Westchester County's Most Accomplished Women Entrepreneurs
Meet 28 of the county's most successful, move innovative, most respected business women.
Photography by Toshi Tasaki
Makeup & Hair by Paulo's Atelier Salon: Cindy Payne (makeup), Sandra Sigvenza and Harmonie Josephs (hair)
From fashion to farming, from computers to courtrooms, from new pools to nonprofits, these 28 women founded 26 successful, innovative, and respected businesses—small and large. Most started with an original idea sparked by an innate passion; others decided they could do a better job in their chosen field if they struck out on their own. But, no matter how and why they got their starts, all share the same inspiring qualities: a true entrepreneurial spirit, a winning vision, the courage to take a risk, and a commitment to the company they started.
The Delightful Doyenne of Home Design
Founder and CEO, Chris Madden, Inc.
Launched her own successful brand of home furnishings? Check. Hosted her own TV show for eight seasons? Ditto. Authored 17 lifestyle books and penned a syndicated column that appeared in 400 newspapers for close to a decade? Yes and yes again. Oprah? No. Martha? Nope. We’re talking about Westchester’s own Chris Madden.
Madden, a Purchase resident, has turned great taste and business savvy into a multi-faceted, multi-million-dollar, home-furnishings company encompassing design, publishing, and licensing. Madden’s signature sophisticated but accessible style has been described by Fortune as “like Martha’s, only lower maintenance.”
Says Madden, “Creating a haven is not about money—it’s about your passion, personal collection, and things that you love.”
Madden’s interest in business and design goes back to her childhood. When not publishing issues of her own neighborhood newspaper or redecorating her bedroom to match a new turquoise princess phone, the young Chris Madden enjoyed pretending to run the office of her dad, a sales executive, and even accompanying him on calls to retailers like Macy’s.
After attending the Fashion Institute of Technology (today she sits on its board) and spending 10 years in book publishing, in 1977 Madden started her own public relations firm, Chris Madden Associates. Her first design book, Interior Visions, a look at designer showcase houses published in 1988, quickly became a best seller. But it was the book she published a decade later, A Room of Her Own: Women’s Personal Spaces, that prompted a personal phone call from Oprah—and a subsequent two-year gig as her show’s first design correspondent. Oprah’s call affirmed that her company, Madden says, “was on the right track.”
That company gained significant traction in 2000, when Madden entered into her first licensing agreement, with Bassett Furniture, a partnership that generated annual sales of approximately $50 million for Bassett over the next several years. Additional licensing agreements—with Mohawk Home and Austin Candles—followed in 2002, and, in 2004, the Chris Madden for JCPenney Home collection debuted in that mass retailer’s 1,000-plus stores, catalog, and website, becoming the largest and most successful home-furnishings launch in JCPenney’s 100-plus-year history. To date, Madden’s licensed products for the home have generated approximately $2 billion in retail sales for the company’s various retail partners.
The key to Madden’s success? “Chris has a real feel for her customers and an amazing ability to translate trends and her knowledge of the market into the products they want,” says Home Textiles Today Publisher/Editorial Director Warren Shoulberg. “Plus, she’s just a nice person. People like to work with her.”
What’s up next for Madden? She’s wrapping up her 18th book, The E Factor, about the importance of emotional connections in business. In addition to her ongoing pursuit of charitable endeavors, which have included everything from helping to furnish the homes of Katrina victims to providing her plush blankets to wounded soldiers serving in Iraq through Operation Cozy Comfort, Madden is focusing on “what people really need and want in this new economy” in order to continue expanding her brand. “We’d like to be in every room of your home,” she says. Your closets, too. “We’re looking into apparel,” she adds.
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Founder and CEO, Diana Gould Ltd. Floral and Event Décor
Diana Gould has never worked in a flower shop. She’s never taken a floral-design class. Still, today she is the woman behind the flowers in some 500 weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and corporate events every year.
“I thought I wanted to be an actress,” says the 68-year-old Scarsdale resident. “I was a drama major—a drama queen. Nobody hired me. I got married and moved to Scarsdale and I was the worst housekeeper ever.” Nevertheless, Gould discovered that she enjoyed working with local charities, especially handling flowers for their events. “They couldn’t fire me because they weren’t paying me.”
Soon however, Gould was getting paid for her work. “Abigail Kirsch was just starting out then, too, and I asked if they could start recommending me,” she says. “Eventually, we had fifteen people working in the basement of my house. So we bought a building in Scarsdale, a little retail flower shop. Bob Kirsch told me, ‘You’re not a retail florist; you’re an event designer.’ He was right. We never moved into that shop. We bought a much bigger space that wasn’t a retail store in Scarsdale.”
In 1996, Gould acquired a 20,000-square-foot warehouse on Frontage Street in Elmsford. “We keep everything under one roof,” she says. A staff of 35 employees—floral artists, graphic designers, carpenters—handles everything from centerpieces to printed menus to even custom-made furniture.
As a result, Diana Gould Ltd. Floral and Event Décor is a preferred vendor at the Castle on the Hudson, the Tarrytown House Estate & Conference Center, Doral Arrowwood, the Ritz-Carlton, Westchester, and many more. The business, which handled about 75 events in its early years, now does 500 per year, many of them corporate functions. Among Gould’s corporate clients: HBO, PepsiCo, Morgan Stanley, and IBM.
That means negotiating shrinking event budgets. “Our skill is to be able to give you what you want within your price range,” Gould says. “And now, gas is more expensive, so we’re spending more on delivering the flowers. Creativity is the name of the game.” Getting clients from Manhattan doesn’t hurt. “We’re really starting to work a lot more in the City. People have found that our prices are fifteen to twenty percent cheaper than the New York decorators.”
Today, Gould’s daughter, Jennifer, is helping out, too. “She is in the twenty-first century when it comes to computers and design,” Gould says. “Where I leave off, she picks up.”
She adds: “You have to be crazy to work in an industry that’s so last-minute, that depends on the weather, and depends on human beings to not cancel their weddings the night before. You have to figure out how to make it work.” Apparently, she has.
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Operative Partner, Katonah General Store; Principal and Designer, The June Goldfinger Collection
How many people do you know who have their own store in which 90 percent of the merchandise sold—everything from jewelry and eyeglasses to shawls and shoes—has been designed by them? Meet Waccabuc resident June Goldfinger.
Goldfinger—who counts locals Ralph and Ricky Lauren, Martha Stewart, and opera singer Jessye Norman among her devoted clients—easily could have spent her life going out to lunch, playing tennis, and hosting parties in one of her five homes. Not only was she born wealthy (her clothes were handmade for her in Europe; her father was the owner of a private steamship
company), she is married to successful architect Myron Goldfinger. Instead, she is happily consumed by her passion to create beautiful things, e.g., stunning interiors, made-to-measure couture clothing, and custom shoes and eyeglasses. She frequently works 10-hour-days, six days a week.
