East Dallas moms turn hobbies into businesses

Ten years ago, Barb Eubank was sitting in the living room watching her two toddlers play on a Saturday afternoon when she decided to quit her job. And it wasn’t just any job.

“I have a degree in psychology, a degree in nursing and my master’s as a diabetes educator. I loved… loved my work.

“My husband, Don, married me knowing I was a career woman; we had children knowing I was going to be a career mom – there was no question about that.

“And then… it was clear as a bell. When Don walked in the door that day, I asked him to help me write my resignation letter. He almost fell over.”

Eubank says that how, or if, to juggle career and parenthood is a difficult choice for every individual, and that there is no single right way to go about it: “But I realized that other people were raising my children and, for me, that didn’t feel right anymore.”

So for the next few years, Eubank had a new full-time career, being a stay-at-home mom and volunteering for school and church. But the itch to create something all her own wouldn’t quite go away.

Maybe we could just get together and knit

Still, Eubank didn’t set out to create a second career.

“About three years later, I had a friend, Jan Daulton, who lived close to me on the M Streets. We were about to move miles west…and since our children were such different ages, we knew we needed something that would force us to get together on a regular basis,” she says. “And we came up with this cock-eyed idea to knit blankets.

“Our husbands thought that was a hoot since neither of us knew to thread a needle.

“Funny enough, we came upon a lady who taught us how to knit on these machines…next thing we know we’re making a $6,000 investment and going around to area stores to see if there was a market for us. Turned out that word of mouth has actually been our biggest market – and we took it from there.”

Eubank’s story is nothing new. “The idea of starting a business in the home, whether you’re a male or female, is not an unusual thing,” says Jerry White, director of the Caruth Institute at SMU’s Cox School of Business. “Home is low overhead; home is where you are. You’ve got to make the house payments anyhow, and the location is certainly convenient.”

“With no five-year office lease to sign, it’s a good place to find out if there’s a real market for your product or service…a low-risk ‘beta’ test, so to speak.”

Today, Eubank’s children, Lauren and Christopher, are 8th and 5th graders, and enjoy the advantages of having a mom who’s around when they need her, but who also has something “just her own,” as Eubank puts it. Warm Design products range in price from $50-80, depending on specifications; the company averages about 325 blankets a year. The delicate-as-a-cloud baby toppers typically come with the child’s name and designs can vary from teddy bears to ballet slippers to…basketballs?

“Yes, I’ve done baby blankets for some of the Mavericks and the Cowboys and the Stars,” laughs Eubank. “So we’ve got some big-time blankets out there.

“I also make the Woodrow stadium blankets personalized with the children’s names on them, and have ended up doing them for Bishop Lynch and St. Thomas, too, and some of the fraternities and sororities.”

Eubank also makes “lap” blankets, which she likes to call “Saturday morning blankets” because her children wrap up in them and watch cartoons: “I make this style in mothers’ and grandmothers’ blankets too, with the names of their children and grandchildren.”

The family theme continues throughout the business.

“Our husbands are the ‘chairmen of the board’ and they insist on quarterly stockholder meetings…which somehow always end up being held at very nice restaurants.

“It’s been fun for me, especially when I know I’m making some child happy. That’s been part of what makes doing this worthwhile. I say a prayer over every blanket before I finish it, that it brings warmth and peace to the person holding it in this chaotic world.”

Help me make a birthday present

When Lakewood moms Cathy Furst and Mary Guenveur agreed to rendezvous with a gem dealer from India at the La Quinta Inn, they really truly hoped they weren’t going to end up on the evening news. Oh, how had it come to this?

Furst laughs: “In the beginning, I just wanted to design a necklace for a girlfriend of mine, for her birthday. And I thought: I could do this with Mary’s help – she used to have a business in mosiacs. She’s just very creative and wonderful with color.”

So off the two went to pick out some gemstones at the Trade Center…and then they decided to make a few more pieces for a few other friends, and a few for themselves…

Furst, whose background was in retail and direct response marketing, says: “It was quick. People saw it and wanted it – it took on a life of its own. In three months, we were in stores.”

The women’s obvious excitement is a tell-tale sign, White says: “Sometimes people do this because it’s what they’ve really always wanted to do and have never had an excuse to. And then they discover that they love it, that they’re just exhilarated by being in control of their own destiny – deciding what to work on and when to work on it.

“I see everything from those who want to occupy themselves for a year or two to those who keep taking it forward.”

Forward they took it, and quickly, two friends with a small investment and a fishing tackle box of supplies that led almost overnight to Guenveur Furst Jewelry Design…and a gem dealer from India (found over the Internet) who turned out to be a really good guy and a great supplier… and one of their signature lariat necklaces winding around Deborah Norville’s notable neck on Inside Edition for all the world to see.

“She actually said something about us at the end of the broadcast,” Furst says. “What happened was that she’d been speaking at a builders’ show and noticed it on one of the women in the audience. When we heard about it, we sent her one. And she wore it on the air!”

