December 2019

To the Dreamers and the Doers: Advice for new business owners from those who have been around the block

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: M.Kat Photography, Photography by Anne

Opening a business is often a learn-as-you-go process. But making smart decisions out of the gate can certainly increase your chance for success. C2 magazine reached out to a few well-respected area business owners (Tom Reilley, Dave Miller, Nancy Golson, and Patti Catalano), asking their advice for new business owners looking to forge their own paths. Here, they discuss their inspiration for starting their businesses, the risks, the sacrifices, and the rewards, plus offer some sage advice for the dreamers and doers of today.

Introducing our experts

Patti Catalano
Heritage Fine Jewelry
For Patti Catalano, founder of Heritage Fine Jewelry on Hilton Head Island, her path wasn’t clearly defined by a dream or a specific career goal. With a degree in business administration and a minor in art, she never contemplated getting into an artistic business until she went to work as an accountant/bookkeeper for a jeweler in Buffalo, New York. On days when she finished all her work, she began free-forming wax castings. Her employer took notice of her natural design talent, and as she learned more, she found herself interested in being a jeweler. “I had $2,500 to my name when I opened my first store in 1975, and that wasn’t much. I had very few pieces of jewelry in the store, but I began sketching and custom designing. That’s how I got started,” she said. After working in Florida for 12 years, she moved her family to Hilton Head Island, and today, her three adult children work alongside her and have built their own successful careers in the jewelry business.

Dave Miller
Superior Services
Dave Miller also started his business, Superior Services (formerly Superior Heating & Air), out of necessity. “I guess my inspiration to eat is the reason I started Superior. I knew air conditioning (in this market) was recession-proof. And at 19 years old, I was young and had nothing to lose, so that reduced the fear factor.” Starting out with two men, a truck and a $3,000 loan, Miller has been in business in the Lowcountry for 20 years, expanding his services and growing exponentially. Now a husband and father, he continues to be challenged, driven, and excited not only to be his own boss, but to provide employment opportunities to others.

Tom Reilley
Coastal Restaurants and Bars
Tom Reilley remembers when starting a business wasn’t a choice, but a necessity. With a wife, four kids and a mortgage, his fear was palpable, but his drive to succeed was strong. Having worked in food sales for five years, he approached two of his customers (Peter Kenneweg and Serge Pratt) who loaned him money to open a restaurant. Reilley’s was established on the south end of Hilton Head Island in 1982. Today, Reilley owns Coastal Restaurants and Bars, which currently includes 10 area establishments and employs a number of family members who are following in Reilley’s footsteps and blazing their own way to the future. Looking back, Reilley offers a shout-out to his wife who helped him get the business off the ground. “If it wasn’t for my wife, we would have never made it,” he said. “She worked in the kitchen for eight years. It was real home cookin’. She did everything.”

Nancy Golson
Eggs ‘N’ Tricities
You might call Nancy Golson, owner of Eggs ‘N’ Tricities in Bluffton, a pioneer. The wife of Charlie Golson, owner of Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte on Hilton Head Island (open since 1982 and now managed by the Golson children), her motivation 30 years ago was two-fold: (1) to bring something new and different to the then-sleepy little town of Bluffton and (2) to get out of her husband’s kitchen where she had been working as a server. “I don’t remember being scared. However, there were days in the wintertime when nobody came by,” she said. Now, customers are more abundant than parking spaces, and the competition is keen in Bluffton. But Golson maintains her unique niche and is still having fun, although “sometimes flying by the seat of my pants,” she said.


Sacrifices, risks, and rewards
Opening a business of any kind requires a certain degree of risk and sacrifice. Participants in our survey said they risked their last dollar, invested all their energy and then some, and forfeited time with their families in order to establish and grow their businesses. But all have been rewarded.

“Cultivating the restaurant the way it or any business needs to be cultivated forced me to not be able to be home,” Reilley said. But now that he is semi-retired, he finds immense satisfaction in the way family members have stepped up and become part of the business. “To watch them mature and not only maintain the standards that I set, but to set their own standards and see that it works well has been very, very rewarding.”

“Time away from my kids when they were growing up was the hardest thing for me,” Catalano agreed. “You don’t have a lot of time. It’s not just working during hours. There are many after-hours things you need to do. And lots of times, when you’re starting a new business, you can’t afford to hire help.”

Like Reilley, Catalano has been able to nurture her children within the business and allow them to grow both personally and professionally. “I’m so proud of the people they have become. They know how to talk to people and how to act. I’m thrilled that we have a successful business, but there’s so much more to it.”

Miller put it in a slightly different perspective. “Being a business owner is rewarding because I like to see team members grow while they work with me. You might see someone who was down on their luck or not doing well financially. After a few years and hard work, you can see their lives improve. Maybe it’s not all because of Superior, but I would like to think at least in part it is.

“I have sacrificed a lot of personal time to the business. I have missed many of fun events and family get-togethers because we operate 24/7,” he continued. “However, let’s not be short-sighted. We have made up for time lost by living a comfortable life.”

Juggling a career with her family life required sacrifices for Golson, as well, but she believes she made the prudent choice. “It became hard to work with Charlie at the restaurant. It’s not always good to work together and live together,” she said. “I had done my share of volunteer work and PTO and all that. Plus, once kids reach fifth grade, they don’t want you coming to the school and embarrassing them by being a parent.”

Most rewarding, Golson said, are the many friendships she’s made along the way. “So many customers and so many employees have turned out to be good friends.” Her current challenge is trying to keep her merchandise unique. “Some days I doubt myself, but it always seems to work out.”

Keys to success:

Cultivate strong customer relations.
• “The key is remembering you are in the people business. The customer is always right. There is no exception. I teach employees: the answer is yes, what’s the question?”—Tom Reilley
• “No matter what the endeavor is in your life, learn how to speak with people and be confident. It’s amazing the response you get from other people when you take a little extra time to listen. Whether you are a hairdresser or an interior decorator or whatever you do, you really have to listen to your customer.”—Patti Catalano

Understand your finances.
• “The scariest part of the business is cash flow. I had no idea you could be profitable on paper but be broke. I can’t stress enough about knowing what your true costs are so that you can price correctly and not price off of your competitors. Every business is set up differently, and what works for someone else may not work for you.”—Dave Miller
• “Somebody told me this years ago: ‘Stick to your open-to buy,’ [a retail formula for managing and replenishing inventory].’ You can overspend in a heartbeat. Be informed when you get going and stick to your budget.”—Nancy Golson
• “You have to be willing to not blow your success right off the bat. When you start to make a little money, invest it back in your business. It will be worth it in the long run.”—Patti Catalano

Be confident and get good help.
• “If you are good at something, you have to have confidence. Don’t be a know-it-all but be confident.”—Patti Catalano
• “Never think you know everything. You have to surround yourself with people who can help you.”—Tom Reilley
• “Having great employees that make your customers feel good is one of the main keys to long-term success.”—Nancy Golson.

Give back to the community.
• “I don’t think I’ve ever turned down anybody who came to ask for donations. I think being a person who contributes makes a big difference. Those people come back, and they send you customers.”—Nancy Golson
• “You have to get out and circulate with different clubs and groups. Volunteer to speak or do seminars. There are so many things you can talk to people about. It gives them something to think about, and that will come back to you, often in unexpected ways.”—Patti Catalano

Never give up.
• “Don’t be afraid of competition. Competition is good if you run your business the way it should be run.”—Patti Catalano
• “If I had to say there was a key to longevity, it would have to be strong-willed determination not to give up when it gets tough, because it will get tough. I would tell anyone to be ready to put a lot of time and energy in, especially at first. Nothing good ever comes easy. Having a bad day? Go home, sleep it off, and wake up the next day ready to fight again. You can’t put a price on the difference a day can make.”—Dave Miller

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