State's entrepreneurs challenge stereotypes of women on the job

Posted: Monday, September 13, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Alison's Relocations sometimes gets calls asking to speak with "Mr. Alison."

But there is no Mr. Alison.

Alison McDaniel is one of thousands of female entrepreneurs in Alaska, contributing more than a billion dollars in revenue to the state's economy each year, according to Sam Dickey of the Small Business Administration's Alaska office.

McDaniel began her moving business out of her Eagle River apartment in 1997, and like many small-business owners, she began operations with just one other person.

What makes her unique is that she owns a business in an industry dominated by men.

"Usually in 20 minutes (customers recognize) she is not just a cute face. She knows what she is talking about," McDaniel said of herself.

McDaniel attributes her success to determination and knowledge. She also thinks that as a woman she takes into consideration things that most men don't, like the importance of shrink wrapping a cream-colored couch to assure that it won't be discolored during the move.

"I found it more advantageous because most residents that are preparing for a move are women," she noted. "They tend to be real supportive."

Today, Alison's Relocations employs nearly 20 people and generates about $3 million in gross sales. That sets McDaniel apart from the average woman business owner.

The typical business owned by a woman in the United States employs less than 10 people and generates less than $50,000 in revenue, according to a study by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Like many small businesses owned by women, Alison's Relocations is considered a part of the service industry. More than 60 percent of women-owned businesses were in the service industry between 1990 and 1998, the study said. And an additional 22.6 percent of women-owned businesses were in the wholesale and retail trade industries during the same period.

Vikki Solberg began operating Natural Pantry more than 27 years ago. Today the natural foods specialty store has two locations in Anchorage, more than 30 employees and may generate up to $10 million in sales this year.

"(The business's success) has been because I have a supportive husband. He has great ideas and he has been able to support me. My kids have been great helps. Over the years we have had two to five kids working with us at all times," said Solberg, a mother of 11. "I have been able to bring my kids to work with me because I have had that freedom."

Leeann Thomas, owner of the Triangle Club, a bar on the corner of Front and Franklin streets in downtown Juneau, also cited personal freedom as one of her primary motivations for becoming a business owner. In her case, it was the freedom to make decisions.

"I found being the ultimate decision-maker inspiring," she said. "I would encourage any female to give it a try."

The Small Business Administration offers training and counseling to women interested in starting their own businesses.

"They can do it, and there are a lot of resources available," Dickey said. "Most of these services are free."

Through a partnership with the YWCA of Anchorage, Dickey's administration offers counseling free of charge to women wanting to develop a business plan or to learn how to read a profit and loss statement, among other business-related skills, he said.

Carlos Bosques, entrepreneur instructor at the YWCA, teaches a 10-week course to women in starting a business. The course costs $350 and is also available online and in Spanish.

In addition to counseling and training, the Small Business Administration helps women obtain capital and government contracts, Dickey said. Up to $10,000 in capital is available through a loan to women starting or expanding a small business.

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