By Keith Lawrence
Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.
Kandi Stephens decided to start her own business — The Scrub Shoppe — in 2009 at the tail end of the Great Recession.
A lot of businesses started that year didn’t make it.
But Stephens’ did.
And earlier this month, The Scrub Shoppe was named Small Business of the Year in the 1 to 10 employee category by the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Stephens said. “I’m getting more attention than I expected.”
She had worked in a scrub shop before and saw a need she thought she could fill, Stephens said.
“There are a lot of medical employees in town,” she said. “We sell scrubs, lab coats, shoes, support socks, personalized embroidery, stethoscopes, watches, blood pressure cuffs and more.”
Stephens said, “I stayed home with my children until the youngest started kindergarten and then I worked here, there and yonder until I decided to start my own business.”
She said she’s been surrounded by entrepreneurs for years.
“My son, my father and my brother all own their own businesses,” Stephens said. “We’re not afraid to take a risk.”
And she said several members of her graduating class — Daviess County High Class of ’79 — also own their own businesses.
Stephens started her business in a 1,100-square-foot building on Yale Place near the Roosevelt House.
Last year, she moved into 3,300-square-feet in Towne Square North.
“When I moved in, I couldn’t imagine what I’d do with this much space,” Stephens said. “Now, it’s almost full. We have five employees now. Until May, it was just me and one employee. I hire a lot of students and work around their schedules.”
“Kandi Stephens personifies the small business success story,” Candance Castlen Brake, chamber president, said last week.
“She started with a dream and an 1,100 square-foot-store and she embroidered herself at her home from the time she closed her business every night at 6 p.m. to well beyond midnight,” Brake said. “She has tripled the size of her business in just six years and she has adapted, added and expanded. Her work ethic, her dedication to her customers and employees and her keen intuition for new ways of doing these have been building blocks for Scrub Shoppe’s success.”
She said, “Our chamber exists for the small business owners like Kandi and we have hundreds of successes like her. It is such an honor for our staff to be able to serve these dreamers who never stop working to build their businesses. And when they succeed, they make our community even stronger. They inspire us.”
“I don’t know about the future,” Stephens said. “I just appreciate what I have now. I spend most of my time in the office now. I don’t get to see as many people as I used to. But I try to get out on the floor as much as I can.”
She said, “There used to be slow times. That’s where the embroidery came in. But there haven’t been many slow times lately.”
Stephens says she finds inspiration in the life of Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A.
“I read everything I could about Truett Cathy,” she said.
And like Chick-fil-A, The Scrub Shoppe is closed on Sundays.
“I never wanted to work on Sunday,” Stephens said. ” I just took his lead. We close on Sundays for worship and families. I tithe to my church and God blesses me. I’ve never been in the red.”
But there was a time when she feared that red ink would start to flow.
A few years ago, Owensboro Health Regional Hospital decide to sell its own scrubs “and wouldn’t let anybody else use its logo,” Stephens said. “It was scary losing all their business. But after a year or so, they contacted me and said they didn’t want to be in the retail business. They were in health care. And I got back the scrub business back from them. That was huge for me.”