After studying at Parsons School of Design, Goldfinger opened an architectural and interior design company in 1965 with her husband; he did the exteriors and she designed the interiors—and everything in them, from furniture and flatware to lighting and rugs. Among their many commercial and residential projects over the next two-and-a-half decades were two beachfront villa resorts in Anguilla built in the ’80s, where one night sets you back $6,000, and the second and third (and keep-on-counting) homes of super-wealthy clients around the world.
In 1992, Goldfinger launched the charming Katonah General Store (KGS) to showcase her furnishings. But when customers wanted to purchase her custom-made clothing, 18-karat gold jewelry, and even eyeglasses of her own design, she changed the store’s focus to fashion. When Ralph Lauren walked in and said he loved everything in the store, she knew she was onto something. “He and Ricky have shopped here ever since,” she says. Martha Stewart has worn Goldfinger’s clothing on TV and to the Emmys. She even asked Goldfinger to design a clothing collection for her, a project that never got off the ground; the chairman of the board of Stewart’s company nixed it.
When the store first launched, customers would spend from $10,000 to $20,000 annually, Goldfinger says. Today, that figure ranges from $30,000 to $40,000. Goldfinger estimates that an average purchase per visit runs from $1,200 to $6,000—a figure achieved quickly enough when a “perfect” long-sleeved shirt costs $860.
What’s next for the designer? This year, Goldfinger offered a collection of 12 styles of women’s clothing, including dresses, jackets, tops, skirts, and coats, to wholesalers to sell to select high-end boutiques across the country. Many sold out in one day. Goldfinger plans on offering an expanded line to be carried in even more stores in the future.
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Born with a Green Thumb
Founder and Co-Principal, Johnsen Landscapes & Pools
When she was in the third grade, Jan Johnsen planted corn seeds on the windowsill of her family’s New York apartment. She soon branched out to the fire escape, where pots of flowers and vegetables thrived. At 16, she won first prize in the Manhattan borough-wide science fair with an experiment on how sound affects the growth of plants. “My teacher thought it was a stupid idea,” she says, “and that made me want to do it more. I just intuitively knew there was a connection.” Since then, scientists have learned that the high-frequency
vibrations of birdsong open up the pores on plant leaves so that they absorb more air and nutrients.
After 15 years of working for other firms, Johnsen opened her own landscape company in 1986 with just $3,000. “I bought a used computer from the PennySaver and started out in a one-room office I rented from a tree company.”
Her husband, Rafael Algarin, joined her six months later. “It was slow going at first,” she says, “and it took about three years to really take off.” The firm has since grown to 15 employees. Johnsen has designed gardens as far away as New Orleans and Hawaii and many have been featured in numerous magazines and books. Johnsen also teaches a graduate-level course in landscape design at Columbia University, is an instructor at the New York Botantical Garden, and has authored several garden-design books.
“It’s more than a full-time job,” she admits. “That’s where the passion comes in. Mine is to share what I’ve learned with the rest of the world.”
Johnsen counts Bill and Hillary Clinton among her many clients. “Both are connected to the outdoors—and Hillary, in particular, loves flowers. They both truly do take time to smell the roses.” Which is what Johnsen hopes her creations inspire in every client. To that end, she currently is writing a book called Tranquility by Design, which includes her secrets for creating serene outdoor spaces.
A Better Way
Geri S. Krauss
Owner, Founder, Krauss PLLC
“As a kid, I could argue my way through anything,” says Geri Krauss, who, today, is the owner and founder of Krauss PLLC in White Plains, a legal firm. “There was just really never a question that I wanted to be a lawyer and appear in court.”
Krauss received her JD from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1976. She knew she wanted to be in the boxing arena of the law: litigation. By the middle of the last decade, she was writing a book for the American Bar Association on lawyers’ obligations to their partners, and, in 2002, she began as lead counsel for the plaintiff in the landmark sexual harassment case Bell v. Helmsley against the hotel magnate Leona Helmsley.
“That trial was transformative,” says Krauss of the case, which resulted in an $11 million judgment for
her client in 2003. On the same day that a court reduced the $11 million verdict, though, Krauss received some more bad news: a breast cancer diagnosis. During her recovery, she says, she came to the conclusion that "after all these years of litigation, there has to be a better way.” Three years later she decided to open her own firm to also offer people the options of mediation and arbitration as alternative means of conflict resolution.
The only full-time lawyer at her firm, Krauss has managed to be appointed to the elite Super Lawyers listing for five years in a row. Krauss, whose hourly rate is usually around $500, has handled more than 100 clients in the last two years alone (by contrast, some 50-lawyer firms may only handle 500 clients a year). In addition, a large part of her practice involves being a “lawyer’s lawyer”: having authored the American Bar Association’s book on lawyers’ obligations to their partners, she often represents other attorneys in disputes with former clients or partners.
Since starting Krauss PLLC in 2006, Krauss has had to discover the business side of running a firm—finding her space in White Plains, setting up payroll and accounting, vetting, and lots more. Even more challenging, she says, was “having to support and cover these investments and expenses before I could take home any profits.”
$10,000 and a Dream
Co-Founder and CEO, Two’s Company, Inc.
In 1968, Bobbie Gottlieb and her husband, Robert, started Two’s Company in their New Rochelle home with just $10,000, ostensibly as a part-time job to fund their three sons’ college educations. “As with most good efforts, it was not part time,” Gottlieb says. “And we were encouraged by our early success.”
With good reason: today, the company’s home décor, giftware, and fashion accessories are sold worldwide; the firm has grown to include 200 employees; and it has showrooms in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, High Point (North Carolina), Atlanta, Dallas, and New York, with its corporate headquarters in Elmsford.
“Even in this bad economy, we’re optimistic, ready to fast-forward,” Gottlieb says. “Sometimes, it just takes a little thing, like a new picture frame or a scarf, to give someone a lift.” She attributes her company’s success even in down markets to all those little things—the company’s products start at $10 and go up to $1,000. As a private company, sales figures are not disclosed, but Gottlieb implies that sales volume is ahead of last year. “Some of our salespeople have found 2011 to be their best year yet.”
She is so optimistic that the company just opened its first “concept store” on Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich, Connecticut. “We want to better understand the consumer, so we can go back to our retailers with the information they need to be more successful.” The 1,500-square-foot store will offer a mix of fashion accessories and home items.
The future didn’t always look this rosy. “When my husband died in 1978, the banks suggested I simply give it up. As a business woman in the ’70s, they didn’t know what to make of me. Every decision had to be right; there was no room for error. Now, we have the means to explore options, develop the lines that work, get rid of ones that don’t.” The company brings out about 1,000 new products each year, dropping about half of the line.
