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WOMEN WHO MEAN BUSINESS

Women make up nearly half of the current-day U.S. workforce — up from 30 percent in 1950. Yet when it comes to launching their own new businesses, women face far greater challenges than do their male counterparts. They generally start out with 50 percent less capital, and only about 5 percent of them obtain funding from networks of friends and family — compared to nearly 23 percent of men. And they’re likely to obtain only 33 percent of the amount of venture capital or angel-investor financing awarded to men, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City. Yet in Missouri and beyond, women are embracing business ownership while overcoming barriers along their path to entrepreneurship. Meet just a few who’ve found success creating and selling everything from clothing and plants to med-tech and marketing services.

Amanda Gray-Swain

Amanda Gray-Swain

Sprouted Designs: Popping up all over St. Louis

St. Louis

Amanda Gray-Swain’s passion for screen printing and the business that would eventually blossom into a full-time gig began with an unsuspecting birthday gift she gave to her fiancé.

Amanda says her now-husband, Andrew, came home with used equipment after he took the screen printing class she bought for him in 2009. He had just opened an art gallery at the time.

“So the idea was ‘Oh, maybe we can learn to screen print some stuff and sell it . . . Who knows, it will be fun,’” Amanda recounts.

But then she fell in love with screen printing. She started out with pillows before branching into and focusing on other products.

“[Making pillows] was what I wanted to do . . . [But] pillows are really hard to sell at popup events because people don’t want to carry them around,” she says. “And it’s kind of a commitment.”

Amanda presented her work in her first craft show with the St. Louis Craft Mafia, which isn’t around anymore, in 2009. A year later, she officially opened an Etsy store called Sprouted Designs. That store was a success, and the business evolved from there.

Amanda waited tables to help subsidize her income while the business grew, and she also helped to care for her niece during that time. Andrew owned and operated Good Citizen, an art gallery, and also taught design classes as an adjunct professor at St. Charles Community College.

She and her husband went to work full-time at Sprouted Designs three and a half years ago.

Customers now can find Sprouted Designs in pop-ups throughout the year in various states and in these St. Louis-area shops: Union Studio on Tower Grove Avenue, Urban Matter in Dutchtown, Sammysoap in Kirkwood, Local Harvest Grocery in Tower Grove South, the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park and Craft Alliance in the Delmar Loop.

“People really like to shop in their neighborhood here,” Amanda says, noting that about 20 percent of her customers have shopped with her more than once.

At present, though, Amanda and her husband don’t plan to open their own brick-and-mortar store. If they can sustain the business without a storefront, they will, Amanda says.

“It’s such an expensive thing to have hours — so you have to be there all the time, or you have to pay someone to be there all the time — [and] I wouldn’t feel good not paying someone a decent wage,” she says. “So right now if we can make it work without a storefront, I think that’s the way we are going to go, especially having a 3 1/2-year-old.”

As a woman artist and entrepreneur, Amanda says she has encountered nothing but camaraderie and support within the crafting world.

Her main line of products include kitchen flour-sack towels, napkins, baby and children’s apparel, paper products and handmade wooden vases with intricate designs. The Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings also prompted her to launch a separate line of T-shirts called Believe Women Apparel. She has sold 260 Believe Women T-shirts and donates 50 percent of the profits to the ACLU.

Amanda says she worried at first that some of her customers would not take to a politically motivated line being sold next to her baby apparel and tea towels — but that wasn’t the case. At times, Amanda says, she gets looks and head shakes from people at fairs where she’s selling the shirts, but she just shrugs off those reactions.

“For the most part, I’ve found people don’t care and they’re happy to have both brands in one tent, and there have been no issues,” she says. “But the idea is to add a few more shirts to the Believe Women Apparel line so I can do pop-up events on my own with just that. That’s the plan.”

For now, she’s continuing to create new towel designs with her husband in their new workspace on South Grand Avenue.

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Anna Haney

Noviqu: Big tech in a small town

Moberly

About an hour’s drive from Columbia is Moberly, a small town that has become the home of a growing tech startup.

