Michele Klug, CEO, Michele Klug Team, Keller Williams Towne Square Realty, Basking Ridge
When Michele Klug moved to Bridgewater a quarter-century ago, she loved the convenience to stores, recreational experiences and urban areas—and how when she drove into her development she felt like she was on vacation. “It was so calm and peaceful,” she says.
Today, Klug shares her enthusiasm for the area with her clients, a dedication that has earned her the New Jersey Realtors association Platinum Circle of Excellence Sales Award each year since 2011 and distinction as the No. 1 Realtor in Somerset County by the Garden State MLS since 2012 and No. 1 in Bridgewater in 2015, 2019 and 2020.
Klug, who serves eight counties in residential and commercial sales and as a corporate relocation specialist, launched her real estate career 17 years ago when her daughters started school and she sought to transition from the corporate world to a more flexible job that allowed her to be part of her children’s lives. “I always liked real estate, so I thought I’d get my license and do it part-time,” she says.
Real estate soon became a successful, full-time career. “I was a single mom with small children. It was a balancing act, but so fulfilling. I learned that if I was truthful about family obligations, people were appreciative,” she says. “My daughters were empowered by coming with me on appointments. It wasn’t a job. I felt that everyone I worked with was family.”
She taught her daughters—Brittany and Shelby, now in their 20s—that people should do what makes them happy. “If you’re going to do something every day, make sure it’s something you wake up looking forward to,” she says. Success for Klug also means giving back: She volunteers at the Feeding Hands food pantry serving Somerset County.
Although Klug was initially concerned about how the pandemic would affect the real estate market, 2020 became her highest-volume year: She closed 277 transactions with more than $121 million in revenue. Of her growing team, she says, “There is never a lack of ideas; we mastermind all the time.”
So, what makes Bridgewater so desirable? “The school system’s rankings just keep getting higher. There is the mall, mass transit to the city, amazing recreational activities, houses of worship and a great library,” she says. “It’s multi-generational and has a fantastic senior center. People increasingly want their parents to live with them. Over the past 24 months, houses with a first-floor bedroom suite have been in demand.”
After all these years, Klug is still fascinated by the people she meets. “It’s the relationships that keep me excited,” she says. “I love that I get to hear the stories of people’s lives.”
Jeralyn Lawrence, Owner, Lawrence Law, Watchung
“I love the ability to be able to impact change,” says Jeralyn Lawrence, who started Lawrence Law, which specializes in matrimonial, divorce and family law, in 2019.
She always wanted a life in justice—her father was a juvenile detective—but watching the movie “The Burning Bed” galvanized her toward advocacy for victims of domestic violence. “I was taken aback,” she says. “I had no idea this was such an issue in our country.”
Lawrence enrolled at the Seton Hall University School of Law and became part of the Family Law Clinic, where she had the opportunity to draft paperwork and argue applications in front of a judge. “I liked being on my feet in court and it incorporated my passion for advocating for victims through the law,” she says.
She spent two decades moving up the ranks at a large Somerset County firm, but longed to be on her own. When she took the leap to start her own practice, her entire team jumped with her. This is a testament to Lawrence’s belief in promoting her staff’s personal and professional development. “I surround myself with great people—all are talented and hard-working—and I do my best to make sure they are set up for success,” she says.
Lawrence draws on her personal experience—she divorced when her oldest daughter was 8 weeks old—to take a holistic approach with her clients. “Divorce is more than the legalities,” she says. “There’s an emotional aspect I can relate to since I’ve experienced what they are going through.”
Today, Lawrence is happily remarried and has three children: Abigail, 15, and 10-year-old twins Amelia and Lawson. “I tell them to be good, kind people, to be honest and that a strong work ethic will open doors,” says Lawrence, who teaches by example. “I remember how proud they looked when they came to my office and saw my name on the door.”
Heeding her mother’s advice—smile and be involved—has guided her well. Lawrence is First Vice President of the New Jersey State Bar Association and is slated to become its President in 2022. She is also President-Elect of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
Lawrence’s advice for other women is: Trust your instincts. “Fear held me back from starting my own practice,” she says. “Being an entrepreneur is a wild, scary ride, but there’s nothing more rewarding than watching a business plan come to fruition. The worst that will happen is that it doesn’t work out and you learn from the experience, dust yourself off and try again.”
Jessa Colón, Owner, Hairitage Hair Lounge, Somerville
“I’m a hair-hustler,” says Jessa Colón. “In the third grade I wrote a ‘when-I-grow-up’ paper on wanting to be a makeup artist to help people feel pretty.”
Colón, who opened Hairitage in 2016, enjoys her connection with her clients, who she views like family. She attributes her success to her drive and positive, forward-thinking perspective. As a mother of four girls (Jayla, Tianni, Hazel and Ashlynn) she advises women to embrace all opportunities—even those without financial reward. “I don’t say ‘no’ to opportunities,” she says. “I’ve styled at New York Fashion Week and co-hosted the ScissorSalute Show. These did not pay, but I got great exposure and chances to network.” The result is an impressive resumé: She has been featured in magazines and produced runway hair for Jason Boateng, Ayasa Afi and Charles Miller.
Promoting professional education for her staff and philanthropy is important. Colón does cut-a-thons, supports the Ashley Cardona Scholarship Fund at Bridgewater-Raritan High School and helped fund a tribute mural for her artist-cousin, Jerome Gonzalez, in Somerville.
Colón says that today’s big trend is foilayage, a lightening technique with a subtle grow-out, and enthusiastic embracing of natural curly styles. “You should love your reflection,” she says. “It affects your mood, your confidence and, in turn, your success. It makes you say, ‘You know what, girl? You got this.’”
Kimberly Rappolt, Owner, The Lash Lounge Bound Brook - Chimney Rock
Since they took over ownership of The Lash Lounge in November 2019, Kimberly Rappolt and her husband, Jim, have been helping women achieve eyes with a “wow” factor through services such as eyelash extensions, tinting, lifts and fills, and eyebrow threading and tinting.
“Lashes really open up your whole face. We have customized looks for everyone: different lengths, curls and thickness,” Rappolt says. “Women come in excited because they had never had their lashes done before and walk out feeling terrific.”
Rappolt was working as a veterinary technician when her husband, who was in finance, was laid off. The couple viewed this as an opportunity to start something new. They began investigating franchises. “The Lash Lounge kept coming up in our searches, so we went to the corporate office in Michigan, and I was hooked,” she says.
“Bridgewater was so welcoming,” says Rappolt, who also owns Lash Lounge salons in North Brunswick and Flemington. She enjoys becoming part of these communities, doing fundraisers and supporting other businesses, which also sets a good example for her daughters, Danielle and Stacy.
A current trend is brow lamination. “Everyone is wearing masks, so your eyes are all that people see,” Rappolt says. “Your lashes and eyebrows give your eyes such a boost.”