Oct. 29, 2018 – Women-owned businesses in the United States are on the rise. While that fact alone isn’t news, the sheer rate of growth is. Indeed, over the last 20 years the number of businesses owned by women grew 114% compared to the overall national growth rate of 44% for all businesses.*
Which industries are female entrepreneurs gravitating toward most? Half of the estimated 11.6 million women-owned businesses in this country can be found in just three: professional/scientific/technical services (12%), healthcare and social assistance (15%) and the broad category of “other” services such as hair and nail salons and pet-care businesses (23%). The last also is among the greatest growth industries for women-owned businesses; only entertainment/recreation and construction are seeing greater increases.
Meanwhile, only 1.2% of manufacturing businesses in the United States are owned by women.
“The idea of starting a manufacturing business is somewhat intimidating,” says Tracy Smith, co-owner of Centerline Brackets, a Florida company that produces steel brackets known industrywide for their quality, strength and affordability by builders, installers, homeowners and design centers around the world. “Also, I think women in general are more comfortable being involved in businesses with direct face-to-face interaction—it plays into our nurturing nature. Being willing to stretch outside your comfort zone is often difficult.”
Smith and her sister and business partner, Heather DeAntonis, launched their business in 2012 in their hometown of St. Augustine. Known for its distinction as the nation’s oldest city, the greater area has enjoyed a boom in new construction over the last decade. DeAntonis and Smith founded Centerline to meet what they discovered was huge demand for steel brackets—made in America with American steel—of the highest-possible quality.
Fast-forward to today, and whereas average annual revenue for a women-owned manufacturing business in the United States currently is less than $900,000, Centerline, which celebrates its sixth anniversary in August 2018, is already a multimillion-dollar company with nearly 30 employees and a new, state-of-the-art production and operations facility scheduled to open this autumn.
The secrets to Centerline’s success? Smith cites three: “I believe it’s due to our fanatical commitment to customer service and producing the best product possible,” she says. “We also have a strong work ethic, and look for employees who share that commitment.
“Most important, we constantly pray for our business. We prayed about the decision to go into business and continue to pray regularly that we will honor God through our business and follow Biblical principles in its operation.”
DeAntonis echoes her sister that Centerline’s culture is anchored in faith; trust in God shapes and guides the company’s core mission, and is the foremost reason Centerline thrives.
“We also believe in ourselves, that we have what it takes to succeed,” she adds. “We set high expectations for ourselves and expect nothing less from our employees. It’s been said you don’t build a business; as the business owner, you build up people, and then people build your business. We believe in that, and strive to practice it in everything we do.”
Despite Centerline’s achievements in only six years, Smith claims she brought no special skills to the business. Yet she didn’t arrive at the table empty-handed.
“While I don’t have any formal business training, the principles our mom taught us benefited me enormously,” she says. “My father died when I was 4 years old, so my mom as a young widow at 28 found herself raising four children alone—suddenly she was both father and mother. So while growing up, my example of a strong woman was one who ran a household like a well-oiled machine, made important financial decisions and sacrificed to make sure our family survived and thrived. As a child I didn’t recognize my mom was instilling the values of hard work, integrity and always doing my personal best. Those traits, however, have served me well throughout my professional career and now as a business owner.”
Smith’s more than 30 years’ experience working hard for other businesses to help them reach success also proved an asset. “When we started, Heather spent time out in the shop participating in the manufacturing process, and I was responsible for the customer service and office organization,” she says. “As the company grew, I learned how to also be the human-resources department and accounting department.”
Indeed, Smith fervently believes most skills can be learned by anyone regardless of gender, age or situation in life.
“For me, it was a combination of mentors, the Internet, business courses and the ‘school of hard knocks,'” she says. “I received advice early on to consider whether I wanted to run a business or grow a business. It took me a little while to understand what this advice meant, but now I share it with others. For instance, while I handle some accounting functions like check writing, we hired an accounting firm for most everything else. This frees up my time to build relationships with customers and earn their repeat business.”
DeAntonis agrees that skills can be learned by anyone, anytime, but also believes each individual—woman or man—brings unique, God-given gifts to the table. For her, a naturally high EQ (emotional quotient) allows her to regularly exchange positive energy with Centerline’s family of workers, contributing to a culture in which everyone feels appreciated and respected. “Treat others the way you would have them treat you!” she says. Such a culture, DeAntonis adds, embraces customers and enhances the quality of customer relations. That’s key to encouraging Centerline’s patrons to return.
As to whether and how much passion for one’s work and product determines victory or defeat, “You have to be passionate about what you pursue if you want the chance to be successful,” Smith says. “Obviously, passion doesn’t guarantee success, but it sure helps. Even more important, however, is a tough skin, perseverance and a willingness to fail and start over again.”
*This and related data from “The 2017 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report” commissioned by American Express®