Unlike many enthusiastic start-ups, however, these partners in business don’t devote their every waking hour to the quest for success and fame. Rather, the attraction to this endeavor was tempered by a desire to have a creative outlet that could make way for family when needed. Guenveur and husband, Bill, have a daughter, Meredith, in 7th grade at J.L. Long Middle School and Furst and her husband, Steven, have two children: Hope is an 8th grader at Long and Allison is a junior at Bishop Lynch.

“Both of us wanted our children to know they could call us when they needed us,” Furst says. “Our daughters are very independent, but we want them to know we’re available when they need us. We’re so happy to be able to do this.

“Plus she likes the jewelry,” Furst laughs of her daughter’s “business support.”

The partners will celebrate their fifth anniversary in May and the Guenveur Furst line of necklaces, bracelets and earrings have been found in vacation destinations in New Mexico and Colorado, and up and down the west coast.

“We designed a line for awhile for a clothing company and were also in mail order catalogs,” Furst says. “Truthfully, we’ve reorganized since then and are focusing more on the kind of high-end product you’d find in a boutique.”

Guenveur says: “Sapphires, rubies, semi-precious stones only. It’s so much more inspiring to design when you have beautiful stones to work with.”

Production is at a point where the partners – who say they share equally in design and business responsibilities – limit their hands-on craftsmanship to creating the design prototypes; an off-site production crew assembles the items to be shipped out. Princes range from $50 for a simple pair of earrings to $500 for a show-stopper necklace. Materials have an equally wide range: garnets, lemon quartz, turquoise, apatite, topaz, baroque pearls – and dozens more.

“We’re amazed at what a good partnership we have overall,” Furst says. “We rarely disagree, only collaborate, debate.

“We design for ourselves, what we like. And we design as a team, no egos. That’s the way this works.”

Just teach our children to dance

Kathy Sarles has to open a dance studio – her husband Harry said she was ruining the dining room floor of their beautiful new home off Brookside. And, well, if you have a dance studio right there in your house, why not a few students?

“After working for years as a ultrasound technician, I graduated from UTD in 1994 with a business degree and stayed in retail for a little while,” Sarles says. “After that, I was a stay-at-home mom – Julliam is in 8th grade now.

“But dancing was my hobby. I love to dance. And then there were the Fireballs.”

The…Fireballs?

Sarles laughs: “That was always the team name for my daughter and her friends since kindergarten – whether they were playing soccer, basketball, baseball, Scouts, you name it. And what happened was…I was taking dance from Buster Cooper, the God of Tap, and Terry Wolter. And the Fireballs’ mothers decided that I, in turn, should teach the girls to dance – because they’ll be going to Woodrow where the musical is huge, and they’re going to have to know how to dance.’ So I said ‘yes.'”

That “yes” grew from the nine students to 80 (and a waiting list) in three years’ time. That’s where Sarles is drawing the line for the foreseeable future.

“I call myself a ’boutique dance business,'” says Sarles. “Ten dollars an hour per student for jazz and tap… and it’s mostly for fun. I put much of the money I make right now into costumes and the studio. We do everything from pop to hip hop to oldies – and use every kind of prop from capes to canes to pom poms.”

Sarles says one of the reasons she was talked into business was the realization that some children aren’t ready for a traditional dance studio environment with its heightened structure and discipline: “I like to make my dance really, really fun. No yelling. I want them to look forward to coming here.

The dancing instructor does emphasize that despite the easygoing atmosphere, she makes sure every student is in top form for their annual recital at the Lakewood Theater: “They know their routine – they’re not up there fumbling around. Even my little ones know their stuff – I wouldn’t put them up there to be scared. It’s supposed to be fun.”

Another big reason Sarles was amenable to becoming a teacher was that a teacher’s schedule matches up with her daughter’s – Monday through Friday with weekends, holidays and summers off. Which, of course, Jilliam appreciates, doesn’t she?

“I want my mom all to myself,” deadpans the 14-year-old, then smiles. “But I’m glad she’s teaching dance to all my friends. She’s a good dance teacher, very patient. I couldn’t do it.”

Sarles says: “I’ll do this as long as I love it and it makes us happy.”

That’s my mom in the sombrero

“We’re just hams,” admits Debbie Crabb about herself and business partner Millie Winston. “Two hams who found a way to do what we wanted and have fun.”

A catering business that three five parties in one night during the recent holiday season started, just four years ago, with two creative members of the Skillman Avenue Church of Christ who simply wanted to encourage others to attend Wednesday Bible class. The idea was that attendance might increase if people didn’t have to worry about rushing home to prepare an evening meal. So now, an hour ahead of class, dinner is served.

Crabb says: “Because we made such a big deal of it – cooked from scratch, decorated, made each week a different ‘theme,’ dressed in costumes… people started wanting us to do their parties at home.

“All of a sudden, we had a catering business.”

