You could say this year's winner of the Office Depot/Entrepreneur Magazine Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year award had designs on success as far back as 1979. That's when Terri Bowersock borrowed $2,000 from her grandmother, leased a small building, and filled it with "gently used" furniture--her own and her mother's. No sacrifice was too great as Bowersock launched Mesa, Arizona-based Terri's Consign & Design Furnishings, the little consignment shop that has grown into a franchised chain of 12 superstores in five states and boasts annual sales of $15 million.
A star entrepreneur in the making, Bowersock set out to create a business of her own straight out of high school. Her motivation was simple: She was incapable of filling out a job application to work for someone else. As a result of the dyslexia she'd suffered from since childhood, any position requiring strong reading and writing skills was out of the question. So she drew on the well of determination that got her through school and allowed herself to dream big. "Sometimes our disabilities give us our drive," says Bowersock, 42.
Her vision of a consignment-only store was rare in those days, but Bowersock was used to swimming upstream. She credits one of Entrepreneur magazine's business start-up guides with steering her in the right direction. "The guide was written simply. It really helped me for the first few years," remembers Bowersock, who paid close attention to the list of common reasons businesses fail. Avoiding the traditional consignment advertising in the classifieds, which she saw as inefficient, Bowersock launched a TV advertising campaign to educate viewers on the joys of low-priced, upscale consignment furnishings. Her creative approach worked, and the business took off.
But Bowersock was just getting started. Distinguishing herself in the area of corporate culture was next on her lofty agenda, and she sums up her strategy this way: "You've got to visit the village to be the king." Loosely translated? "I talk to my employees," she says. "I don't analyze their jobs on paper--I get out there with them so I know what works."
If overcoming obstacles is the hallmark of a true entrepreneur, savvy financial management is the skill that distinguishes successful women business owners. "I paid back my grandmother's $2,000 and built Terri's to $15 million without any loans," says Bowersock. Completely debt-free, Bowersock began franchising three years ago; she's now preparing to take her company public. "There are key employees who've worked as hard as I've worked," she says. "Going public allows them to share in [the financial rewards]."
Bowersock makes time in her busy schedule to give back to the community through Habitat for Humanity and other service organizations. The 1998 Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year is also an outspoken advocate for empowering women in business, and she practices what she preaches. In a male-dominated industry, 80 percent of Bowersock's corporate and store-level managers are women. In motivational speeches across the country, Bowersock counsels other women: "Don't have one store--have a chain," she says. "And don't let anyone tell you you can't."
A favorite story she tells on the speaking circuit is the joke about British children on a playground a few years ago preparing to play "prime minister." A boy speaks up and says, "I get to be the prime minister," to which his friend replies, "But you can't. The prime minister is a woman."
Terri's Consign & Design Furnishings, 1826 W. Broadway Rd., #3, Mesa, AZ 85202, (602) 969-1121