From the May 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Sandra Ramsey Hale and Joan Marie Rowland didn't come from the school of hard hats, yet these interior designers-turned-home builders are adding finesse to the construction industry.

"As interior designers, we were disillusioned by some of the builders' practices," says Hale, 39, co-owner of San Simeon Custom Homes in Kingwood, Texas. "They weren't exactly upfront with clients."

For example, home buyers were often told their investments would include allowances for carpeting, wallpaper and the like, but they typically wound up with considerably less than they were promised. The entrepreneurs, who worked together in the interior design company Rowland still owns, also had the unenviable task of telling new homeowners they couldn't purchase exactly what they wanted. Reasoning that "cost plus" construction was a better way to go, the pair formed San Simeon in 1996 with the backing of a satisfied customer.

"My father is a custom-home builder, my grandfather was a home builder and so is my brother," says Rowland, 63, who had always wanted to follow in the family tradition.

Now she's following in their footsteps, but with a twist. Because of the women's interior design backgrounds, San Simeon homes all have that something extra. "We've come up with very innovative features such as a different fireplace design, light fixtures or hardware," says Rowland.

Initially some subcontractors may question their approach, says Hale, but their distinctive designs and hands-on working style have earned the women respect from even the most skeptical industry insiders. Home buyers in the area also seem to like the results--the partners are projecting 1999 sales of $5 million.

On the Road

Mobile center brings training to would-be entrepreneurs.

Taking it to the streets has a new meaning in Chicago, thanks to a joint venture between the Women's Business Development Center (WBDC), Dominick's Finer Foods and BankOne.

The trio has created the Wheels of Business program, a mobile business development center that travels weekly to Dixmoor, Ford Heights, Harvey, Phoenix, Robbins and other low-income communities near Chicago. The program, which provides residents with information on becoming self-employed, starts with four free workshops on issues such as credit and business plans. Those who want to pursue entrepreneurship are directed to the WBDC Fast Track program for further training.

For more information on the mobile program's route, call (312) 853-3477.

Just In

Business, entrepreneurship and economic empowerment are just some of the topics that will be discussed at the second China-U.S. Conference on Women's Issues, "Holding Up Half The Sky," scheduled for October 11 to 15 in Beijing.

For more information, contact Global Interactions at (602) 906-8886 or global@goodnet.com

Contact Sources

San Simeon Custom Homes, (281) 358-0058, fax: (281) 358-5008

Women's Business Development Center, fax: (312) 853-0145, wbdc@aol.com