Her advice to would-be entrepreneurs? “Have a plan and a team in place to execute it. Business is hard. You have to love what you do and be prepared to reinvent yourself every season to be right on trend. Each day counts and you must have the commitment and passion to stick with it.”
Design of the Times
Founder, Principal Owner, Eileen Fisher, Inc.
Back when Eileen Fisher first told her parents about her plan to start a line of stylish-yet-comfortable women’s clothing, their responses were hardly encouraging. “My mother said, ‘But you can’t even sew,’ and my dad said, ‘But you don’t know anything about business.’” But the Irvington designer, inspired in part by the simple shift dresses her mother whipped up for her in middle school (“They were fun to move in and you didn’t feel restricted”) knew she was on to a really big idea. And fortunately—especially for the scores of her label’s fervent fans—she was right.
Frustrated that simply getting dressed in the morning was anything but simple—and discouraged by the cyclical nature of a fashion industry that decreed that one season’s looks were hopelessly out of style the next—in 1984, the then-freelance interior and graphic designer decided to act. Fisher invested $350 to produce her first collection of four basic shapes—box top, crop pant, tunic, and vest—in two sizes. She booked $8,000 in orders at her first trade show and $40,000 at the next, and hasn’t slowed down since.
In 2006, the brand expanded beyond fashion to include the Eileen Fisher Home by Garnet Hill Collection of bedding, towels, pillows, and rugs. And today, Fisher’s designs are sold nationwide at 56 Eileen Fisher stores—plus two new stores in London and one in Canada—400 specialty stores, and Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdale’s. With offices in Irvington, Manhattan, and Secaucus, New Jersey, the company employs about 968 employees. Annual sales revenues for 2011 are projected at $314 million.
A mix of on-trend and more timeless pieces, Fisher’s fashions continue to embody the philosophy of “beautifully simple clothes designed to move with real life” that work for the long-term. "Our design values don’t include planned obsolescence.”
Fisher’s formula of knowing what women want and being able to give it to them has been phenomenally successful, according to Bloomingdale’s Vice Chairman and Harrison resident Frank Doroff. “Eileen Fisher has been one of the steadiest growth brands in our thirty-three stores,” Doroff says. “Over the past ten years, it has grown to be among the top five growth brands at Bloomingale’s.”
Recalling her own beginnings in the fashion-design business (“I didn’t have any connections”), Fisher is big on extending a hand to others just starting out. In 2004, the company launched an annual business grant program for women entrepreneurs, which has since awarded $360,000 to 33 women-owned businesses. And in 2006, Fisher gave 31 percent of Eileen Fisher, Inc., to its employees through an Employee Share Ownership Plan. “Employees are like entrepreneurs,” Fisher told CNNMoney in a video profile. “It’s only natural to include employees as owners.”
What’s up next for this designer/entrepreneur? “Eileen wants to continue to invite more women into the brand, in keeping with her philosophy that great clothes should be timeless and ageless,” says Kerri Devaney, the company’s public relations manager. Look for m ore just-opened stores in Canada and the United Kingdom, the nationwide rollout of a new store merchandising plan, and continued expansion of the brand into spa wear.
Outfitter of the Ultra-Fashionable
Mary Jane Denzer
Founder and Owner, Mary Jane Denzer Design Boutique
Since 1979, White Plains resident Mary Jane Denzer has been dressing the most influential and fashionable women in Westchester—and beyond—for everything from charity balls to meetings of the board. After more than 30 years, she is positively revered as the high priestess of the stylish set. Her handpicked ensembles have made appearances at the Oscars and the Emmys, at lunch with the Queen of England, and at the wedding of Prince Albert of Monaco, and her devoted customers include CiCi (Mrs. James Earl) Jones and Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo.
Denzer has always loved fashion. Her grandmother designed and sewed all her clothes when she was young, and she got her first job in the industry—running a beach club’s summer boutique—at the age of 14. After stints at Saks, Diner’s Club, and Bergdorf’s, Denzer took the plunge, opening a shop in Mamaroneck with another woman, Maureen Moran, in 1979. “The first day we
opened, I sold out of everything and had to reorder,” she says. “That was a pretty clear picture that I was on my way.” The following year she went out on her own, launching her eponymous shop on East Post Road in White Plains. In 1996, with a small staff, she moved to more sumptuous quarters—designed by the same architect who did the Rodeo Drive boutique for Dior—and tripled her staff.
Her first year, Denzer says, garnered $650,000 in annual sales. Projected for 2011? Close to $3 million. The numbers add up quickly when you’re talking about the exclusive designer labels—mostly couture—that Denzer favors, including Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, Emilio Pucci, Lanvin, and Azzedien Alaia. When the store first opened, the average purchase price per visit was between $300 and $400. Today, it’s closer to $2,000. One woman recently spent $20,000 to outfit herself for the new season. In the past, Denzer says, “I had people spending seventy thousand dollars on a spring wardrobe in one day.”
Ah yes, that pesky economic downturn. Did it affect Denzer’s bottom line? “Of course,” she says. “But the luxury market is one market that’s surviving."
So what’s next? Two weeks ago, Denzer, who is in her seventies, sold a small percentage of her business to the store’s manager, Anastasia Cucinella, who, Denzer says, “hopes to keep this business going forever.”
An Angel Among Us
Irvington resident Genevieve Piturro, the 50-year-old founder of the Pajama Program, which gives abused, neglected, or otherwise needy children warm pajamas and books recalls the day 11 years ago that she visited a center in Harlem for children whose mothers were in prison. “My intention was to read with them in the evening, after my workday. As I said goodbye, I watched the children go into a nearby room to sleep. There was no changing of their clothes, no bedtime stories, no hugs from moms or dads. I was paralyzed. This was not the way bedtime was supposed to be for a child. I asked the staff if they needed pajamas. Could I bring some?ˮ
The following week, Piturro brought 12 pairs of pajamas with her. “One little girl asked, ‘What are these? Where do I wear them?’” When Piturro asked the child what she usually wore to bed, she responded, “My pants.” A few weeks later, Piturro says, "I felt what I can only describe as a ‘raindrop’ fall onto my head and the words ‘Pajama Program’ spoke to me from it loud and clear. I knew I’d had found my true purpose in life and it drives me day and night.”