Anna Haney, co-founder and CEO of Noviqu, says she and her husband, Noviqu co-founder Chad Haney, moved to Moberly to be closer to family, who also live in the community of about 14,000 people.

They established their software company Noviqu in May 2017, while still running Tin Can Technologies, their first software company.

The idea for Noviqu came to the couple while they met with a manufacturing client. During that meeting they heard managers talk about their jobs, and they say it became apparent to them that their client’s communication and training processes were out of sync: Managers’ expectations and goals were not being clearly communicated to lower-level employees.

The Haneys then looked at various manufacturing companies and found the need Noviqu would eventually fill.

“All in all, there’s a large digitization-process problem . . . .There’s a lack of transparency between employees and employers,” Anna says of the manufacturing industry.

So they designed software to solve this problem and founded Noviqu in 2017. Its platform essentially allows an employee to scan a QR code to request day-to-day tasks, training materials or maintenance and to track work activities.

While Tin Can Technologies is still technically open, the couple stopped taking clients in late 2017 and ended all of their projects with the company in early 2018. Now they are working full-time at Noviqu.

Although the pool of potential employee talent is smaller in Moberly than in a larger city, the Haneys say starting a tech company in the middle of Missouri has worked out well for them. Anna says the economic development center in the small town was critical to their success, helping them to meet folks at the Everlast Fitness Manufacturing Corporation facility, find a space and get their business running.

Anna says she has always exhibited an entrepreneurial spirit. She founded her first company when she was about 12 years old, creating greeting cards with a friend and selling them at a local store.

“You know, I think that when you start your own business, everyone says it’s going to be hard,” Anna says. “It’s the easiest parts that are hardest for me because you’re wondering, ‘When will it become harder?’’’

Noviqu currently employs five people — Haney and her husband included — and they are in the process of hiring a sixth.

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Anna says some clients haven’t always treated her with the same level of respect and attention that they accorded to her husband. She recalls the clients who asked her a question and then posed it a second time to Chad — whose answer usually was the same as hers.

“I have felt like in the past that not everyone believed me [to be] as capable as I was. I am a very competitive person, and proving them wrong has never been a problem for me,” she says.

Anna also notes that the tech space increasingly is filled with female innovators. She’s now the CEO of Noviqu, while her husband is the chief technology officer.

“I’ve seen a difference in it, I’m more self-confident and demand respect,” she says. “Since we have separated our roles more, oftentimes [clients] will ask me questions and say ‘Maybe you can ask your tech guy.’”

But that’s not always the case, she adds.

“Being a female in tech and manufacturing, I expected a lot more of a pushback than I’ve gotten. I’ve been walking into a manufacturing team that is 70 percent males [and] other facilities with 50 percent white males who have welcomed me with open arms,” she says.

She said one of her biggest Noviqu moments came while giving a demonstration and pitch to their first client.

“They saw the vision, they were able to picture it and they were along for the ride. So we jumped,” Anna says. Now she wants to “go to the moon and back” with Noviqu.

“We want to grow Noviqu into a platform for our customers,” she says. “. . . We plan on growing it in Moberly . . . . There is something to be said for growing something in a place you believe in.”

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Colleen Gerke

Jowler Creek Winery: From hobby to business

Platte City

While studying at California Polytechnic State University, Colleen Gerke had a choice when it came to completing her science credit: chemistry or wine-making.

It may come as no surprise that the underage student took the winemaking course, but little did she know then that it would prepare her for her life’s work.

“I never really thought I would use it as a career or do anything with it professionally,” says Colleen,who owns and operates Jowler Creek Winery in Platte City with her husband, Jason Gerke.

Colleen says she came to Kansas City for an internship during her junior year in college, believing then that she’d eventually move back to her home in the California wine country and live there permanently.

“I ended up falling in love with the Midwest,” she says. “I love the people and the atmosphere — and I met a guy.”

She and Jason soon married and found a house in Platte City, about 25 miles north of Kansas City, in 2003.

They began to grow grapes on the property while they both worked full-time in the corporate world.

