BY CASEY MURPHY, email@example.com
Ashley Randall and Melissa Bennett were surprised when their names were called Tuesday to receive the first ever Emerging Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
The owners of Sister2Sister Cookies were one of three finalists and took the honor at the 16th annual Women Entrepreneur Conference, put on by Tyler Junior College’s Small Business Development Center.
“We were surprised to be in the top three finalists,” Ms. Randall said, adding that they were grateful to be recognized for their business.
“We’re honored to be the first recipient” of the award, Ms. Bennett said.
Sister2Sister Cookies has grown from one employee in a 242-square-foot drive-thru kiosk at 322 ESE Loop 323 to six employees, a second facility where cookies are baked and are ready to be shipped across the country.
The sisters spent years perfecting an old family recipe before opening the business in 2011 to sell Snickerdoodles, Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin and a few other types of cookies. They come in red boxes tied with black and white ribbon.
The sisters started making the cookies for family, friends and co-workers. Nearly six years before opening the business, they sold their made-to-order cookies out of a house. When the demand became too much for the two mothers, they put the business on hold. However, they continued to bake the cookies for their children's school functions, family and friends. After Mrs. Randall’s twin daughters entered the first grade and the building became available, they decided to start their business.
They wanted to bake and sell cookies the same day, offering “fresh-baked goodness like your grandmother made them,” Mrs. Randall said shortly after opening. “We’re putting smiles on peoples’ faces, one cookie at a time.”
Kay Bookout, staff coordinator for the Tyler Small Business Development Center, said they had several nominations for the award but narrowed it down to three, and the recipient was selected by an independent panel of judges. The criteria for choosing the recipient included being a new business owner who has operated a business for five years or less and has succeeded in the growth of sales, profitability, number of employees, expansion of territory or innovation of product.
Other nominees for the award were Ingrid Klein, owner of Texas Home Help Services Inc., and Donna Spann, owner of Capstone College and Career Advising.
With her business, Ms. Klein provides everything from house cleaning and lawn and garden care, pet and house sitting, to helping people pack and organize their things, doing laundry, grocery shopping, assisting with garage sales, helping with weddings and other events, providing elderly companionship, cooking and seasonal tasks. She started the business in 2011 after struggling to find a job and now has 238 clients in East Texas, as well as franchises in Nashville, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, with one also planned for Tallahassee, Fla.
Ms. Spann started Capstone College and Career Advising in 2011 after her daughter started asking questions about college. Capstone works with high school students to help them prepare for college or a career. They hope to duplicate their advising services in other areas.
Small Business Development Center Director Don Proudfoot started the Women Entrepreneur Conference 16 years ago to help support women-owned businesses, which he said make up 40 percent of their clients.
“Gettin’ Back to Business & Gettin’ Business Back” was the event’s theme.
Tyler Mayor Barbara Bass emceed the luncheon and proclaimed it “Women Entrepreneurs Day” in Tyler. She said nearly 300 people attended the conference.
“We want to celebrate our role as women in business,” she said. “The power of wow is seeing this many women in one room. And the guys are welcome also.”
Martha Dunlap, owner of Divide & Conquer, was the keynote speaker and talked about how she started her business 10 years ago after retiring from being a teacher.
What started with helping a friend organize her client has grown into a business that helps clients organize spaces to “get rid of mess and stress in their life,” she said. She also helps clients put on estate sales and by word of mouth, now mails out postcards about each sale to more than 6,000 people, sends out more than 3,000 emails and takes out ads in several newspapers and websites.
“Slowly but surely, this has grown,” she said of Divide & Conquer. She has done more than 200 estate sales, including 33 last year, she added.
“If you’re looking to start a business, go into an area of which you have a great passion,” Mrs. Dunlap said, adding that she has a passion for organization.
She also encouraged business owners to make weekly, monthly and yearly goals and to be a business people can trust.
“The words we say and the way in which we conduct our business are so paramount,” she said, adding people should run their business “so you can look back and say, ‘I’ve done my best and did it with integrity.’”
Lorrie Gazette, owner of Creative Order & Design, gave a morning workshop about “Gettin’ Business Back in Order.”
Sharon Howell, executive board chairwoman of The Women’s Fund, encouraged the women to become members of the organization that pulls member’s resources to award grants to local nonprofit organizations that benefit women and children. In the last six years, they have given more than $680,000 to 20 nonprofits, she said.
“As an entrepreneur, you must be involved and engaged in your community,” Ms. Howell, who owns Travel Masters, said.
A short video highlighting American made products and the importance of buying them was played for the audience. Chico’s presented a fashion show and exhibitors included a variety of businesses and organizations targeting women.