Piturro thought of nothing else as she continued at her job, working in marketing for an Italian importer. She’d graduated from Fordham in 1983 and began climbing the ladder at various companies from intern to manager to director and, eventually, to vice president for the importer. At some point, she realized that she was “working to make people richer, not helping people who needed help.” With her husband, Demo DiMartile—and with no business plan—the Yonkers native (and Lincoln High School grad) corralled her family and friends (“I had two friends who told me I was crazy to take this on,” she recalls. “I don’t see them anymore!ˮ) and started the Pajama Program by “buying pajamas, asking friends and family to buy pajamas”—and taking them to different places in Westchester, including the Andrus Children’s Center, which offered Piturro space on its campus. It was the first Pajama Program Reading Center. A national parenting magazine took note, and Piturro began receiving box loads of pajamas, and cash and check donations. The program today has more than 50 major corporate sponsors, including Target, Carter’s, Scholastic, Bob’s Discount Furniture, and Rye-based County Coach, whose owner, David Kucera, lived at Andrus from age seven to 14. The program has received accolades from the Wall Street Journal, the Today show, and Oprah.
“Our goal for 2011-12 is to raise one million dollars,” Piturro says, “and to give every group of children pajamas and books four times a year—once for each season.”
The Designing Woman
President and Creative Director, Spencer Creative Group
“I started this company in the basement with five hundred dollars on Visa,” says Karen Spencer, founder of Armonk’s Spencer Creative Group, a company that designs for advertising and marketing in traditional and digital media. “Now, we do a million dollars.”
That’s not bad for someone whose
Plan A was to become a starving artist. “After undergrad, I had hoped to be living in Paris, wearing a black dress, smoking cigarettes, and hanging out with the intelligentsia, but that wasn’t too realistic," she says. "So I got a master’s degree in design from Pratt. I went to Madison Avenue.”
Spencer started out at PW Communications, then a small company that produced medical publications. “A lot of people told me I was over-qualified because of the master’s, and other people told me I was under-qualified because I had no experience. Medical publishing was the door that opened to me.”
The company grew—and so did her responsibilities. “There were eleven employees when I started, and it grew to two hundred people and became international,” she says. “At twenty-five, I became the art director for two of the medical publications, and then I was the senior art director for six of them. It was unheard of for a twenty-five-year-old to be an art director anywhere else. I worked there for nine years until the company moved to Secaucus, New Jersey.”
Not wanting to move across the Hudson, Spencer launched Karen Spencer Design in 1983, which became Spencer Creative Group this year. Today, her staff of between four and seven employees works on a rotating roster of 18 to 20 projects at a time for clients like New York Blood Center, Westchester Community College, Beth Abraham Family of Health Services, and Castle Brands Inc. The company was the lead design firm for Westchester Community College’s much-vaunted Gateway Center, and her projects have earned her recognition from the Advertising Club of Westchester, which has given her multiple gold awards. The company recently began branching out beyond design, offering more marketing services.
“I’ve been in Armonk for twenty-three years,” Spencer says. “Westchester is big enough to find plenty of business in, but small enough to be a great community. I can put together custom teams of writers, photographers, PR people, web strategists, and web technologists. There’s so much excellent brain power here to partner with.”
Founder and CEO, Eco-Bags Products, Inc.
Back in the ’80s, when “paper or plastic” were your only options at the checkout, Sharon Rowe realized there was a better way. A friend gifted her with one of the lightweight, expandable totes that Europeans use for their shopping, and Rowe swiftly became a convert herself. When other friends began admiring her reusable bag, Rowe, a veteran sales executive, wondered whether she could bring a version of it stateside. “I sat down
at the kitchen table with my husband, Blake, and said, ‘I think we have a business. What should we call this?’” Rowe recalls. “We blurted out ‘ECOBAGS’ at the same time, and then Blake, being a songwriter, quickly added, we’re going to be ‘cleaning up the planet one bag at a time.’”
The Rowes, who live in Ossining, founded Eco-Bags Products Inc., in 1989 in Manhattan and moved the company to Dobbs Ferry in 1992, and later to Ossining. The bags sold out in four hours at a soft launch at the 20th Earth Day festivities in Manhattan in 1990. The company grew steadily but the bags’ success reached new heights in 2007, when Oprah Winfrey introduced Rowe’s products on her show. The company’s sales jumped 300 percent over the previous year. “We carefully introduced and built a brand before it tipped,” Rowe says. “A lot of people consider ECOBAGS the pioneer brand of the reusable bag market.” With five employees, the company now sells tens of thousands of bags annually. “Our profits are up, and prospects for growth very strong,” says Rowe, whose bags are made of a combination of recycled and organic materials.
In 2008, Rowe was honored by the Business Council of Westchester as Entrepreneur of the Year. “We see the ECOBAGS brand as more than a bag company,“ she notes. “It’s a lifestyle concept that has always engaged and promoted sustainable choices, from the manufacturing process—fair wage and trade—to the low-impact way we run our business. Having an office in Westchester is consistent with the low-impact mission of our brand, and it’s easy. Everyone in our office works within a ten-mile radius—most within three miles—so it’s easy to run errands, do school-related things, etcetera. There’s virtually no commuting time, and therefore little—or in my case, zero—car expense.”
Get Up and Co
Founder and President, Co-Communications, Inc.
At Syracuse, Stacey Cohen studied social work, and then went on to work in corporate communications at a division of advertising behemoth Young & Rubicam. Before long, Cohen was on the fast track at another media giant—CBS—where she held a variety of senior positions in PR and marketing, while raising a family and studying at night for her MBA in marketing at Fordham. Still, Cohen wanted to go into business for herself. “My parents were serial entrepreneurs and established several businesses during my childhood,” Cohen, today 50, says.
In 1997 she launched Co-Communications out of a spare bedroom. It's a full-service public relations, marketing, and communications company, which today has 10 full-time and four part-time employees and more than 50 clients.
The firm also boasts three locations—its Mount Kisco headquarters (which expanded to a 3,100-square-foot, two-story building in 2008); an office in Farmington, Connecticut; and a newly opened Manhattan satellite office on Madison Avenue. The firm’s annual revenues have more than quadrupled since 2003, with 2007 revenues increasing 62 percent over 2006—its biggest growth spurt to date. The company weathered the great recession by holding flat in 2008 and 2009, and is projecting 30-percent growth this year.
Founder and CEO, Loughlin Personnel Ltd.; Co-Founder and COO, Westerly-Enright
After starting out as an administrative assistant at Architectural Digest in Manhattan (“Very exciting for a girl from Rockland County!”), Laura Loughlin found her vocational footing working her way up the ladder at recruiting firms. “I liked it immediately,” she says. Ten years later, however, when the last firm she worked for closed its White Plains branch, Loughlin found herself out of a job. “I was faced with a huge decision: work for another firm or go out on my own,” Loughlin says. “I decided it was now or never—and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”
Loughlin Personnel opened its doors in 1998 and was successful from the get-go. In its first decade, the
company grew its revenues by 80 percent. “A large part of that revenue was from candidates we placed in permanent positions,” Loughlin says. “In early 2002, it began to change, and our temporary-staffing division began to take off.” Today she employs six and earns more than $1 million per year.