“It was kind of supposed to be our side gig. When we got home we would go out and work in the vineyard and relax,” she says. “But we ended up loving it.”

Instead of selling their grapes to local wineries, the couple began to make their own wine in their basement. In 2006, they began selling it in local stores. That year, they made 100 cases of wine — and people began knocking on their door in search of a tasting room.

“We were getting so many people coming out on the weekends, we actually opened up our basement for our tastings,” Colleen says.

Eventually Colleen and Jason quit their jobs. Jowler Creek Winery now sells about 3,500 cases of wine a year, with 85 percent of those sales occurring in the tasting room and the other 15 percent in wholesale.

The sustainable, 7-acre vineyard now is home to more than 3,500 grapevines.

Colleen was first to quit her corporate job in 2009 to stay at home with their two children — now 8 and 12 — and work on the new business. She says she found that situation came with its own set of challenges.

“As a woman you want to do it all, be the best businesswoman you can be, but you have that maternal instinct, too,” she says. “ . . . It’s a lot — so you feel like you’re not giving the kids or the business your full attention.”

Eventually, though, she learned to balance those demands. Now she says she wouldn’t trade her flexible schedule for anything.

The couple learned a lot along the way, particularly when it came to hiring employees — they have one full-time employee and 12 part-time employees. While both Jason and Colleen had experience managing people in the corporate world, the effort needed to master all of the necessary steps to achieve compliance with government regulations came as a bit of a shock to them.

Colleen’s biggest piece of advice for people looking to start their own business is to start small.

“I think starting small is a good thing. You don’t have to have a huge trust fund or a huge amount of money to start a business. We were proof of that — we started in our basement. I don’t know that we would be successful if we had started large.”

Kelsey Raymond

Kelsey Raymond

Influence & Co.: ‘Investing in our people’

Columbia

Kelsey Raymond was just 22 and a recent University of Missouri graduate when she started her own business — and she believes her youth gave her a slight advantage.

“I think that I was really fortunate that I started it at such a young age,“ she says, noting that she was unmarried and unencumbered by personal responsibilities. “The biggest uncertainty [I had] was whether people would take me seriously.”

Kelsey’s company, Columbia-based Influence & Co., is a content-marketing service that assists other companies with their online written content. She founded it in 2011 after running a co-working space with Brent Beshore, CEO and founder of adventur.es, a Columbia investment firm that partners with existing businesses in order to expand those companies or buy them outright.

Beshore suggested the business idea to Kelsey, and his company provided financial backing when she launched her venture. She bought out Beshore’s shares in October 2018 and is now the majority owner of Influence & Co. Her business partners, Greg and Karla Bier, own 11.25 percent of the company.

In the early days of her company, her lack of business experience created opportunities to learn from her mistakes, Kelsey says. She recounts her first big conference call with a client, in which she didn’t discover until the beginning of the call that the client was expecting a video chat.

So, she ended up on camera in loungewear.

“There were definitely some insecurities early on because I was so young and didn’t have much experience,” Kelsey said.

Like many other women in business, she’s had encounters in which she believes she was treated differently because of her gender. A client once told her: “I can’t take you seriously, you’re like my daughter’s age.”

“That definitely stung,” she recalls. “But it gave me incentive to prove him wrong.”

Influence & Co. has taught her many lessons, but Kelsey says the biggest to date has been to never devalue your product or service. When she started her content-marketing company, she priced her services so low the company was never going to turn a profit, she admits now.

“We realized after a while we were able to provide a good service and a value to people, so then we changed our prices and some models,” she says.

Influence & Co. employs 80 people, including a few who work remotely from other states.

Her staff is just under 80 percent female, including her leadership team. Kelsey notes this was not intentional, but she’s found that a lot of the classes at Mizzou from which she recruits are mostly made up of women.

“That’s been the thing that I have loved about getting to run this company over the last several years . . . getting to see the amazing growth of our employees,” Kelsey says. “They are now leading up the most important parts of business.”

Moving forward, Kelsey says she sees growth in the company coming from expanding services for her clients to better align all of their marketing efforts.

