Stories of strong, independent female entrepreneurs facing the odds and making it as successful business leaders in a "man's world" are always incredibly inspiring. But there are plenty of men out there launching startups in industries that traditionally employ or cater to women, and their success speaks volumes about the rapidly disappearing gender barrier in the realm of entrepreneurship. Five male business owners share their stories and their advice for succeeding in female-oriented fields.
The lifestyle branding expert
Fashion designers, entertainers and cologne manufacturers are just a few of the different types of clients Jay Leopardi works with as the founder of Bad Boy Branding. While he has helped shape the personal brands of celebrities like Cedric the Entertainer and Kel Mitchell, some of Leopardi's favorite projects have been in the fashion industry, marketing clothes made specifically for women.
"Men who work in a woman's world need to really understand women," Leopardi said. "They need to be in touch with their feminine side and be comfortable working for and around women. Open your ears, listen to what they say and deliver what they want."
Leopardi said that the biggest problem many male entrepreneurs have is communicating with and taking orders from their female clients and influencers.
"Men and women perceive things differently, and you have to be open to listening to that different way of thinking," he advised. "If you're in a woman's industry, women make your business work — without them, you're nothing. Put your ego in your back pocket, because you're not done learning."
The jewelry designer
Drew Shapiro has always loved the role of color in the fashion industry. Color, he thought, helped mold a person's feelings and personality — someone who wears bright colors actually feels cheerier. It was this idea that drove Shapiro to create Chelsea Taylor, a line of sterling silver jewelry and accessories with each design available in a variety of colors.
"Drew felt if he could design a color-driven jewelry collection, he, too, could help mold a woman's feelings and personality," says the company's website. "It wasn't until the collection launched that he realized it would also help a woman feel good about wearing her jewelry."
Shapiro, who has been designing jewelry for more than two decades, partnered with Swarovski to design bold, glitzy and fun pieces for women made of the highest quality crystals.
The home care service owner
While many C-level executive positions in the health care industry are indeed filled by men, the overwhelming majority of direct patient care is overseen by females. This is the world that John Botsko entered when he made the transition from corporate health care executive to BrightStare Care franchise owner in 2006.
"I had always been involved in patient care, but only in an administrative capacity," Botsko told BusinessNewsDaily. "I wanted to do something on my own and be closer to the patients. When I was introduced to BrightStar, I immediately felt a connection and sense of belonging to a family, instead of being a number in corporate America."
Though Botsko never felt intimidated or lost in his new role as business owner, he did note that the highly experienced staff he hired helped tremendously in his franchise's success. This, he said, is an important thing to keep in mind when starting a business in any industry.
"Find out what customers look for in your industry and make sure you have the ability to deliver on those interests and requests by hiring the best possible people," Botsko recommended. "You want to hire people better than you, who already have experience. Use them in a way that can educate you about the field."
The secondhand clothing store owner
Thirteen years ago, Tim Tresslar purchased his first Plato's Closet franchise from Winmark Corporation after seeing how profitable his brother's Winmark franchises were. Despite being told up front that the customer base for this secondhand clothing store would be primarily teen and college-aged females, Tresslar wasn't deterred.
"In retail, customers value the opinions of the sales staff when they can easily relate to their ages and personal style," he said. "While [the Plato's Closet customer base] was clearly out of my expertise, I hired sales staff and managers within that demographic to be responsible for customer relations. My female staff also handles the buying process, as they are more informed on the current styles and trends that customers look for."
Today, Tresslar owns six Plato's Closet locations across the country. The entrepreneur cites his knowledgeable staff and the tremendous support from Winmark Corporation as the reasons for his success.
"If you're looking to work in a business where breaking the gender barrier is a factor, involve the opposite gender, coinciding with your target demographic, in the business planning process," Tresslar suggested. "Researching and examining current business models of the brand or business you’re investing in as well as competitors is extremely important. Make sure to ask plenty of questions and don’t assume that you know everything."
The salon owner
Trippe Lonian isn't your typical beauty salon owner. Before he partnered with experienced hair stylist Nick Penna and real estate expert Corey Bialow to open his hair salon, Be Styled, Lonian worked in banking and served as the CEO of Pinkberry. About one year ago, he and his co-founders began working on the concept for their luxury blow-drying and hair styling services lounge. In April 2013, Be Styled opened in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and less than six months later, the team opened two more in-state locations. A Knoxville, Tenn., store is expected to be open for business by the end of this year.
With no prior experience in the beauty and hair business, Lonian had a lot to learn in order to get Be Styled to where it is today.
"Self-awareness is a critical and often overlooked trait for any entrepreneur," Lonian told BusinessNewsDaily. "While confidence in one's knowledge and skills is important, it is also vital to recognize what you don't know and find partners with those complementary skills. At Be Styled, our partnership works because we each not only recognize our respective areas of expertise, but in doing so we are each also willing to admit our own weaknesses. That type of willingness to be self-effacing is rare in my experience, particularly in teams comprised of individuals who are each successful in their respective areas."
As a general piece of advice for other aspiring business owners, Lonian advised being ready for the inevitable tough times that come with running a startup.
"The life of an entrepreneur can be stressful, but with discipline, hard work and perhaps a little luck, it can be a rewarding experience unlike any other," he said.
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