Loughlin expanded her entrepreneurial horizons when she partnered with Susan Villamena (see below) to co-found Westerly-Enright, a niche staffing firm specializing in recruiting and hiring sales execs; Loughlin is its COO. “Professionally, it made perfect sense to bring together my knowledge of staffing and Susan’s knowledge of sales training.”
(Sales) Pitch Perfect
Co-Founder, Owner, and CEO, Westerly-Enright
The road to success for Susan Villamena was fraught with detours and false starts. The English Lit major thought she was destined for a teaching career. When that didn’t pan out, she worked at a series of jobs in the corporate world. “I was in my twenties, having a lot of fun, and probably would have stayed there forever if not for getting downsized,” Villamena says. “Luckily for me, I’m the daughter of an entrepreneur and salesman. At that very low point in my career, my father said to me, ‘If you never want to get ‘downsized’ again, learn to sell and become your own boss.’”
Villamena began by working for her father, “but my professional life changed forever” when she discovered Sandler
Training, an international franchise that teaches sales techniques. “After working for a franchisee and mentoring under the most incredible salespeople, including David Sandler himself,” in 1996, she opened her own franchise in Westchester, which eventually made her realize that most companies lacked an effective hiring system for their salespeople.
With a niche in the hiring/recruiting industry that Villamena had identified, she turned to friend Laura Loughlin (see above). Since Laura was already in the staffing industry, she understood the nuances of that world. The duo founded Westerly-Enright, “which is an entirely separate company from both her Loughlin Personnel and my training business.”
Westerly-Enright deals exclusively with the recruitment and hiring of sales executives for all types of companies. Villamena derived her company’s moniker from a cross street near her home and the last name of Loughlin’s grandmother. “Any combination of our own names just didn’t sound like a staffing firm.” And she should know. “In the past twenty years, I have trained, mentored, coached, evaluated, and helped hire thousands of sales professionals from hundreds of different industries at all skill levels. I know salespeople and sales leaders better than anyone.”
To date, Westerly-Enright has enjoyed revenue increases of 10 to 15 percent each year since its launch four years ago. “And,” says Villamena, “I’m anticipating that 2012 will be another good year.”
Servers and Service
Tara Meenan Lansen
Founder, President and CEO, Compufit, Inc.
If women are underrepresented in business, then they’re sorely underrepresented in the technology business. And women who are trained as nurses but running a successful technology business? There may not be any one besides Tara Meenan Lansen.
Meenan Lansen, 53, of Armonk is the president, CEO, and founder of Compufit, Inc., a 16-person information technology corporation based in White Plains. In addition to consulting, the company offers clients remote-managed services, project management, outsourced CIO service; network design, installation, and maintenance; and security solutions.
Meenan Lansen wasn’t always a tech maven, though. Growing up in the Bronx, she earned her BS in nursing from the College of Mount Saint Vincent when she was just 21. She’d always
wanted to found her own business, but “my dad was a bus driver, my mom was a homemaker,” says Meenan Lansen, so she worked as an emergency room nurse and in nursing management until the mid-‘90s.
By 1995, however, Meenan Lansen was looking for her next career. “I knew the Internet was going to take off, and I knew if I could figure out a way to get involved, my business would be a success.” She gathered her savings and got investments from other family members to open Compufit, deciding to do almost everything technology consumers could want. Her company sold, designed, and manufactured computers; sold software and trained people in using it; and even did a bit of consulting with businesses.
She had always been strong in math and science, but decided to focus on marketing, sales, and business development. The firm opened a storefront in Chappaqua, and Meenan Lansen put all her efforts behind it, taking business courses, including one at Westchester Community College, but forgoing an MBA so she could stay open seven days a week and work late a couple of nights. She also started consuming a bookcase full of business books in her spare time and networked to find other business experts and the most knowledgeable tech engineers, whom she hoped would give her clients the best service possible. “I hired people who knew how to build computers, and I taught them the business side,” she says.
Within a few years, it became clear to Meenan Lansen that the actual assembly and customization of hardware would become centralized in a few big companies like Dell. Yet Compufit could grow, she reasoned, with the business consulting that the machine would continue to require.
“The real profitability was in dealing with business,” says Meenan Lansen, who moved the company to a corporate space in Pleasantville in 1997 and then to White Plains last year. Compufit has grown 15 of its 16 years in existence and currently serves 200 clients, with a 98 percent client-retention rate. Her multi-million-dollar company is already on target to grow 30 percent this year, and—despite the economy—she’s brought on four new employees since the beginning of the financial crisis to accommodate her clients’ rapidly growing need to outsource.
Meenan Lansen notes that, although there aren’t many other women in the field, that fact “doesn’t slacken my ambition and drive, my search for excellence.” Knowing your limitations “and then surrounding yourself with good people is crucial,” she says, but it’s also important to “never underestimate yourself.”
Leed-ing by Design
Renée M. Brown
Founder, President and CEO, C.W. Brown
Renée M. Brown of South Salem, the president and CEO of construction company C.W. Brown Inc. in Armonk, was working as a facilities coordinator in 1984 when she and her husband, Charlie, who worked for a small contractor, decided to strike out on their own.
“We started in our basement,” says Brown, 53, a Mount Pleasant native. “We moved out the pool table to make room; the shop was our garage. It was like a one-man show.” Renée did the books
when she got home from her job at Northern Telecom in Tarrytown, and Charlie drummed up work during the day, partially because many people didn’t take his wife seriously.
“It’s a more male-dominated industry,” says Brown, who today runs a 75-person company. “I remember times when we first started out, I’d pick up the phone, and people would say, ‘I want to speak to a man.’ I was a little outraged, but politely said, ‘Fine, I’ll have him call you back, and he’ll say the same thing.’”
By 1995, C.W. Brown had bought a building in Thornwood. More recently, C.W. Brown hit its last five-year goal—$50 million in sales—in just three years. Even during the recession, the company has managed to stay steady in sales, and hold on to all staff through strategic cuts in overhead. “We built our business the way we continue to run it today: it’s based on repeat business, long-term clients, and service. Our word is our word. If something goes wrong, we’re going to make it right.”
Renée and Charlie also ran the business based on causes close to their heart: their middle daughter’s “banning” bottled water in their home coincided with the couple’s new ultra-green headquarters in Armonk. Their 10,000-square-foot office runs entirely on solar power and is the first building in the county, indeed the State (excluding New York City) to have attained LEED Platinum status. C.W. Brown gives tours of its headquarters to green architects, school groups, and curious private citizens.
