Her husband, and a few Scriptures help her take a risk, and it paid off.
Posted in Jun 9, 2009
Did you ever have a crazy idea that wouldn’t go away? A nudge so persistent you couldn’t ignore it?
Let me tell you mine. I wanted to start a business, making aprons. You know, those 1950s Suzy Homemaker ones with big bows in back like you see in old TV shows, the perfect thing to wear when sliding snickerdoodles from the oven or serving pigs in a blanket at a party.
Like the ones my grandmother wore. The kind of retro apron you couldn’t find just anywhere, at least I couldn’t.
I was the last person you’d pick to run a company making aprons. Sure, I had a good management position with an electronics firm, but I hadn’t gone to college, wasn’t sure how to write a business plan and couldn’t sew.
All I had was an idea that wouldn’t go away and a job I’d be crazy to blow off. I was lucky to have work, but the days could be a grind, making call after call, scrolling through endless e-mails, cranking out sales reports. I’d go home drained.
The only thing that kept me going was my faith and, well, aprons, aprons that I remembered way back from my childhood when life wasn’t so stressful. It made me feel good to think about aprons.
In between pitches to clients and spreadsheets, I’d turn to the notepad on my desk and draw the things that came to mind: an apron with ruffles down the front or maybe a flower at the waist or a large one with big pockets and polka dots. Lunchtime, I’d cruise the internet. Maybe someone was making nice aprons for full-figured women—I’m pretty curvy myself—but I never found a thing.
One bright spot in my life was my new husband, Bob. He was an answer to my prayers—kind, supportive, loving. He was a widower with two children and I had one. We faced the challenge of making a blended family work. Of all the times to go out and start a business, this wasn’t it.
Bob didn’t buy it. “Cynthia, you’ve got to follow your dreams.” But I was no starry-eyed kid. The business world was tough and a new business was a long shot, especially in this economy. Besides, we had three kids to support. Risk it all on aprons? I’d be nuts!
One night I came home fried. I’d missed dinner—again—and I hated that. Bob was doing dishes and he’d gotten the kids settled in and started on homework. Here I was working at a job I didn’t love and I didn’t even get time with my family. “Another apron day?” he asked.
“How’d you guess?” I showed him the sketch I’d made during the only five minutes I’d had alone. I could see how wonderful it would look with organza and lace. I even had swatches in a drawer.
“Honey, this is great!” he said. “You’ve got to do something with it.”
“I can’t quit my job. You know that!”
“We can manage on one salary.”
How could I tell Bob I was too afraid of failing? As long as the aprons were just a dream, I could grab a few minutes and do my sketches…escape into a safe fantasy. But what if the dream became a reality? Would that ruin everything?
That weekend, though, in between chauffeuring the kids to soccer games and birthday parties, I picked up a book a friend had recommended. All of a sudden a phrase leapt out at me: “God gave you gifts and the only way to bless others is to use them,” the author wrote, going on to quote from Peter: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s grace.”
I’d never thought of my idea as a gift before or that I could be the good steward of a dream. Was that why the apron urge wouldn’t let me alone? “Lord, you’re going to have to smooth the way,” I said, “because I can’t do this on my own. You’ll have to be my silent partner.”
Then, with amazing timing, my company announced a restructuring. I knew they’d be offering solid buyout packages, so I quickly volunteered. This was the perfect cushion for starting a business. Talk about nudges!
That Monday after my send-off party, I was brimming with plans. First things first: I needed someone to make patterns for me. I called an old friend who was a genius with needle and thread. I brought her my designs, and all those daydreams started coming to life.
Then we took them to a manufacturer in the area—I’m very proud that most of my aprons are made locally—and had some samples sewn up. The real challenge would be to see if buyers would match my enthusiasm.
A last-minute miracle got me space at the California Gift Show in Los Angeles. The coordinator set me up in a booth in the middle of the hall—perfect!—and kept exclaiming over my aprons—“pretty, girly, fabulous.”
I was on my feet for four days, meeting buyers, modeling products, getting orders. I finished the show with a top design award and enough orders to keep me busy for months. The only one who didn’t seem surprised was Bob. “The dream was for a reason,” he said.
I already knew about sales from the electronics business. What I didn’t know about running a business I learned from lawyers, accountants, business execs, tons of friends, and my “silent partner.”
I couldn’t always hire full-time help, but I was blessed with people who were glad to work a few hours a day—busy moms like me who appreciated the flexible schedule.
In two years Heavenly Hostess outgrew our warehouse and we set up shop in our first fabulous retail boutique where we could also sell books, fine candles, imported soaps, T-shirts, dessert plates and handmade jewelry.
I won’t kid you. It’s a huge amount of work. There are days when I don’t think I can do it all. I’ll go to a quiet place to pray or take a walk. That always revives me.
We’ve expanded our line to include gardening, Mommy & Me and barbecuing aprons. But my core products—those frilly retro aprons—have the names I first came up with: Grace, Praise, Courage, Faith, Hope, Joy, Glory. That’s what I hope to give away, as much as I’ve been given.
And the box I pack them in? There’s a Scripture on it. It’s something I read in a book when I was lounging in a chair—sitting on a fence, when you think about it. “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s grace.”
Now that’s a business plan.