Business Lessons I Learned From Mom

By Jonathan McFadden
The Charlotte Observer.

Maybe she showed you how to deal with irate customers. Perhaps her work ethic inspired your own. Whatever the situation, this much is true: Mother knows best.

And as Mother’s Day approaches, we hear from five Charlotte-area entrepreneurs who have mom to thank for their business success and savvy. (Comments have been edited for clarity and brevity).

Marcea Wolf-CarterDo what you say you’ll do
Her mother, Marilyn Spellun, sold a diamond ring to buy eight typewriters to start a typing service in 1958.

Marcea says: She taught me how to talk on the phone. I have a picture of me sitting on her bed when I’m 9 and she’s sitting on her bed in a mink coat talking on the phone and I’m listening. It was like (my mother and her client) were sitting there.

There was no phone. There was no distance. If you’re going to be successful, you need to understand people’s humanity. She helped people. She understood them. She complimented them.

She didn’t keep you waiting long to hear her opinion. That’s one of the things I do in my consulting. If you ask my clients what they value, I’d think you’d hear from them that they value my straight talk.

She kept her word. If she said she was going to get something done, it got done. If you tell your client you’re going to get something done, then your word is your bond.

Wolf-Carter of Weddington is a partner and senior consultant with the Charlotte office of Mark Kamin & Associates, a global consulting firm.

Suzanne LaVecchiaYou have to love people
Dolores LaVecchia owns Piccolo Antique and Consignment Mall in downtown Belmont. Daughter Suzanne helps her mother run Piccolo, and watches how she works.

Suzanne says: You walk in and you see what all she’s displayed. She’s got the pizzazz that no one else does. She’s got quite a flair to her that you can’t learn in college. People come in just to say hello and talk to my mother.

If someone comes in and asks if you have this or that, it’s about accommodating the customer and following through. Just be yourself, and polite.

I know she loves what she does. She outworks any person times two. She puts in long hours because she loves it. When you put in 200 percent, you’re going to get back 200 percent.

I have a little bit of my mother in me for sure.

Mom says: If you own your own business, you have to be there 24/7. You have to genuinely love people because you have to talk to people all day long. You can never have a bad day.

Kahala GrierDon’t be a grouch
Her mother, Emma Curry, ran a beauty salon for 25 years until she retired last year.

Kahala says: She always taught me if I’m going to hire someone, make sure they know more than I do. She said don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something and hire someone else that does know. It’s only to going to help you.

Make sure you’re the person that’s taking your check to the bank. Never let someone else handle your money. Always watch what’s going on in your account. Never mix your business account with your personal (one).

She always tells me that customer service is a big thing. So if I’m in a bad mood or moody, I do not answer the phone.

Mom says: I would always tell her, ‘Look, you have to be nice to people … because they’re always right and you need that money.’ Honest to God, I had to go in the bathroom to pray before I did some people’s hair. Even if that person’s wrong, in your business, they’re always right.

Grier owns Ballantyne-based Top 5 Media Group, a branding company that works with small businesses.

Diane McGowanCollect money politely
Her mother, Florence Rogers, helped run a family business that makes springs and wire forms for garages and racks that store vegetables and bread.

Diane says: In the ’80s, there were cash shortfalls everywhere. So they would extend credit to some of their customers. Those customers would then take too long to pay them back. She was very polite and persistent in getting them to pay her back. If you have customers that aren’t perhaps paying you as quickly as they need to, be persistent in collecting money from them but be polite. You don’t have to be ugly.

McGowan runs Charlotte-based Xpertise Consulting, which works with family-owned businesses.

David ZimmermanHire the best people
Joan Zimmerman founded the consumer-show series Southern Shows Inc. in 1959.

David says: She taught me to hire good people and get out of their way. She’s not trying to micromanage what I’m doing, (so) I don’t do that to my managers. We’ve got 30 people and probably a good 10 or 12 of them have been with us 15 or more years. I think where it pays off is how people who enjoy that kind of management style stick around.

Mom says: Good people pay for themselves one thousand times over and they are the ones that help you grow. Initially, when you’re starting out, of course you have no money and no other resources. You tend to (hire) people who will work without a big paycheck. It’s a real mistake. It’s wasted money. Hire carefully and fire quickly. Always share praise publicly and keep your critiques private.

David Zimmerman is president of Southern Shows Inc.

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