“I always wanted to create a company where people are happy to come in on Mondays. We can do that by being people-first,” she says. “Caring for our people, investing in our people — we can be profitable caring for our people.”

Dr. Kim Smolderen, far right, and members of her team are preparing for testing this summer on the Dynamo mobile app she's developed to help patients manage peripheral artery disease. Photo courtesy Dynamo Health

Dr. Kim Smolderen, far right, and members of her team are preparing for testing this summer on the Dynamo mobile app she’s developed to help patients manage peripheral artery disease. Photo courtesy Dynamo Health

Dynamo Health: Telemedicine support for noninvasive treatment

Kansas City

After creating a registry to document patients’ experiences with peripheral artery disease, Dr. Kim Smolderen developed an application called Dynamo for mobile devices to help patients manage their symptoms and change their lifestyle.

A native of Belgium, Kim earned her Ph.D. in medical psychology from Tilburg University in the Netherlands and now lives in Kansas City. She works at the University of Missouri-Kansas City researching metabolism and vascular diseases and developing related programs. She also teaches and mentors students and faculty.

While doing research on peripheral artery disease in both the United States and the Netherlands, Kim says she began to notice differences in the way health care was organized in the two nations. She also noted that U.S. patients with peripheral artery disease have options for noninvasive management and other treatment, but they don’t always have consistent access to necessary information and resources. That treatment gap became apparent, she says, when she compared the experiences of U.S. patients with those in the Netherlands.

Smolderen developed a registry that was funded by the Affordable Care Act and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. The registry contains medical records and interviews with more than 1,000 patients conducted in the first year of their diagnosis.

“What it did was really document the experiences of this disease as seen from the patient’s perspective,” she says.

Once this data was collected, Smolderen says, she was better able to predict what new patients could expect in the first year after being diagnosed.

“That’s the powerful thing — we combined the patient’s experience and linked that with [the treatment] they have received to better tell new patients what to expect in the trajectory of the disease,” she says.

Treating peripheral artery disease can be thought of in much the same terms as the process of dealing with a heart attack, Kim explains. Instead of clogged arteries in the heart, though, patients suffer from clogged arteries in their legs.

Doctors can perform a procedure to clean out the arteries to provide relief, but Kim notes that symptoms can recur over time.

“So if you are not addressing the underlying lifestyle components
. . . then your chances of recurrence are increasing,” she says. “Support for the noninvasive management of this disease didn’t really exist here, but it did in the Netherlands.”

To fill that void, she has developed a telemedicine program that will be available on a mobile platform to help people carry out the noninvasive treatment recommendations.

“There are some proprietary elements that really target people’s behavior and how to modify that. [But] I really didn’t start thinking about formulating this opportunity as an entrepreneurial idea until I followed this certificate program at UMKC’s Bloch School,” Kim says.

By molding the concept into a business opportunity, she says she believes she can address and make an impact on treatment for her patients. Kim and her two partners are in the development stage of her venture, Dynamo Health, and patient testing is set to begin by summer.

She says she’s learned a lot so far as an entrepreneur, notably the value of connecting with people with various experiences who can challenge her thinking and point out potential issues with her business model or the product itself. She’s also read many materials and networked with others in the business world.

“Two of my partners have had different experiences themselves. Both of them really were able to highlight some issues that we had to think through and get additional advice,” Kim says. Her partners include health care executive Kurt Breeding, who has earned degrees in nursing and business administration, and Dr. John Spertus, a cardiologist and scientist.

“My partners have encouraged me to take on a leadership role, and they trusted the expertise I’ve built up through my research work. Thus far, it’s been a good experience,” she adds.

Also helpful: the perspectives shared by several female entrepreneurs who came to talk with her student group while she completed the UMKC business-certificate program, she says. The whole process of developing her venture has been “eye-opening” and fun, says Kim, who is waiting to complete patient trials this summer before releasing Dynamo Health for public use.

