Three of the hardest industries to conquer. Three of the most difficult industries to make a name for yourself in because of the ever-increasing competition and constant changes in the market (not to mention the often-fickle nature of customers and clients). Three industries that are built on offering a unique product, but also on reputation, relationships and referrals (yes, three more Rs…).
More and more, retail, restaurants and real estate are being dominated by women in the Lowcountry. The solid evidence is in the rising number of women-owned businesses in these fields, and it’s also seen anecdotally in the answers I get when asking people where to eat, shop, or turn to for real estate guidance. Ask 10 people where to eat in Bluffton, and you’re likely to have them tell you about The Cottage (owned by Leslie Rohland). Ask another 10 where to shop for unique and affordable clothing, and the majority will direct you to Birdie James, the Hilton Head Island boutique owned by Michelle Smith Taylor. Anyone looking for beautiful floral design and a unique assortment of gifts and decorative accessories knows of (and has probably been to) Branches—owned by sisters Sarah Perry and Lauren McAvoy. And, if you are looking to buy a house, the name you are certain to hear recommended more than once as someone knowledgeable about the island, dedicated to her profession, and with a proven track record, is Debbie Cort, at Charles Sampson’s office at Charter One Realty.
What is drawing so many Lowcountry women to the three Rs? And, more important, what lessons can their stories—and success—teach other women considering these thriving areas of entrepreneurship to enable them to turn their dreams into the fourth R: Reality?
Leslie Rohland, owner of well-known and well-loved Cottage Café, Bakery & Tea Room and The Juice Hive & Health Emporium, turned her dream of opening her own restaurant into a reality, but she noted that “while opening a restaurant starts out as a dream, it will eventually evolve into a labor of love—a tiresome labor of love.” With her longtime experience working in the restaurant industry, it was frustration of offering great ideas to others and seeing them come to fruition that prompted her to create and launch The Cottage Café. Wanting the fruits of her labor to truly be her own, and taking what she learned from her supportive mentor, Bob Masteller of The Jazz Corner (where she worked and helped for eight-plus years), she opened her popular café eight years ago. Not one to rest, loving what she does, and having a supportive and patient family, Rohland opened The Juice Hive and Health Emporium this past year. As clever, creative, and delicious as The Cottage Café, Rohland has another winner on her hands with The Juice Hive (I selfishly debated mentioning it, since it has quickly become one of my favorite places. I was trying to keep this local treasure to myself!). She credits much of her success to the qualities of patience, kindness, a willingness to listen and her role as a boss who is the “giver of second chances.” Does that sound like a recipe for success in the restaurant business? It should. It works.