“Our hope was to build a place where we’d be able to attract the younger generation,” says Renée. “We wanted young people to want to be here.”
Sadly, in June, a year and a half after the opening of the Armonk headquarters, Charlie died suddenly.
Since its beginning, C. W. Brown had been mentoring Westchester students and donating work to charitable causes, such as Friends of Karen, My Sister’s Place, and the Westchester Land Trust. This year, it will be helping to expand the internship opportunities for men at Westchester Community College, where Charlie went to college. “There’s this string of men throughout the county who looked up to him. It seemed logical to expand that program,” Renée says.
Getting Their Groove On
Andrea Andrews and Lisa Primeggia
Co-Owners, Groovy on Grand
When Andrea Andrews, a fashion designer and Philadelphia transplant, and Lisa Primeggia, a former Brooklyn resident whose background was in the finance industry, decided to open a business together five years ago, they came up with an idea based on their mutual love of shopping: Groovy on Grand, a retail clothing store specializing in kids’ and teen fashion, which included their own branded line.
“We did very well our first six months to a year, and then the economy went bad,” Andrews says. “We thought, ‘How else can we bring people in?’” They had the idea to host a workshop where kids could create a design on a piece of paper, transfer the design to a blank garment, and embellish it with vinyl or
rhinestones using a process that hadn’t been used before. Andrews and Primeggia had the good business sense to run with the idea, which brought even more success than the retail operation.
The first workshop drew only four participants. “I was shaking,” Andrews recalls, “biting my nails.” But the initial lot left happy, which led to a Girl Scout troop asking if they could come in for their own workshop, which led to make-your-own garment birthday parties; which led to in-store classes (on dyeing, painting, and sewing); and, finally, a summer camp where kids design and create an entire collection of 10 pieces of clothing. This year’s summer camp had 76 campers; there’s already a waiting list for summer 2012.
“With the economic downturn, people were spending less on clothing for their children, but they saw the value in the workshops because not only were they getting something to wear, but we were spurring creativity in them,” Primeggia says. “It filled more than just the one purpose.”
Last year, they had the idea to try and distill their design process and sell it in a box. They included everything needed to embellish a plain garment—buyers just add a pencil and iron to make their own designs. “We sold them in the store—it wasn’t a printed box yet,” Primeggia says. “We just said, ‘Let’s box them and see what happens.’ They sold very well for the holidays last year.”
Seeing its success, they decided to develop the kit as a stand-alone product. Groovy on Grand’s Make-Your-Own Design Studio was born (with a box that features a hippie-ish design by a Briarcliff mom). The kits come with the materials and a blank tote bag, tank top, T-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, or hoodie ($33 each). “It didn’t exist before,” Andrews says. “It’s a whole new process. People have been shocked at the beautiful designs that even young kids were making.”
They launched the product wholesale at the New York International Gift Fair in August, and now it’s being carried in stores as close as Scarsdale and Briarcliff and as far as Brooklyn and Vermont. “We’d love to be in all the art and craft stores,” Andrews says.
“I was their first retailer,” brags Megan David of Wake Robin in Briarcliff Manor. “I’ve sold out of all of my hoodies and tote bags. They do really well.”
Andrews and Primeggia—who still run the business with no additional employees—estimate that business for the Make-Your-Own Design Studio has increased 575 percent since its inception. The kits plus the workshops, classes, and camps now make up 65 percent of their business; the retail side accounts for the remainder. They believe their success came from hitting it big with a section of Westchester that is underserved. “Sports are huge here,” Andrews says. “When it comes to camps, there are a lot of sporting camps, but to offer something different is nice. There was a need—that’s why we kind of exploded.”
Over the Rainbeau
Co-founder, Owner, and Farmer, Rainbeau Ridge
“Nothing in my past or in my previous career prepared me for this,” declares 56-year-old farmer and cheese maker Lisa Schwartz. “There’s absolutely no connection.” The Poughkeepsie native and mother of two worked as a management consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, raised her two children, and did philanthropy and volunteer work, when, in 1997, she and her family moved to Tokyo, where her husband, who was working at a financial services firm, was transferred. The move would change her life.
“I was being profoundly affected by the food culture in Japan, where people celebrate food—seasonal food, local food—and go to the market every day instead of stocking up their SUVs like there’s gonna be a nuclear attack, which I had been guilty of as well,” she says. “Those food-culture issues were changing who I was.”
When the family returned to Westchester in 2011, Schwartz planted a small garden and built a chicken coop in her backyard. “I saw a need for locally and organically grown food. Then… “I bought a goat.” Then she bought another—and she learned how to milk them. She went to France to apprentice in cheese-making. She expanded the garden and started a Community Agriculture Partnership and added bees, honey, lambs, cows, horses, and llamas to the farm.
And what did she do about money? “I was very fortunate: I was able to self-fund a lot of the business. I also had the land and a lot of the things I needed, and my husband was supportive in every sense.”
Today, Rainbeau Ridge distributes its goat cheese to local farmers’ markets, Stone Barns, Bedford Gourmet, Mount Kisco Seafood, and fine restaurants, such as Iron Horse Grill and Café of Love. The farm produces about 250 pounds of cheese per week. “I’m lucky that my product is unique and high quality. Everybody’s hurting, but with this product, customers are voting with their pocketbooks—they’d rather give up something else.”
A Model Idea
Daniele Churchill and Lori Land
Co-Founders, Churchills of Mount Kisco
Friends and fashionistas Daniele Churchill and Lori Land were dismayed by how little haute couture there was in Westchester—especially in the northern part of the county, where they both reside. Land was a model. “Clothing and the love of fashion have always been in my blood,” she says. As for Churchill: “My mother was from Paris and a top model back in the day. She was very stylish and chic, so I was exposed to beautiful clothes.”
Twelve years ago, Churchill began scouting locations for a fashion store for both women and men that would offer clothes Westchester residents normally had to go to the City for, but a cancer diagnosis, followed by a divorce, sidelined her plans until she recovered from both. “I decided at that point that I was ready,” says Churchill, who invited Land, whom she met while Land was working in another retail store, to become her business partner. The two decided to name the store after a famous relative of Daniele's (yes, that Churchill); the store opened in July 2009. “We opened during the worst financial time our country has seen in decades,” Land notes. “But we knew we would win.”
The duo manages a staff of five. “Lori handles the majority of the buying, and I deal with all business aspects of the store,” Churchill says. Adds Land, “We set ourselves apart by offering designer brands that are not easily found in department stores or on the Internet. We carry accessories lines like Ronald Pineau from Paris, which produces all of its goods in the Hermès factory; Georgio Brato from Italy, which has the finest leather goods on the planet; and Harry’s of London handmade shoes for men, which Saudi princes wear for travel comfort.