“I really think the success stands with the ability to back your solution up with thoughtful research,” she says. “That’s really been my goal to have that piece developed in parallel so that we are also seen as a high-quality solution that is evidence-based. It would need to feed off my research — that’s important.”

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Kimberly Moos

Cotton Cuts: Modern service for a traditional art

Chesterfield

Kimberly Moos had been a biomedical engineer for years when she was selected to become chief of staff for the CEO of Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals.

“It was an excellent opportunity to see what makes a company work,” Kimberly says.

She eventually shifted into contract work for the company, and her own business goals took root.

“It was in that role, [I knew] I wanted to do something different. I wanted to create something that was my own, using the skills I have,” Kimberly says.

She was interested in the subscription-box trend but couldn’t find one to properly fit her quilting-hobby needs.

Using websites such as YouTube and Reddit, Kimberly says she taught herself everything she needed to know about the online world and how to start a subscription service. Within six months, Cotton Cuts was born.

“The vision was to have quilters have selection over the fabric they get every month . . . I wanted members to have some say,” she says.

Kimberly started with 30 subscriptions in October 2016 and ran the company out of her basement using just a table and a rack.

Eventually, she partnered with a woman in New Zealand to create a 10-month mystery quilting project for her subscribers. When the program began, Kimberly says 100 people signed up. Now 550 people are participating in the program.

Kimberly says her customers began gathering on their own in groups to put together the 10-month mystery quilting project offered by Cotton Cuts.

In all, Cotton Cuts currently ships out 1,200 boxes to 15 countries every month. Her company employs six part-time employees and three contractors.

“With all that growth we outgrew my basement; we called my living room the ‘FedEx loading dock,’” she says, laughing.

The company moved into a 3,000-square-foot space in the Chesterfield Mall in November 2018. She uses half of the space for her online business and has converted the other half into what she calls a “maker’s space.”

People can use the space to sew, create, meet with groups, host events and more.

Kimberly also quit her job at Mallinckrodt when Cotton Cuts moved into the mall.

The road to starting her own business wasn’t entirely smooth, but Kimberly says she’s learned it is OK to make mistakes, learn from them and correct the situation.

“I’ve always been a big fan of trying everything once,” she says.

As a woman entrepreneur, Kimberly says she’s regularly encountered gender-specific challenges and sometimes condescension while attending meetings for startups or discussing potential funding sources for her business.

“I describe what I do, [and] they’ll say ‘Oh, you go girl, that’s so good for you,’” she says, noting that she’s heard such comments from people of all ages and demographics. She says she believes those remarks illustrate their perception that feminine items are seen as somehow lesser in terms of business.

And like many other women who own their own businesses, she’s struggled to obtain outside funding from potential lenders who do not see the value in the product — not realizing that quilting is a $4 billion industry.

“The fact that I have to say that to gain credibility is disgusting,” Kimberly laments.

Cotton Cuts has not received outside funding or grants — which Kimberly attributes to quilting’s reputation as a niche activity. As long as she can sustain herself without those funds, she says she will. Her company has been profitable almost since it began.

“I’m excited for what we are doing and what we are building,” she adds. “We have a lot of plans. We’re not done yet.”

molly-bingaman

Molly Bingaman

Ladybird Style Lab & Salon: Making clients look good, feel great

Kansas City

Choosing clothing and asserting her style comes naturally to Molly Bingaman, but she’s realized that it represents a source of frustration and insecurity for many others.

So when she became unhappy as a paralegal at a law firm, she took the leap and created a business around her passion for fashion.

“A lot of friends would compliment me on my look and how I put clothes together,” Molly says. “I explored it a little and saw how powerful it was for people . . . . Lady Bird was sort of born out of that discovery.”

Molly established the physical space of Ladybird Style Lab & Salon three years ago, but she launched her business seven years earlier by meeting people in their homes and shopping with them.

The stylist joined a business partner in 2016, and they brought on a few other people since then. They opened their hair and makeup salon in 2017 and the alterations side of the business last year. This year, they’re focused on hiring and training more clothing stylists.

Molly says that about five years into her business, she and her team discovered a simple method for nailing down what looks great on any individual. They developed an experiment that they now apply to every client to determine what kind of style will best fit and flatter that person.

