Martha Dunlap always had a passion for organization.
While in the fourth grade, she had a metal box with the names and addresses of her friends neatly placed in alphabetical order.
“That made sense to me,” she said.
In 2004, Mrs. Dunlap was planning to retire from teaching English to sixth-graders at Moore Middle School and was trying to figure out what she was going to do. After she discovered a friend’s husband was going into business building closet shelving but didn’t want to “mess with the stuff” in the closets, she decided she wanted to mess with the stuff, she said.
Mrs. Dunlap retired that year to start a business, Divide & Conquer, to help people organize their spaces to “get rid of mess and stress in their life,” she said.
She knew nothing about starting or running a business so she began attending meetings of the National Association of Professional Organizers, reading books and magazines and soaking in as much information as she could.
She came up with the name Divide & Conquer from the military strategy — to divide to attack and conquer the enemy. When people become overwhelmed with a large project, they end up not doing it at all. When they divide it into smaller segments, they can do it, she said.
Mrs. Dunlap decided to incorporate leopard print in her brand because, “I’m wild about organizing” and some people’s rooms look like a jungle, she quipped.
Her first job was helping a friend organize a garage and hold a garage sale. It was followed by a request from another friend to hold an estate sale. She said she and her husband put in more than 300 hours to organize the house that was “jam packed full” and at the beginning of the estate sale, she had a line of customers out the door.
Through word of mouth, she did a couple more estate sales and mailed out a few fliers advertising them.
“My business started growing fast,” she said. “I saw, fortunately, there was a need for this business.”
She now has done more than 200 estate sales, including 33 last year. She 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.
“I do not believe in 1 ounce of luck,” Mrs. Dunlap said. “It is hard work.”
Her business success has come as a result of God’s guidance, common sense, hard work and perseverance, she said.
Her late parents were examples of hard work, diligence and perseverance.
“By seeing my parents work, I knew hard work was important,” she said.
Mrs. Dunlap wants to write a book about her experiences and promised to change the names of the people in it to “protect the guilty.”
“I’ve learned through all of this, people want to do business with those they know and trust,” Mrs. Dunlap said. With her business, she follows the Golden Rule, treating her clients as if they were handling the estate of her late parents.
The Tyler native graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1965, attended Tyler Junior College, the University of Alabama, and Stephen F. Austin State University. She taught school for 20 years in Nacogdoches, New Chapel Hill and Tyler.
Mrs. Dunlap was the keynote speaker Tuesday at the 16th annual Women Entrepreneur Conference, put on by TJC’s Small Business Development Center and attended by nearly 300 people.
Mayor Barbara Bass, who emceed the event, said Mrs. Dunlap gave them a secret to a good business.
“Ten years of hard work for an overnight success,” she joked.
Mayor Bass said Mrs. Dunlap started Divide & Conquer after she failed at retirement.
“Her excitement and energy is what makes her a successful business person,” she said.