“Right now, our business is sixty-percent women’s and forty-percent men’s,” she continues. “We hope to start our private label and e-commerce website next year.”
From Doing Voiceovers to Creating an Iconic Fashion Line
Founder, President, and Chief Creative Director, NYC Subway Line
Lynne Lambert was a successful voiceover actress for commercials and video games for more than 25 years. Once she reached 40, however, auditions began to dry up. “People doing the casting and producing were twenty- and thirty-somethings and wanted to hire the same,” says the Chappaqua resident.
In the summer of 1995 while riding the #4 subway, Lambert first had the idea that would become her new vocation. “The circular route subway numbers are compelling and iconic,” she notes. “Like the wallpaper of the City. I remember thinking, ‘Something should be done with this. People would want to wear this imagery.’ˮ
Not able to shake the idea, Lambert went to the NY Transit Museum in Grand Central and the gift shop manager connected her with MTA executives. Within six months and $2,500 spent, she had incorporated NYC Subway Line (NYCSubwayLine.net), had sample T-shirts, and was officially licensed by the MTA (royalties from NYC Subway Line sales go to support the Museum).
Her line uses New York City subway system signs, maps, route letters, and numbers on everything from clothing to backpacks, wallets, messenger bags, cosmetic cases, and handbags.
Profitability didn’t come until 2005. “The first five years of the business, I sunk my life savings—one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars—into it,” she says. “The next five I paid myself back.”
Lambert’s first successful sales were to Macy's Herald Square and The New York Historical Society. “My experience as an actress came in handy calling up potential vendors. I have no fear about rejection; it’s something you have to deal with on auditions.”
In 2006, the company approached a million dollars in sales, aided by Lambert being chosen as one of the winners of the Make Mine a Million Dollar Business contest. In 2007 sales went to $1.2 million. Her apparel has been worn by many performers, including Uma Thurman, Mario Lopez, rapper Fabolous, musician Charles Neville, actor Jerry Ferrara as “Turtle” in Entourage, and actor Jesse Bradford as Cliff Pantone in Bring It On.
“The recession beat us back in two-thousand-eight, and then when our then biggest client, Virgin Megastores, closed in two-thousand-nine, we really took a hit.”
This year sales are once again approaching $1 million. Today, her customers include Modells, Top of the Rock, Apple, and Toys ’ Us, her biggest. Locally, they can be found at Aurora and Squires in Chappaqua and Urban Outfitters in White Plains and Greenwich, CT. Her most popular selling product: Manhattan subway map black T-shirts ($22.99-$29.99).
Lambert’s ideas for the future include street map apparel for Chicago and Los Angeles.
The biggest thrill for Lambert is when she sees someone walking down the street wearing her apparel. “I’ll yell, ‘That’s my shirt! That’s my company!’“
The Principals of Business
Founder and CEO, School Choice International
In 1997, the seemingly simple act of choosing her children’s schools in a foreign country overwhelmed Elizabeth Perelstein. Today, School Choice International, Inc., the White Plains-based business the Rye resident founded to help parents like herself, is a multi-million-dollar company with 100 consultants in 50 locations around the world.
The woman who made this journey from stumped to successful graduated from Brandeis with a BA in American Studies and a teaching certificate. She taught nursery school for a while before shifting into educational administration. Along the way, she married Michael Perelstein, then an international businessman who, in 1997, was suddenly relocated to London. “I had two children who were in fourth and sixth grades,” she says.
She secured good placements for her kids in London and she realized that what she’d figured out about the school-selection process would be helpful for others. School Choice International, founded in 1997, took off “by word-of-mouth.”
When Perelstein’s family moved back to the U.S. in 1999, she brought the headquarters with them to Westchester (she left a small team in the UK as well). Today, the company has 20 employees in the county and has broadened its scope, working with clients from Fortune 100 executives to families looking into boarding schools to parents looking for the best special education for their children. Perelstein herself has made it into Fortune—on its 2010 list of the 10 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs. And, even though fewer than 5 percent of women entrepreneurs make it to $1 million in revenue, Perelstein is on track to hit $3 million this year, up from $2 million last year.
“I think being keenly aware of my weaknesses is a great strength,” Perelstein says of entrepreneurship. “When I didn’t know how to do something, I would hire a consultant or a staff member. I was never afraid to spend money to grow my business.”
In 2006, she also co-founded the British International School of New York. And being a woman, she says, has been crucial to her success. “Men have an old boys’ network, but women set up a lot of organizations to help themselves and each other.” To that end, she makes sure to mentor lots of women. “That’s what I do to give back. I couldn’t have gotten here without others mentoring me.”
Owner and CEO, Beyond Costumes, Inc. Eleven years ago, South Korean immigrant and Wharton School MBA Yon Zweibon happened upon a floundering costume shop in an industrial no-man’s-land section of Yonkers and decided there and then to give up her career as an accountant and financial consultant. She bought the business with money borrowed from relatives. “For many years, as a single mother, it was a financial struggle to grow the shop while learning a new retail and costuming business,” she says. “There were quite a few times that I asked myself why I was continuing the struggle.” But Zweibon’s perseverance paid off. The business grew so much that it outgrew its original space. “The original store was four thousand square feet,” Zweibon says. “In a few years, we expanded to six thousand.” And then, in 2003, Beyond
Costumes moved into its current 22,000-square-foot digs. “Currently, we use the front 12,000 square feet for the costuming stock and work area, and the back 10,000 square feet for additional storage and studio space.” Today, Beyond Costumes boasts more than 20,000 costumes and related props available for rent and purchase to customers ranging from local trick-or-treaters to film and TV production companies shooting on location in Westchester.
In the last 10 years, the company’s annual sales growth rate averaged 20 percent and is expected to accelerate for at least the next five years. Says Zweibon, “Growing a business can be as satisfying as watching your helpless baby grow into a responsible adult.”
Designing Your Life
Founder and CEO, Damselfly Designs, Inc.
When Brenda LaManna was a hairstylist in her teens, she’d get a nagging feeling whenever she went to do hair and makeup for bridal parties. She’d look at the flowers and the decorations. “I would think, ‘I would change this arrangement,’ or ‘This isn’t in proportion to the event space,’” she recalls. Eventually, she realized that event decoration was her true calling, and she dropped the hairstyling, went to school, and founded Damselfly Designs, a business she expects to earn $2 million in 2013.
LaManna, today 46 and living in South Salem, started off her floral education close to home, earning a basic certificate
at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Then things got really serious: she got a master’s degree in floral arranging from the prestigious Keukenhof in The Netherlands. “That’s where the masters are,” she says. “I had to submit a portfolio to get into the program. When I got there, I realized I was thirty years younger than everyone else.”