“With our method, we have really figured out this foolproof thing that can solve [wardrobe dilemmas] for people,” Molly says. “We found that . . . it’s really based on how people move. We use physics to break this down.”

Molly says all people have their own patterns of movement, pace and rhythm. She and her team have categorized those into four major clothing-style groups:

Light, random, energetic and bouncy

Relaxed, fluid and slower-paced

Fast, direct, active and dynamic

Still and precise

Customers come in the styling lab and try on clothes during a consultation, and stylists determine what category is right for them. Molly said they are working on technology that could extract this information digitally and produce the same results.

“They are inevitably drawn to one [grouping of clothing],” she says. “It feels right, and the other three do not.”

When Molly began her business and devoted herself to it full-time, there was a real demand in the market for personal stylists. Even so, it was still a personal risk for the new entrepreneur.

“When I went full-time I felt risk, especially for the first couple of weeks. I felt panicky. People really wanted to have help with [clothing], but now there are a lot of options,” she says.

Molly says the lab sees about 20 to 25 clients a month, all of whom need various fashion services — from consultations to full wardrobe rehabs. She employs about seven people and one full-time hairstylist.

She recommends that anyone starting a business should start as small as possible.

“I jumped out a little too far ahead of myself. For instance, we were panicked we would not be able to find what we needed to find in Kansas City, so we bought a lot of inventory [elsewhere] at the time, so we are scaling back,” she says. “We can find what we need when we need it.”

Even with 10 years under her belt, Molly says at times she’s felt as though she hasn’t been taken seriously in business — partly because she’s a woman working in the fashion industry, partly because of the industry’s reputation.

She feels frequently underestimated, often by older men who move straight into giving her advice, assuming she hasn’t considered — or doesn’t know to consider — certain (and usually basic) business-related issues.

“I feel like I have it doubly hard because I am female and I am in an industry that is considered very surface-level or does not have a lot of depth to it,” she says. “I feel like I am frequently underestimated — which is, I guess, a challenge.”

Patricia McCreary

Patricia McCreary

Margaret’s Place: Keeping a granddaughter’s promise

Kansas City

Seeking care for an elderly family member can be difficult on multiple fronts: obtaining cooperation from the senior, finding quality care and then paying for that care.

Patricia McCreary came to know these struggles all too well when she sought to help her grandmother, Margaret Brown.

“When I was a little girl, I always promised her I would take care of her,” Patricia says. “She said, ‘No you won’t, when you get older . . . you’ll forget about me.’ But I was adamant in keeping that promise.”

Patricia began checking on Margaret when her grandmother’s mind started to slip in 2008. Margaret would soon be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Margaret moved in with Patricia and her family, but eventually Margaret’s doctor said she needed 24-hour professional care.

“Of course that was hard for me. I felt like I was doing something wrong,” Patricia says. “You love her, you want to take care of her, but you physically and emotionally cannot.”

No facility they toured was up to snuff — for reasons ranging from the food to the level of care to the physical space. So Margaret instead spent the last three years of her life on bed rest at the home of Patricia’s mother. She died July 28, 2015.

During that same time period, Patricia had built a career in the real estate business. In 2013, a business associate listened as she expressed her frustrations over her inability to find the right place for her grandmother. He suggested that she should open the kind of adult daycare she envisioned — a safe place that offered socialization and home-cooked, nutritious meals for its frail or elderly clients.

“Old people just want to eat — they can’t cook anymore, they may not have money for quality food,” Patricia says of the idea.

Patricia joined that business associate to make her first attempt to open the daycare. She says she and her husband put all of their savings into a down payment on a building that required extensive renovations.Their business associate spent four years making some of the repairs but never completed the project, she says. Eventually, they decided to sell the building and shelve their dream.

Then she met a new business partner, William Syrios, who provided the money to fund her vision.

“He just wrote the check. He really believed in the dream,” she says. “He’s a real estate guru who has a passion for people who have a passion for people.”

