Local women share what it’s like to open and run a small business—and how they balance it with everything else.
You know them. You admire them. You might even be one of them. The women who balance their entrepreneurial goals with the many other hats they wear—wife, mother, sister, friend, volunteer—are inspiring, to say the least. In Hoover, some of the most unique businesses are owned and operated by women. Women from different backgrounds, ages and stages make up part of the economic engine of the city, just like their counterparts in other areas of the country. According to a study by Guidant Financial and Lending Club, four of every 10 U.S. businesses are owned by women, with female-led businesses having grown 58 percent from 2007 to 2018. Businesses owned by women generate $3.1 trillion in revenue.
The statistics are impressive, but balancing business and family life takes work, passion and devotion for anyone. Of the many, we would like to share the stories of a few of these women who are impacting Hoover through business—and how they balance business and life beautifully.
• • •
Angela Johnston and Kandice Pearson
Steel City Speech Therapists
Teaming up in business does not always involve a physical building. Angela Johnston and Kandice Pearson launched their unique speech-language therapy practice, Steel City Speech, last year to serve Hoover and the greater Birmingham-metro area.
Angela and Kandice are speech-language pathologists who worked several years in area schools. Due to high caseloads and increasing responsibilities, they felt they were not able to adequately serve their students in the best way possible. “We wanted to be able to provide personal, one-on-one services in our clients’ homes and individualize therapy to meet their needs,” Kandice says. “Opening a private practice has given us the opportunity to do just that.”
Steel City Speech provides therapy for children with communication needs – including late talkers, a child with a speech sound disorder, a child with autism, a child with a language disorder or a child who stutters. “Instead of serving our families from a clinic, we go to the child’s home. We believe that children work best in their natural environment, and we like to involve the parents in treatment. We believe outcomes are better and carryover is better when therapy is in the child’s home,” Angela says.
Each day is different when you are a speech pathologist. Even though their work takes them to clients’ houses for treatment, the work sometimes continues at home. The days they are at home with their own kids, the women say they try to be fully focused on them, but they might do some paperwork or planning during naptime or after bedtime.
“During our appointments, we spend our time working on each client’s unique goals. This may look like play-based therapy, repetition of sounds we’re working on or practicing social skills. Another important part of each session is educating parents on strategies to use in the home and discussing their concerns or insights. In between appointments, we complete session notes on each client and do any other paperwork that needs to be done. And then it’s off to pick our kids back up,” Angela explains.
As most business owners say, the flexibility that comes with being your own boss is a plus and the Steel City Speech ladies agree. “We both have young children, and we really want to be present in their lives. We still spend some days at home just being a mom, and we spend some days working! It’s the best of both worlds, and we’re able to do that because we set our own schedules.”
For them, managing the business along with everything else in life has centered around drawing distinct boundaries between work and their personal lives. They often find that there are not cut and dried work times or family time. Preparing for client sessions and paperwork often bleeds over into whatever time they have available, whether that is in the evening after the children are in bed or on the weekends. “We learned early in the business that if we’re not intentional with our time, the business can quickly monopolize what time we do have,” Angela says. “Now, we try our best to block off specific time to work during the week so we can be fully present in things that matter to us – family, church and time with friends.”
Although it has its advantages, owning a business also has challenges. “You have to learn through trial and error, and we sometimes pay for those mistakes,” Angela says. “In the beginning, starting up took a lot of time and energy, and while our families have always been supportive, it took sacrifice to take the risks that come with a new business.” In June, Amanda Bell joined the Steel City Speech team as they continue to help children across Hoover and Birmingham find their voice.
• • •
Owner of Dear Prudence
Prudence started her business in 2012 and has grown it to four stores – two in Michigan and two in Alabama. Pru, as she is known to her friends, lives in Hoover and wanted her first Alabama store to be close to her home. “We opened our Hoover store last year and our Homewood store in March. I always loved fashion, and it was a dream to have my own shop since I worked retail as a teen.”
Family and health brought Prudence’s business dreams to reality. “It was always on the back burner until I found out I had uterine cancer in 2011,” she says. “My husband said as soon as I got better I was going to make my store Dear Prudence a reality. With his support and encouragement, we opened in June of 2012.”