Although Crabb has one daughter off at college – Kiley, a freshman at Texas Tech – she still has two at home that need a mother with a flexible schedule: Evie is in 8th grad at Long and Masy is in 6th at Lakewood Elementary School. Winston also has a college freshman, Jane who is attending the Naval Academy, and John, a 9th grader at Dallas Christian. But though the younger set may appreciate moms who work from home, there has been some grumbling about school lunch bags packed with party food and hors d’oeuvres.

“There are always leftovers,” Crabb chuckles. “We handle dinner parties, cocktail parties, wedding receptions, frozen dinners for seniors, all kinds of special occasions. Our identity is ‘gourmet comfort food’ and we specialize in theme parties – Mediterranean, Mexican Fiesta, Cosmos, Dinging Through the Decades, College Night, Military.

“We just got carried away, and now we’re killing ourselves coming up with new ideas. But we like to do that ‘little bit of something extra.'”

And the cow jumped over the moon

Forget about Barney and Pokemon, says decorative painter Kathy Spalding.

“They’re copyrighted anyway,” the neighborhood mom points out, walking around an assortment of old-fashioned, delicately painted furnishings in soft pastels, adorned with nursery rhymes and kids’ names.

“I’m more into the vintage/nostalgia look in my pieces.”

For the past several years, Spalding has been splitting her time between being a stay-at-home mom (Courtney is in 7th grade at Long and Jack’s in 5th grade at Lakewood), teaching 4-year-olds two mornings a week and running Some Like It Painted – adorning everything from picture frames to lamps, dressers, tables, chairs, toy chests and name plaques.

Although the company is a relatively new venture for her, Spalding originally received her degree in art and has been doing some kind of painting “forever.”

“When I graduated, I was an illustrator for a shoe company in St. Louis… then I designed needlepoint canvases. I have a need to do work with my hands.

“I guess it’s good that I started getting back into this, slowly, about two years ago. At one point my husband, Dale, would go on a business trip and come home to find the dining room walls painted yet another color,” she laughs. “This is a more productive outlet.”

Not that she regrets her time at home.

“My family is first and foremost. It’s such a short time that I get to be home with my kids, and it’s just so important to be here.

“I needed something that would fit my family life. I don’t want to work weekends, not while there are soccer games to go to.

So what about when the nest is empty?

Eubank is doubtful that she’ll continue to grow her half of Warm Designs once the kids spread their wings: “I really wish someone would find a cure for diabetes but if they don’t, I’ll probably go back (to being a diabetes educator). Don and I gave up a lot – I had a fabulous career. But this was right for me now. It’s different for each individual, all parents have to decide for themselves.”

Sarles as well thinks she’s more likely someday to apply her business degree to a more profitable venue than dance, while Spalding, on the hand, is just beginning to reach the level where she’s toying with the idea of additional staffing, starting a website.

“I’m just not quite sure if it’s time or just how to go about it. Maybe that’s the artist in me, not a business woman at all,” she rues.

Crabb and Winston are thinking more aggressively of taking their home-based business up and out when the time comes: “We’re right at the point where we need to begin planning what the next level will be,” Crabb says. “Adding full-time staff, maybe even opening our own restaurant… with red walls and funky art… hearty breakfasts, sandwiches and grilled veggies at lunch, a take-out section. I think about that now that I know how many noodles to boil for 150 people.”

Of moms such as Spalding who are wavering on the brink of moving forward, SMU’s White says: “It’s case-by-case, situational, individual. Some don’t feel like they have business skills beyond a certain point, might feel inadequate, and don’t realize that an awful lot of business is just common sense.

“Now if you come to the point where you want or need to grow your business rapidly, there are people you can hire who have the skill sets to manage those kind of companies. Entrepreneurs are often very good at hiring people that are ‘smarter’ than they are, and motivating them to stay around and handle those parts of the business. Others may get that part-time MBA degree and acquire the skills themselves.”

White says that his observations of businesses started by stay-at-home mothers “cover the waterfront”: “You have those who are doing things just to keep themselves mentally active or keep their skills up to speed, and then you have the emerging hard-core entrepreneurs who are really getting something started.”

Guenveur and Furst appear to be in the latter “gunning their engines” category.

“We planned all along to take this to the next level,” Furst says. “This takes up too much time to be a hobby. that’s why we’re building our line, putting up our website, getting a New York sales rep. We’ve already hit some goals ahead of schedule – so we’re keeping our movements fluid.

“Sometimes businesses with long-range plans haven’t been responsive to the market and that was their downfall, so we’re staying sensitive to that minute-by-minute paradigm that seems to be the way to make it today.”

White says: “There’s some debate about the definition of what is a home-based business and who is really a stay-at-home mom, but regardless, I would say that anything is possible – there are no limits to where this can lead.”

Furst says their worst case scenario is “ending up with a whole lot of wonderful stuff we get to wear ourselves.

“But so far my jewelry box is staying empty.”


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