With National Women’s Small Business Month coming to a close today, I have enjoyed hearing stories of successful women and the impact of their businesses. One of these stories is of small business owner Jude Hooper, who had a friend once casually describe her as a “pit bull in lipstick.” At the time, she wasn’t quite sure how to take it.
Eventually, she realized it was both a compliment and a revelation. This friend saw something that Hooper herself had not yet understood: she possessed a fierce tenacity—a quality that just happened to remind her friend of a pit bull.
Hooper’s never-give-up attitude motivated her to always fight back during difficult times, to build a successful business around her passion, and to thrive as a woman in a predominantly male industry.
Learn wherever you are; and never stop believing in yourself and others.
There was nothing conventional about Hooper’s path to small business ownership. She doesn’t have a business degree, and in place of internships she worked part-time jobs. But she capitalized on every experience—both good and bad—and used them as an opportunity to grow. She learned customer service working as a bra fitter and gained management skills as an activities director for senior citizens. Understanding the value of hard work helped motivate Hooper to follow her dreams.
Although she was gleaning valuable lessons in the school of hard knocks, Hooper’s path was not one to financial success. Personal setbacks and a divorce left her as a single mom on the brink of homelessness. During this time she never lost that pit bull tenacity. Perhaps more importantly, she never lost her ability to believe in herself and those around her.
“We are a rags-to-wearing-better-rags kind of story,” Hooper said of her journey. “Every decision that I made was out of faith in someone’s ability and laying everything that I had on the line—including … my dreams for a better future.
Whatever you choose to do, be passionate about it.
In 2014, at the age of 54, Hooper cashed in her 401k to found Furniture Fixology, LLC., a company specializing in furniture repair, refinishing, antique restoration, and leather restoration. Her husband and stepson brought four generations of experience in the industry, and together they cultivated a passion for the artistic diversity of furniture.
Located in McKinney, Texas, Furniture Fixology’s demographic is typically adult women who want to restore a family heirloom, fix a saggy seat, or repair damage from a move. Hooper has bootstrapped her business from the initial $10,000 she withdrew from her 401K. Whatever she didn’t know—from web design, to accounting, to marketing—she learned how to do herself through Google and YouTube.
As the lead salesperson, Hooper is eager to share her love for preserving family memories. Although many of her clients are surprised to discover a woman on the other end of the line, her comprehensive knowledge and eagerness to save furniture quickly convinces them.
“There is nothing better in the world than breathing new life back into a 100-year-old piano,” Hooper said,“ or fixing a haunted murphy bed from the 1600s, or restoring a desk whose owner’s grandmother was directly involved in the Warren Commission.”
Similar to other small business owners, there are challenges ahead for Furniture Fixology. Hooper worries that significant growth and increased demand could create a shortage of expert craftsmen in an industry where there are never enough to begin with.
Hooper is confident in a future full of saggy seats, dog-chewed tables, and scuffed sideboards. “Every heirloom has its own song,” said Hooper, and she is determined to help it sing.
“You don’t belong in my world, little lady.”
Being a woman in a predominately male industry presents some challenges, but Hooper also believes it lets her add a softer touch to something considered a dirty job. Like bringing a little levity to the hardware store when asking the older guy where to find the chemicals, paint strippers, and refinishing supplies.
“I know … he is thinking, ‘you don’t belong in my world, little lady,’” Hooper explained. “[I try] to get the old guy … to lighten up and smile.”
Although she does have to overcome occasional biases, Hooper found the biggest challenge she faced as a woman owning a small business was in simply getting out of her own way. Once she refused to let society dictate what she should be interested in doing, Hooper could become an expert in anything she wanted: like refinishing antique furniture.
“My best nickel’s worth of advice for the next generation of young female entrepreneurs is to just keep moving forward,” she said. “[Keep] dancing over every obstacle and make it an opportunity to grow.”
There are many different paths to success, but Hooper’s passion, her determination, and her desire to always keep learning are core values that would benefit every small business owner. Anyone considering the path to entrepreneurship would do well to emulate the “pit bull in lipstick.”
Brock Blake: Founder / CEO of Lendio, the nation's #1 marketplace for small business loans. You can reach Brock on Twitter at @brockblake or at www.lendio.com.