Tips From Unstoppable Women Entrepreneurs

Women across the U.S. are increasingly coming into their own as business owners. Many of these gutsy innovators tackled challenges and stopped at nothing to launch their now-successful businesses. Four such entrepreneurs told what put them in the driver's seat for good.

Gina Berta, Mountainside, NJ-based Breathe Fitness

Gina Berta said she used to dream out loud about her idea for a personal fitness studio.

“I’d tell my story to anybody who would listen,” she said. A certified trainer and group fitness instructor since 1983, Berta had always managed other people’s gyms. Twenty some years later she decided it was time to open her own place: not a gym, really, but a small, hands-on personal training studio, some classes and private training by appointment only. And, of course, great service. She luckily had a former very-satisfied client with money who was willing to invest, and on January 27, 2006, her dream came to life.

As a functional training studio, Breathe Fitness specializes in training clients for the activities of their everyday lives. The emphasis is on range of motion and endurance.

Berta gives kudos to her great trainers, all of whom have worked at the studio since its opening. “It’s all about the service,” Berta emphasizes.

Establishing and targeting the right demographic is essential, and at Breathe, that demographic includes mainly clients in their mid-40’s, 50’s and 60’s—the baby boomers who have the disposable income to invest in and on their health. In these age groups, fitness is no longer an option, but a necessity.

In Photos: Four Tips for Starting up Your Own Business

“We try to make [the clients] feel comfortable. We challenge them, yet have them work at a realistic and individually comfortable pace. Exercise is meant to give back not to be intimidating,” she said.

Berta’s Advice: Spend money in the right places, Berta said. “We changed our marketing from the first to the second year and our numbers jumped significantly. I hired a fitness consultant who pointed out that we were marketing ourselves as a gym, not as a personal training studio, the gym’s upscale alternative. If you want to achieve certain goals, you have to invest in the right tools. It was the best money I ever spent.”

Jeni Garrett, Victoria, Texas-based The Woodhouse Day SpaR

This December marked the ninth holiday season for Woodhouse Spa in Victoria, Texas, and according to its owner things are going famously.

Jeni Garrett, Woodhouse owner and president, said that’s been the company’s story since its 2001 launch when she settled down in her hometown of Victoria, a place she loves.

“I wanted to put my business and accounting skills to work and do something new, and I’d always loved spas,” she said. Three short years after launch, Woodhouse opened up 24 franchises in nine states.

Not surprising when you consider Garrett’s passion for what she does. Providing as many as 30 different treatments, Woodhouse offers clients lifestyle blogs and workshops on such topics as meditation, nutrition, skin care, Yoga and Feng Shui.

“If we can educate, we can achieve our mission of elevating a spa visit from a day of beauty to a lifestyle choice for wellness and good health. Did you know, for example, that massage therapy can lower blood pressure?” Garrett asked. So far, the concept and her passion have worked: Frequency of repeat client visits has increased by about 30 percent.

Woodhouse is categorized as a day spa, not a destination spa, a place where people go once or twice a year for several days or a week or two to experience holistic treatments and participate in fitness training and lifestyle workshops.

Garrett said she did considerable research before deciding to franchise and uncovered a void of day-spa chains. She wanted to duplicate and brand her concept, but to open company-owned spas was an enormous investment. Franchising made more sense. Garrett said franchise partners typically join the Woodhouse family without previous spa industry knowledge. Most are from corporate America—business people, with an entrepreneurial spirit.

An online community, Woodhouse Village, provides customized marketing materials, product updates and serves as a virtual home office. “In franchising,” Garrett said, “communication is everything.”

Garrett's Advice: Garrett said that entrepreneurs should always take time to plan and slow times like a downturn in the economy are often the best time to do so. Over the last year, Woodhouse franchise growth has slowed, but the spa business has picked up. “We took this time to make some changes in our product line and update our menu of services,” she said. “You don’t stop moving because things are slow, and if they’re not slow, you create some down time to prepare your playing field.”

Erica Peitler, Morristown, NJ-based  Erica Peitler & Associates, Inc.

Erica Peitler was a glass-ceiling breaker, having ascended to the high ranks of the corporate world. A transformational change agent, she was a pharmacist, an internationally respected business leader and served as the youngest member of a global management team for a $2 billion consumer healthcare organization. She had money and power and a lot of senior level people working for her. She gave them space to be creative, and, she said, meanwhile she got mired in bureaucracy, process and levels of infrastructure. And over time she realized that she wasn’t, well, having fun.

So at 42, she took a bold step, left the corporate world and went on a year-long journey of self-discovery, The result: a mind shift and reorientation, a book, Open Up and Say aaah!, in which she shares her tools of self-discovery with readers and takes them on “an experiential learning adventure that helps them reveal their most important personal insights.”

She also founded Erica Peitler & Associates, Inc., a leadership coaching and consulting firm. Peitler defines leadership as serving and developing people who work for you. Her firm helps clients—corporate executives leading large firms, new leaders finding their voice, entrepreneurs branching out into what is next, or aspiring individuals who believe they have untapped potential within themselves—realize the full potential of leadership within themselves and in teams.

“Key in going out on my own was doing it for the right reasons. Being angry or disgusted at something is not reason to make a change,” she said. Being an entrepreneur “is about the love of something, not hate.”

Peitler's Advice: “Take a risk early on because there are a lot of opportunities to learn—even if you fail initially,” Peitler said. “Failure isn’t the end game, but another learning opportunity.

“Failing actually goes with entrepreneurship; most, if not all entrepreneurs, have gone out of business and retooled and reinvested. Failing is only failure if you stop trying.”

Heidi Krupp, New York City-based Krupp Kommunications, Inc.

When literary agent Jan Miller met publicist Heidi Krupp at a 1996 wedding, she had one bit of advice: “Go out on your own.”

Krupp, then in her mid-20’s, was already in the midst of a successful career at ABC where she had the ear of the likes of Barbara Walters, Catherine Crier and John Stossel. Nonetheless, Krupp said she was mildly intrigued and at the same time a bit overwhelmed.

“I don’t have the money,” she remembered telling Miller.

Miller’s reply? “All you need is $5,000.”

Several weeks later, Krupp left her 1989 Toyota Celica parked outside of a Hoboken boutique while shopping. When a sales girl pronounced her love for the car, Krupp said: “I’ll sell it to you right now. $5,000. Cash.”

Krupp took the money, and with some trepidation buried it under her mattress until the day when finally Krupp Kommunications, a basically one-woman show, was officially launched out of her Hoboken apartment. Krupp said she has never looked back, but instead has just moved forward. Today, Krupp Kommunications, Inc., also known as K2, is a full service firm specializing in PR, brand development and marketing communications. CEO Heidi Krupp has taken the business from her apartment to an office of 25 employees, making up three divisions to support clients’ all-inclusive needs—Konsulting, Kommunications and Konnections.

Krupp's Advice: Krupp credits Miller as being her mentor and gives back to others in kind. “Share what you’ve learned with the people around you,” she said. Some Krupp wisdom: “Follow your instincts and your gut.

“Parlay. Parlay. Parlay. Never miss an opportunity; ‘no’ is not an answer.”