Margaret’s Place, named after her grandmother, opened its doors in December 2015 to seven people who eagerly awaited the services it provides. The state-classified adult daycare is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday and serves 22 adults regularly.

The daycare has the capacity to care for 37 seniors a day.

“I think coming out of the real estate world, which was a man’s world, I was already used to obstacles and doors being shut in my face because I was a woman,” Patricia says. “I did construction work for four and a half years before really diving into my business.”

And some obstacles remain. More than three years after she opened, she’s still struggling to gain the necessary approvals fromVeterans Affairs officials to enable some clients to use VA benefits to pay for care at Margaret’s Place.

“I have tried for over a year to figure out how to get on this list [of eligible daycares] but have been met with a lot of obstacles,” she says. “. . . We have a long waiting list of veterans that would benefit greatly from our programing if we could only get on that list.”

Her inquiries to the VA have resulted in inconsistent answers, ranging from “there is no list” to “there is a list, but it is next to impossible to get on it,” she says. “But “no” doesn’t mean forever. It just means “no” right now.”

Patricia opens up her space on the weekends for various nonprofit groups, and she puts on business-education sessions to support the greater Kansas City-area business community.

Eventually, she says she hopes to build Margaret’s Place into a franchise operation with locations found internationally.

“We want to be a beacon of light for whatever community we serve,” she says. “God has given us a responsibility.”

Tammy Behm

Tammy Behm

Maypop Coffee & Garden Shop: Where coffee brews and dialogue blooms

Webster Groves

For Tammy Behm, plants don’t just grow  — they provide an experience for the grower that produces satisfaction and pride.

Tammy has worked in horticulture for the past 15 years, including gigs at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and in both the design and retail realms of the field. During that time, she says she’s witnessed shifts in how consumers learn about horticulture.

“It just became apparent that there’s a change and a lot of places haven’t been experimenting in how to get people involved in the plant world — so that became more and more appealing,” she says.

She established Maypop Coffee & Garden Shop slightly more than a year ago, in February 2018. The Webster Groves space offers customers a coffee-shop experience alongside a unique garden center.

“We wanted to incorporate a coffee shop because it’s sort of the beginning of the dialogue with folks who are kind of curious or new to plants,” Tammy says. Her website explains that the store’s namesake, Maypop, is a native vine whose summer blooms give way to an edible fruit.

She also notes that coffee shops appeal to multiple demographics, attracting customers who differ economically, regionally, culturally and in age.

“So that was a really strong part of why we wanted to do a coffee shop,” she says about joining the two concepts.

The sole owner of the shop, Tammy says the hybrid business embodies a concept that grew gradually in her head.

“You know how it is: When someone mentions something, and you note that it’s a smart and clever idea — mentally stick it in a pin board for later,” she says.

Due to her previous professional roles, Tammy had experience in predicting the retail flow through the seasons. But predicting how her startup would fare was a much different process due to its concept, she says.

Her best advice for new entrepreneurs: Assemble a trustworthy team of advisors. Maypop Shop employs eight full-time and part-time employees and sells a large selection of house plants, native pollinator plants, herbs, edible plants and more. About 20 percent of the company’s business is in the coffee shop, with the other 80 percent generated in the garden center.

“The other thing that we do is we focus on the function of plants and the experience. So not just retail, but more so on how the experience of growing stuff makes people feel,” Tammy says, noting that her customers appear to be much younger than those who patronize traditional garden centers.

A lot of of those younger customers found her by Googling coffee shops in the area. They weren’t necessarily looking for plants, but once they found her shop they’ve enjoyed both sides of her business.

Even with the younger customer base, though, the shop owner says she often deals with people’s less-than-modern views when it comes to her gender.

“Most of the time, you know, there’s a lot of men in our industry that, when they meet with me the first time, expect I would take care of the plants and my husband is taking care of the business side,” she says with a chuckle. “ . . . Customers will also come in and assume my husband is doing all these things.”

When this happens, Tammy says, she just smiles — and gently reminds them that Maypop Shop is a woman-owned and woman-operated company.

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