The shop, Dear Prudence, specializes in helping customers put outfits together to look their best. “It’s like having your own personal stylist,” Prudence says. “All of our products are on trend and reasonably priced. You don’t have to go broke to look cute. We have something for everyone and get a thrill out of making each customer feel special.”
Being a business owner brings a new and different experience each day, she says. “I love that I get to be the buyer, help customers, work with staff, even scrub the toilet. Every day is different, and that is my favorite thing about owning my own business.”
She admits managing a business and family life is never dull, and owning your own business can be consuming. Pru describes her calendar as looking like the “apocalypse,” but also says it is fun. “I am lucky to have amazing people working with me. They keep me straight. I have learned to make time for events to give myself a break.”
Much pressure comes with owning a business, Prudence says, and it’s not for the faint of heart. “There are huge ups and downs. Every decision comes back to you. Some days I am a rock star; other days I can barely tie my shoes.”
To keep her day flowing, Prudence gets up at 6 a.m. and checks her email. Then, she walks the dog and gets her daughter off to school. “I check in with the Michigan stores early because they are an hour ahead of us in Alabama,” she adds. “Then I head to whichever local store needs me for the day. I like to spend as much time working with customers as possible.”
The rest of the day is checking on new product, steaming and tagging, among a host of other things like fielding calls from vendors. “I usually try to leave around 4 p.m. if I am not the closer; then, I can be home with my family. We usually make dinner and then have some chill time before bed.”
• • •
Owner of Hoover Hometown Pharmacy
Growing up, Whitney had a love for pharmacy. Her dad struggled with back issues, so her family frequented their local pharmacy. “I became very intrigued by what they were doing behind that tall counter, and they were always so kind,” she says. “When high school came along, I knew I wanted to get a job at that same local pharmacy. I did and instantly fell in love with the job and the atmosphere and the patients.”
After college, Whitney searched the Birmingham area for the perfect place to open an independent pharmacy, and she fell in love with Hoover. She opened Hoover Hometown Pharmacy on John Hawkins Parkway in August 2016. “I am from a smaller town and Hoover to me feels like a close-knit community with the amenities of a big city,” she says. “Thankfully it’s been a wonderful choice, and we are so glad to not only have a business here, but to live here as well.”
In Whitney’s case, her business is something she and her husband, Ben, both understand and appreciate. “My husband and I are both pharmacists, so we have to be careful to not talk about pharmacy all the time,” she says, laughing. “But I feel like we have a good balance.”
Catering to patients’ specific needs is also a benefit Whitney doesn’t take for granted. “I get to help my patients even more because I can make my own decisions. If they need a certain product, more than likely I’m going to find a way to get it for them. Owning my own business has also opened so many doors to help me meet so many new people who have become great friends. It’s truly a blessing to be able to serve the Hoover community, and I’m thankful for it every day.”
The pharmacy offers a variety of specialty services and perks, including a drive-thru window, free delivery, free coffee, adherence packaging, flavoring for children’s antibiotics, vaccines (including flu, shingles, pneumonia, TDAP, travel vaccines) and B-12 shots. “We also offer a gift section full of locally made gifts,” she says. “We love supporting other small business owners by selling their products in our gift section.”
Balancing a business and home life is challenging, but Whitney says time spent with Ben and in faith is key. “I like to work out with my husband in the morning a few days a week,” she says, “Then start the day with breakfast and a devotion. I then go into the pharmacy around 9 and work until 6. Sometimes I will have someone fill in so I can go to an event to market for the pharmacy or go visit doctors’ offices.”
On many nights after work, Ben cooks dinner for them. They also save certain nights for friends and fellowship. “On Tuesday nights we host a game night small group through our church, and on Sunday nights we host a group of Samford students for dinner and a devotion,” she says. “These are some of our favorite nights, connecting with other believers and also investing in students.”
• • •
Owner of Gameday in Style Boutique
Originally from the island of Cyprus, Sylvia Gonda found her way to the United States by way of a college education. “My father, who was an educator himself, insisted that both my sister and I receive a college degree. I flew over 6,000 miles away from my family on my own at the age of 18 to the United States to attend college in upstate New York on a Fulbright Scholarship,” she says. “Since Cyprus has been through many wars, its people lost everything many times, including my family. My father felt that nobody can take an education away from you, and my mother believed that we should also have a personal skill and so she taught me how to sew. Both my parents taught us that everything was within reach if we worked hard at it.”
Sylvia earned her bachelor’s degree in organic chemistry, and earned a full scholarship to graduate school in organic chemistry at Johns Hopkins University. She worked in cancer research for a number of years in the Washington, D.C. area, where she met her husband. After the Gondas’ two children were born, Sylvia decided to stay home while they were growing up. “I always loved fashion and admired how Parisian women always looked so put together, even on a budget,” she says. “I learned early on to accessorize outfits and got the knack on making outfits look different and unique.”
With her sewing skills and all the time in the world, Sylvia started to make dresses for her daughter to wear to college football games. Her sorority sisters constantly asked her where she got the clothes. Such interest played a role in Sylvia’s decision to start Gameday in Style after her daughter returned from college in July 2014. Demand grew, and with both her children grown, Sylvia was at a point in her life where she wanted to do something fun and be her own boss. “Testing the waters with the gameday dresses, I felt excited and ready to launch it as a business. Fashion was a perfect fit for me and provided me with the opportunity to do something where I can dictate the time spent at work and home, instead of going back to a lab, where I did not have that flexibility.”
Sylvia personally selects everything that comes into her store. At first, she carried clothing mostly in team colors, but as the store’s popularity grew, she added boutique clothing. “I wanted to have clothes not only from American designers, but I also wanted to offer my customers European fashions in all sizes.”
Accessories are an integral part of an ensemble, too. “The right accessories are what makes an outfit stand out,” Sylvia says. “Our store has one of the largest selections of handmade jewelry from artisans that I personally have selected from all over the world.”
With many of her family members living abroad, Sylvia says owning her own business has allowed her to combine business with pleasure. “When I travel to markets in the States, my husband usually joins me, and we make it a fun experience. I value his opinion, and we get to spend time together. When I travel abroad to Europe, I always go to London first to visit with my sister. We go together to the European markets to select clothing and accessories that are unique to my store and cannot be found anywhere else.”
• • •
Shelly Binder and Kerry Rickman
Hoover Shipping and Trade and Post Owners
Hoover Shipping, as it was previously known, had been around for about 20 years before Shelly Binder bought the business in 2013, and Kerry Rickman bought into the business in 2017. Now known as Hoover Shipping Trade and Post, the facility is one of the only shipping businesses in the area to be grandfathered into having UPS and FedEx at the same location. “The business model was intriguing,” Kerry says. “We are fortunate to be able to offer the services of UPS, FedEx, as well as the postal service all in one location. This allows our customers choices in delivery time and pricing for their packages. Offering gift items and unique cards helps us cater to customers who want to add ‘a little something extra’ to a package they are shipping.”
Owning their own business was something that both ladies set out to accomplish. “We are not only business partners but also good friends,” Kerry says. “We have each other’s back. There is flexibility with our schedule because there are two of us. If one of us is out of town, the other takes on the responsibility of the store. We try to work scheduling and day-to-day paperwork around the needs of our families when possible.”
Hoover Shipping Trade and Post is a unique shipping business. Most likely when you step through the door, a shipping business is not what comes to mind. The boutique-style shop offers gift items, clothing, jewelry, cards, local merchandise and more. “Having gift items helps us cater to customers who want to add a ’little something extra’ to a package they are shipping,” Kerry says. “We also offer the services of UPS, FedEx and the postal service all in one location,” Shelly adds. “This allows our customers’ choices in delivery time and pricing for their packages.”
Kerry and Shelly have a full schedule, but they both work to balance the challenges of owning a business and family time. “Finding the perfect work-life balance is probably the biggest challenge for us,” Kerry says. “Shelly has two children and I have three. They are all involved in sports, community activities and active in their schools. It is a continuous challenge to manage schedules with the needs of the business.” But, as Kerry said, they have each other’s backs.