My biggest challenge was probably finding direction — figuring out how to get a business started with limited funds while being family friendly. I felt trapped because I kept running into walls. That’s what I did, and when opportunity eventually came, I jumped. I took the bull by the horns and kept pushing forward.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was born and raised in Chattanooga, TN. I met my future husband — Brian — at a John Cougar Mellencamp concert during high school in 1986. We went to college together at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, and got married after he graduated (he’s a couple years older).
Before I knew it, we were moving to Mississippi for Brian’s work, and only 12 weeks later, we were shipped to Baton Rouge. I enrolled at LSU to finish my degree, changing majors several times along the way, but soon found out I was expecting our first of three boys.
For years I was a stay-at-home mom as we moved all over the Southeast for Brian’s work — Meridian, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Montgomery, and Ft. Lauderdale. Thankfully, he was promoted each time we moved, but we still couldn’t afford childcare.
I always knew I wanted more. As long as I can remember I wanted to run my own business, but I also felt guilty that being a mom wasn’t enough for me.
I tried so many businesses! I created organic “Biscotti Bones” dog treats, which were apparently 20 years ahead of their time. I threw Mary Kay parties. I sold Christmas ornaments door-to-door in our neighborhood (just so we could afford Christmas that year). I created a business plan and went through all the steps to open a coffee shop and cafe, but in the end we just didn’t have the funds to do it.
That was a recurring theme for us. Brian would work six or seven days a week and I took care of the kids so we could make ends meet. I barely saw him and it felt like we were never getting ahead.
After about eight years of this, I told Brian I’d had enough — not of him, but of that life and always yearning for more. I told him, “I’m putting the house up for sale, the boys and I are moving back home (to Chattanooga), and I hope you can get there quickly after us.”
He did, a couple of months later. When I got back home I started what would become our first successful venture — Educational Outfitters. I sold my car to buy supplies and started selling school uniforms and dress code apparel out of our garage. This was 1999. The first year went well enough that we were able to open our first retail location (I still pass it on the way to our Text Request office).
After a couple years, Brian was able to quit his other work and focus solely on Educational Outfitters. He opened our second location in Knoxville, and a few years later we started Educational Outfitters Franchising, which now has about 40 locations across the U.S.
There were a couple of other venture attempts along the way, and we launched Text Request — a business text messaging software — in 2014, but I never stopped being a full-time mom. One of the challenges of entrepreneurship is figuring out how to make all of that work, so I did.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’ve got one for Educational Outfitters and one for Text Request.
We used to work very long hours with Educational Outfitters. One summer evening we were at the store with our children, and I heard this odd sound at the front door. It couldn’t be our kids — they were playing in the back room. What was it?
I walked up front to see there was a pig! Yes, a pig was in our parking lot trying to get in. I couldn’t tell you why it was there or who owned it. It was the funniest thing.
Now for the Text Request one. We were meeting with a local venture fund to talk about Text Request. Brian, Rob and I (the three co-founders) showed up 20 minutes early. The secretary showed us to a room and said they’d come get us when they were ready.
Half an hour after our scheduled meeting time, the three of us were staring at each other thinking, “They’re either late or they really like the people they’re meeting with.” After an hour I went to the front desk to find out.
The secretary looked like a deer in headlights — I knew something wasn’t right. Then, the head of the venture group came in and scolded us for being late! Are you kidding me? Needless to say they didn’t invest. Thank God.
What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was probably finding direction — figuring out how to get a business started with limited funds while being family friendly. I felt trapped because I kept running into walls. Brian would often say, “It will work out one day. Stay open minded and keep an eye out for opportunities.” That’s what I did, and when opportunity eventually came, I jumped. I took the bull by the horns and kept pushing forward. Our family was determined to make it work. Even our kids took great pride in our first business!
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
I like to think I lead by example. Great leadership to me involves a lot of integrity, trust, work ethic, and compassion. I try to live by those traits whether I’m in the office or at home.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I will forever be grateful to my husband and business partner, Brian. There’s a reason I talk about him throughout this interview. He has always believed in me — even when I wasn’t so sure of myself — and has supported my ideas, dreams, and ambitions every step of the way.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?
Sure, it’s been difficult. But when you want it and love it, you find a way to make it work. I’ve had a great support system, too. Family has always been willing to pitch in with picking up our children, helping them with school, and more. One way to make it work is to recognize when you need help and to ask for it when you do. That’s something I’ve done well.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?
Absolutely! As a working mom, I always feel guilty if I miss a field trip or lose mom/son time. I also have elderly parents, and I’m the only one in our family able to care for them when it’s needed. That brings its own challenges and guilt, but my dad makes me feel better. He always says, “Don’t worry about me. Go get it while you can!”
Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride?
My greatest sense of pride will always reside in my family. They complete me. However, our business and the people in it are family, too. It is so rewarding to see each and every one on the team thrive in their areas. That’s what makes Text Request the company it is today.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
For all the many stay-at-home moms, you can do anything you set your mind to. Being a stay-at-home mom is important, and challenging, and rewarding. But many times we want more. We want to grow our own ideas and skill sets, or we want to contribute financially.
You don’t need a degree or lots of capital, and you don’t need to feel guilty about wanting different things (even though it can be difficult not to). You need an idea, determination, and perseverance. That’s the idea (the movement) I’d want to inspire.
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?
Text Request social media: