Georgia Women Mean Business!

By Lindsey Adkison The Brunswick News, Ga.

A few years back, Pamela Taylor was a police officer serving in Haiti with the United Nations. But fate intervened. Before leaving for each trip, Taylor would pray and ask to be stopped if something bad would happen to her on the excursion.

One day, that happened. She was packed and ready to go but her superiors had her stay.

"And then the earthquake hit," Taylor said. "The Lord gave me this business."

After staying put, she decided to open her bakery, Pam Pam's in downtown Brusnwick. And her reasoning behind opening there was very simple.

"I grew up here and remember going to all of those great places in downtown when they were here -- the Sears, Pennys and all of those things," Taylor said.

"I always baked cupcakes for myself and gave them away. But I thought if can sell a cupcake for $3, maybe someone could give them to a friend who needed to be cheered up and help them make it through."

Taylor's sweet mission has succeeded and she's remained in business for several years.

She's part of a growing trend of female-owned businesses around the state. In fact, Georgia leads the country in the growth of women-owned companies, according to a new report by American Express OPEN, a payment card issuer for small businesses. The state also leads in share of businesses owned by African-Americans.

Georgia currently has an estimated 317,200 women-owned companies, up 118 percent since 1997, according to the 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.

Those companies employ 240,200 workers. Two-thirds of state's women-owned companies (202,400) are in metro Atlanta, which has seen a 63 percent increase since 1997.

The report, conducted by Womenable, a research firm, is based on projected business data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The study found that nationally, women are starting 1,288 net new businesses every day, double the rate from three years ago.

That's not to say it's easy. Many female owners find some gender-specific challenges.

"I would say that things going wrong is the biggest challenge. It's hard because, though I'm from here, I do not have a lot of family here. So it's hard when equipment breaks down," she said.

"And when I don't know exactly what's wrong, I have to get it fixed. You have to trust people to take care of you right." Across the street, Liz Slapikas is another female business owner who has her own set of challenges, albeit different.

She said the primary challenge of her business, At Take Too, an upscale consignment shop, is overcoming stereotypes associated with her industry.

"The greatest challenge with the furniture consignment business is changing the perception that many people have about it. Most of our items are brand new, whether they were used to stage a house or purchased and non-returnable," she said.

"We are very picky about the quality of items we choose to consign. Therefore, our turnover is often and our repeat customers come weekly."

Though she doesn't find her struggles connected specifically to her gender, Slapikas does lean on her family for support to overcome daily challenges.

"My challenges are not gender based or mine alone. I have supportive parents and an unyielding husband. My family consist of many moms and several dads, all who offer strong advice, backs and hugs," she said.

"Mostly I hear that I shouldn't be lifting this or moving that. The physical aspect of this business can be overwhelming. I'm sure it will haunt me one day. I believe the mental challenges are the same for any small family owned business these days. Get the goods, sell the goods, pay the bills and all with a smile. Then go home and order pizza."

Family is the key to many small businesses, whether they are owned by men or women. But for Beth Kicklighter-Hall and her mother, Mary Kicklighter, who jointly own Elizabeth Lee Makeup, as well as a teen-specific line called Channing, it's all about striking balance.

"Prayer, balance and red lipstick will fix anything," Beth Hall said. "We initially opened in 1989. We sold our products and services mostly to other hair salons, at large hair shows, and sold and used them in our salon in Brunswick -- Mary Kicklighter's Beauty Salon -- for pageants, proms, weddings and makeovers to enhance your bone structure. We officially opened our online store and website www.elizabethleemakeup.com on Sept. 1," she said.

When it comes to challenges in her beauty business, Hall and Kicklighter overcome by remaining focused and organized.

"My theory to overcoming any challenge is this: I pray a lot. I make it a priority to constantly continue educating myself in regards to the beauty industry and women. Technology is my friend and changes daily, so we must be ready for change. It comes when we least expect it," she said.

"When you have a firm foundation you can withstand the test of time. I try to keep my priorities in order. Then I have to practice what I preach. My belief in beauty is not only cosmetic. It's also honesty, integrity, knowing who you are and never compromising your convictions."

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