Women overcome business challenges
Thunder Bay, Ont. — The Westfort business area has seen a growing number of successful new companies started by women entrepreneurs, yet arriving at success meant navigating through an array of hurdles.
Erika Maki, owner of A Spa For You, didn’t let any challenges stand in the way of creating the beauty oasis that she has run for 20 years.
“When I entered the beauty industry as a woman, I found that there weren’t a lot of women business owners and men didn’t take me seriously,” she said. “For instance, women needed a lot more collateral just because they’re a woman in business, (particularly) in the beauty business.”
Newcomer Jessica Stolz, owner of Dough Bagel Co., opened her bakery in November of last year and agrees with Maki.
“I do feel like misogyny in general is still present, especially in business,” she said. “I did feel as a woman that maybe I wasn’t taken as seriously sometimes or that I was talked down to (at times). When my dad would come to meetings with me, they would be talking to him instead of me not realizing that I was the owner. I just felt like I had to make my presence a bit more known as a woman working with mostly men to get things sorted here.”
Kendall Williams and her business partner Melissa McClement are also newcomers to the Westfort business scene, opening Lewk Clothing Inclusive Women’s Fashion in November as well. The pair met while working at the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre helping other people start and grow their businesses. For the two, their hurdles came from another direction.
“Our challenges are more about balancing life and starting a new business and how much time and commitment it takes,” Williams said.
“We had an idea of what starting a business looks like . . . yet we still ran into challenges like finding retail brands that we could sell and figuring out the logistics of starting a business. We had a bit of insight knowledge that helped us through it. We had financing figured out and there weren’t as many unknowns.”
Behind the success of these three businesses, the women credit family and community support, business knowledge, partnerships and a little thinking outside the box.
“I’ve been able to align myself with not-for-profit organizations and show my own credibility and I’ve established some great relations and networking,” Maki said. “I have to say that probably the strongest marketing that I’ve ever done throughout the years is aligning myself with others who are doing similar things. You have to find your tribe and work with the people who are trying to make a difference in the world.”
Williams emphasized how fortunate they have been with support from their families, especially with both of their mothers helping out at the store.
“We haven’t hired our first official employee yet, but we’ve been very lucky with family filling in that role,” she said. “We’ve been blown away by the supportive women in the community that come in, made it so much fun and reassured us of why we did this. We built so many new relationships and got to know our customers.”
Williams added having good support around and people to encourage you is important to the new business owner.
Meanwhile, Stolz, who is no stranger to bagel production, brought her knowledge into her own business, which she credits to helping her sustain Dough Bagel Co.
“The fact that I used to work at the old shop and knowing the ins and outs of how to already operate the store was a huge leverage for me,” she said. "Also important is having a team behind me that has the same kind of vision as me and wants to see the store exceed. They all work together really well to achieve the common goal of making a successful bagel shop with quality products.”
Stolz, who works 12- to 18hour days, says time is another factor that is necessary for success. “Basically, this is my life,” she said. "I’ve put my heart and soul into this project.”
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal