. Maureen boasted how you helped her get established in the community, and basically, everyone who wants to start a business in Downtown gets asked “have you talked to Judy, yet?”…because you know how to get things done. You have inspired many on their path to business ventures so thank you.
At this point, I would like to thank everyone that could spend just a bit of time out of their day to chat with me. From these interviews I have gained much more than what I can put down on paper. At the end of the day, you have highlighted yourselves as fascinating contributors to our downtown and inspired many! And while I could not do justice of each any every story you had to share, you have prompted us to dig deeper in highlighting each and every one of you for our business spotlights section in the future. Thank you again and hope you know you are leaving a great stamp in Kenosha!