She started her own business in Tuckahoe in 1988, before moving the company north and changing its name to Damselfly Designs a decade later. Now, things have come full circle, and LaManna and Damselfly Designs returned to Tuckahoe in a landmark building this year. “It’s the old Yorkville Bank. This huge, old vault is our floral cooler. The teller counters are still there. And I can cross the street, and I’m on a train platform to see my clients in the City.”
And, though she may be based here, the 100-plus corporate events, weddings, and bar/bat mitzvahs she does annually have her traveling around the world. In 2010, she was the floral manager for a wedding in Indonesia. “We cleared customs with thirty-one and one-half tons of flowers. There were one-hundred-forty-two designers working round-the-clock. It was a twenty-five-hour wedding. It was spectacular.”
To help her handle the event load, LaManna commands a staff of five full-time employees and 10 part-timers (plus more when there are big events). “I don’t advertise. My clients seek me out.” She counts among those clients corporations such as Clinique, Merrill Lynch, Continental Airlines, Lindt Chocolate, Morgan Stanley, and Porsche. She notes that the key to corporate events is “brand recognition.ˮ With Clinique, for example, “you know you have to do something pristine, white, architectural, and angular.”
Says Nanciellen Uniacke, Clinique’s director of global event planning, who’s used LaManna since 2004, “We know exactly what to expect from her. The only surprise is that it typically comes together even more beautifully than we could have imagined.”
Declares LaManna, “It’s not a bad living, staying in a room making beautiful flower arrangements. We’re the happy part of the event.”
Getting A Buzz On
Christina Costa Rae
Founder and President, Buzz Creators
When Christina Costa Rae was laid off by CIT Group at the beginning of the Great Recession, she wasted no time feeling sorry for herself. Instead, Rae, who had been the financial solutions company’s vice president of executive communications, decided to strike out on her own. “I had always known I’d start my own PR consulting firm; it was just a matter of when,” says Rae.
Using her severance package as seed money, Rae, who lives in Yorktown with her husband and two children, founded Buzz Creators in 2009, and in its two-year existence, the firm has quickly amassed a burgeoning list of clients, including Heineken USA, UBS financial services, St. John’s Riverside Hospital, the Ashikari Breast Center, The Mansion at Colonial Terrace, Frankie & Fanucci’s Wood Oven Pizzeria, Phoenix Construction Corporation, Wellington Shields & Co LLC, and Furnari Scher LLP.
An even better gauge of her success: more than 90 percent of Buzz Creators’ clients are referrals. In 2010, the Business Council of Westchester recognized Rae as one of its “Rising Stars—Westchester’s Forty Under Forty.” She was also tapped by her peers to be the vice president on the board of directors of the Westchester/Fairfield chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA); in addition, she serves as its publicity committee chair. Though still a one-person operation, Rae proudly reports that this year’s gross revenue is up about 23 percent over last year’s, as her volume of inquiries and new clients continues to trend steadily upward.
Setting the (Raw) Bar
Founder and President, Raw Indulgence, Ltd.
Alice Benedetto, a raw foodie, figured she was onto something when her next-door neighbor’s kids gobbled up the raw snacks she made. They especially loved her raw cookies, made with Brazil nuts, almonds, and dates.
“Neighborhood moms kept coming over to ask for more,” says the 40-year-old Ardsley resident and mother of two children plus two stepchildren. “It was the first time I thought about starting my own raw-food business.”
She founded Raw Indulgence (rawrev.com) in
2004 with her Raw Revolution Organic Live Food Bars ($1.99), 2.2-ounce health-food bars, which remain supremely popular.
“I considered pies, brownies, and cookies, but settled on a raw-food bar instead, as it was the easiest to package and mass-produce.” It took many tries to get the recipe right; it had been reworked more than 10 times. ”I had to purchase special shoes because I was on my feet so much,” Benedetto says. She leases an 8,100-square-foot facility in Hawthorne.
Today she has 22 employees and her bars are sold in more than 5,000 stores worldwide, including Stop & Shop, Mrs. Green’s, Whole Foods Market, Shaw’s, Wegmans, Safeway, Giant, and The Vitamin Shoppe. Overseas, you’ll find them in Iceland, Sweden, Canada, Singapore, South Africa, Dubai, and her biggest international market, Australia.
Founder, CEO, Dinner in Hand
“When you run your own business,” says 58-year-old Candida Canfield, “you do everything.” Such is the case with her business, Dinner in Hand, an online dinner delivery and catering service she founded with about $60,000 in savings in February 2007.
In this case, “everything” includes marketing and administrative duties, sales, supervising parties, kitchen prep work, and, in the beginning, washing dishes. The married New Rochelle resident typically works 80 to 90 hours per week. “The toughest thing about my job is the physicality,” she says.
Though she always wanted to be an entrepreneur, Canfield took a circuitous route to get there. “This is my third career,” she says. After graduating
with a fine arts degree from Hofstra University, Candida tried acting. “I struggled, essentially working in the restaurant business for nine years in various front-of-the-house positions,” she says. But her business acumen shone elsewhere. She moved into newspaper ad sales in 1983, working for more than two decades at first the Daily News and then the Journal News, where she managed more than 100 employees and $60 million in ad revenues. In January 2005, Canfield got a job as an account manager at the B2B site Law.com. “I learned about Web-driven sales, a crucial element to my next endeavor.”
The idea for a dinner delivery service came to Canfield as she was taking Metro-North home one night. “My son called to ask, ‘What’s for dinner?,’” she recalls. “I’d had enough of thinking about what to cook for dinner. After working long hours, who wants to cook when you come home?”
Now, she’s delivering 60 to 100 meals to busy working parents every week. Executive Chef Amy Bach is the company’s only fulltime employee, and she, plus seven part-timers, work out of a commercial kitchen in New Rochelle.
“No business around here does exactly what I do, but any restaurant that delivers I count as competition,” she says. The business turned profitable three years after its founding, in 2010. Canfield made $20,000. The meal delivery service now accounts for only about 35 percent of the business’s annual revenues. “I learned quickly I had to diversify to keep on a fulltime chef,” she says. In the spring of 2008, Canfield started a catering department, which now accounts for 25 percent of revenues.
But the final and largest arm of her business—accounting for 40 percent of revenues—began in September 2008, when Canfield started a private school hot-lunch program. (And yes, even though she’s doling out lunches, the business is still called “Dinner in Hand.”) Clients include Thornton-Donovon in New Rochelle and Lyceum Kennedy in Ardsley and Manhattan. The school lunches have a healthy bent. “No chicken nuggets, breaded chicken, and the like,” Canfield says.
“It’s no surprise Candida is successful,” says Peter De Luca, owner of Vincent’s Meat Market on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, where Canfield is a patron. “She buys good products and is a hustler.”