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Grit & Grace

Successful Businesswomen Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Overcoming Challenges and Navigating the Elusive Work-Life Balance

Candace Kerr, Sunrise Cooling & Heating, Branchburg, sunrisecoolingheating.com

Why You Joined This Business: My husband, Jon, and I had been working at his parents’ company for a few years and took over in 2021. I do the front office jobs, like human resources, dispatching and marketing. 

What Prepared You: I went to school for psychology and to be a worship pastor, but I learned business while managing properties in Charlotte, N.C. 

Biggest Reward: The relationships we build and how we treat our staff and customers. For example, we send our family Christmas cards to our customers, who are updated on our family dynamic and what we do outside of the business. And our staff knows they can always come to us if they have an issue. 

Maintaining Balance: I have five children: four biological sons and one daughter, who we adopted through foster care. We have a busy life and are highly involved with church. Time management is always an issue but Jon and I tackle that together. He shortened his hours a little bit, and I only work in the office a certain amount of hours. When I go home, my children have my undivided attention. Jon and I don’t bring work home. I will make a list of the things I need to talk to him about when we are at the office. Even though we’re a 24/7 emergency service, we put our family first because if I’m not a healthy mom, I’m certainly not going to be a healthy business owner. 

Advice for Female Entrepreneurs: It doesn't matter where you are in life, how old you are or how long it might have taken you to get to the point of where you’re at, always fight for what your heart desires. If you want to be your own boss, you can’t allow your fears to keep you from pursuing what you truly like to do. 

Danielle Hester, Comfortably Chic, Chester, comfortablychic.com

Why You Launched This Business: I love home décor, shopping local and refinishing furniture. I owned Comfortably Chic — as part of another shop — when I lived in California. When we moved here in 2017, I saw all the great stores on Main Street, but much of the inventory seemed geared to visitors. I wanted to open a store geared only to locals. Not long after I opened, my daughter, Kaitlin, graduated from college and become my partner. Since then, my oldest son and son-in-law, having left their corporate jobs, have partnered with us. Together, we have opened other contemporary boutiques on Main Street: Mercantile on Main, Steam Soapery, Serendipity Toys & Books and Chester Candle Company. 

Biggest Challenge: Competing against online shopping. When you shop local, you invest in your town. It gives you a strong sense of community. When you don’t shop local, the downtown can disappear. 

Biggest Reward: Getting to know our customers and people who come into the store even if they just want our advice. 

Maintaining Balance: I have five kids from age 11 to 28 and a grandson. I was a stay-at-home mom for many years. I started off slowly until my youngest kids were in school full-time. I am fortunate now to have a partnership with my older children, who support me when I need to be flexible with work and be there for my younger children. My younger kids now watch me working, and I see their pride as they tell their friends and teachers what their mom does. 

Advice for Female Entrepreneurs: If you can afford to do it, do it. Come up with a good plan. Ask yourself if you are willing to lose whatever it is you’re willing to risk. That is the worst that could happen. And the best? You’ll be wildly successful. Go for it! 

Laura Clare, Laura Clare Design, Bernardsville, lauraclaredesign.com
Why You Launched This Business:
 This is a hobby that became a career. I have a degree in horticulture from Cornell University and numerous apprenticeships with well-known designers in and around London, Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and New York. That experience opened my eyes to big events and the floral world. I was working with these bigwigs and thought, You know what? I can do this for myself. Twenty-three years later, here I am! 

This is my love, my passion. I've built this business to the point where people trust me. We’re artists and our medium is florals. Mother Nature just never ceases to amaze me. 

Signature Touches: We put attention to detail on every level, whether it is adding a Fritillaria or a fiddlehead fern to the arrangement or remembering a wife’s favorite flower. 

Maintaining Balance: I run the business and I also run a household with two kids. It can be stressful, but you can do it if you make time for yourself. You can have a very busy day, then go home, make dinner and help the kids with homework. It’s all doable as long as you are kind to yourself. 

 

Advice for Female Entrepreneurs: If you have a passion for something, follow it. Manifest these ideas. It always will be work but if two-thirds is also enjoyment, you’ll love it. I go to work, smell the flowers — and love it. Maybe I’ll get a thorn in my thumb, but it’s part of the process. Take the leap, follow your heart and the rest will follow. 

 

Gina Walljasper, Floor Coverings International, Morris Plains, bernardsville.floorcoveringsinternational.com

Why You Launched This Business: For almost 40 years, I excelled in the pharmaceutical industry. My job involved establishing new departments and business processes for manufacturing sites around the world seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approvals to launch pharmaceutical products in the U.S. market. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. During the pandemic, I was looking for something different and started exploring franchises. 

Biggest Challenge: When you’re the boss and have staff members reporting to you, it’s easy to organize and delegate. But when you’re a new business owner, suddenly you are both the staff and the leadership. You can only delegate to yourself all aspects of running a business, such as accounting, marketing, sales, human resources, and purchasing — the list seems endless.

Biggest Reward: In the corporate world, I had global responsibilities. Now, as a local entrepreneur, I am able to give back to the community by providing employment and resources. I’m also a board member for Family & Community Services of Somerset County and the Vice-President of BW Nice in Somerset County. We provide resources to our charity partner Safe+Sound Somerset to help survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence with compassionate, trained professional help.

 

Advice for Female Entrepreneurs: If you feel passionate about something and it will make you happy, just do it. Surround yourself with other like-minded women business owners for support. Take the leap of faith. It will not be without risk, stress or worry, but remember you will have all of that if you’re working for someone else or working for yourself. It just comes in different forms. It can be frustrating when you have a setback, but it is rewarding when you succeed. The secret of my success is learning whenever I’ve failed or fell short. Finding ways to make lemonade when life throws you lemons is a blessing in disguise. While the future is bright, it’s nice to occasionally look back to see how far you’ve come.

  • Candace Kerr
  • Candace Kerr
  • Laura Clare
  • Laura Clare
  • Laura Clare
  • Danielle Hester and daughter, Kaitlin Shore
  • Danielle Hester and daughter, Kaitlin
  • Gina Walljasper
  • Gina Walljasper
  • Gina Walljasper
  • Hair styling by Hairitage Hair Lounge, Somerville
  • Hair styling by Hairitage Hair Lounge, Somerville
  • Hair styling by Hairitage Hair Lounge, Somerville