Women of color: How 3 built businesses
3 local women and how they are building their businesses in the Lower Hudson Valley
Who hasn’t said they’d like to quit working for the man?
As it turns out, lots of women have, and that number is growing, especially among women of color.
A recent Center for American Progress study shows African-American and Latina women are a driving force behind entrepreneurship in the United States. From 1997 to 2013, the number of female-owned businesses in the U.S. grew by 59 percent — 1 1/2 times the national average. The study says women of color are the catalyst behind this growth: African-American women-owned businesses grew by 258 percent in that time; Latina women-owned businesses grew by 180 percent. Today, women of color are the majority owners of nearly one-third of female-owned firms in the nation.
Women say that being their own boss and controlling their own destiny are natural draws of entrepreneurship but they also seek a work-life balance and personal satisfaction from their businesses. Here’s a look at three local women and how they are building business and community in the Lower Hudson Valley.
Dionne Bell, make-up artist
Dionne Bell always loved to do makeup but felt there wasn’t a way for people to learn how to put it on without feeling the sales pressure to buy. Bell saw the gap, and decided to build a business.
“I’ve always loved what I do. Empowering women to look better and be more confident is my motivation.” Bell, who is 26 and was born in the Bronx, has been in the makeup industry for almost seven years, working for outfits like Bobbi Brown and as a makeup artist for New York Fashion Week. She branched out on her own a year ago and opened a space in Mamaroneck.
Belle Make-up NYC in Mamaroneck is cozy, decorated with touches of light gray and purple with a chandelier at the entrance. Guests are offered wine, champagne and something tasty to eat. “The atmosphere is relaxing talking girl to girl, with no pressure,” she laughs.
Bell offers individualized and group makeup instruction, event makeup and her own invention: makeup wardrobing. As part of this service she goes through the client’s makeup and lets them know what works and what doesn’t. “In my group classes, some women would have makeup for 10 years, and you can’t (keep it that long) — its makeup.”
She says becoming an entrepreneur hasn’t been exactly as she expected. “There’s no time off, and working consistently to bring in money is a challenge.” Along with chasing the dollars she is traveling about 70 percent of the time for clients, she says. But even with all this, she understands the appeal of business ownership for women and being in control of your schedule. “The challenge for me is that people always underestimate my ability because I’m young.”
In her business, pushing a luxury service is a challenge. She’s had to convince potential customers this is more than just an occasional need, and she’s constantly networking. But she says she’s in it for the long haul, “it’s nice now having a home base in Westchester.”
Regine Coombs, hairstylist
Regine Coombs was born to be an entrepreneur. “I knew at a very young age I was going to be an entrepreneur because I saw my dad do it,” she said. Her father ran several retail businesses in Rockland and Orange counties, and Coombs knew this was what she wanted to do. “I remember the goal was getting my name on a building.”
And she has. Coombs, a Nyack native, has had three successful businesses since 1991: two beauty salons and a restaurant. Currently she owns Regine’s International Beauty Salon in Nanuet. “I had conventional jobs but it was never enough,” she says. They were neither lucrative enough nor gave her enough personal satisfaction.
After training with Vidal Sassoon in the 1980s and working in London, she developed a clientele who kept her first Nyack salon, Regine’s, in business for 14 years. In that time she opened a restaurant called Southern Comfort that she ran for eight years. “There were a lot of 18-hour days,” she remembers.
Now on her third business, she says she’s motivated more by her control over her schedule than the money. “When you get older, it’s quality of life.” It’s also giving back, as Coombs has mentored other hairstylists in her 30-year career and says the next chapter for her is opening another franchise.
Coombs says being good at your craft is just a part of the puzzle to running a successful business. “There’s no handbook to being an entrepreneur, it’s about drive and knowing business.”
Kenyatta Jones-Arietta, real estate broker/owner
Kenyatta Jones-Arietta was an interior designer in Manhattan, but living in Tappan and commuting to the city was taking its toll. “I wasn’t happy with the quality of life with my children.”
So though she had two mortgages on her home, Jones-Arietta quit her job and became a real estate agent. “I sold 12 properties that first year and didn’t look back.”
That was in 2005; she was working for a franchise broker. Then in 2013 she went out on her own, launching R2M Realty. “It was amazing, as if I should be doing it all along,” Jones-Arietta says.
R2M Realty means “Ready 2 Move.” “When you are ready to move, we are ready to help,” she explains. Jones-Arietta says the Nyack boutique firm is hands-on with clients. “The sellers and buyers can tap into me anytime as if they are my own personal clients.”
She says she handpicks her agents, and they all have been closing deals within the first year of business. With about 12 agents and not the usual franchise fees as with bigger agencies, they’ve been able to give back to the community. “We give back 3 percent of our commission from home sales to our sellers’ or buyers’ local charities of choice,” Jones-Arietta says.
She credits her family with helping: her husband with emotional support and her mother for a financial boost (the mom loan). She also dipped into her 401(k) to start the business. “I didn’t think it was necessary at the time to get more financing.”
Jones-Arietta says she understands the appeal of entrepreneurship for women of color but says it’s really a life people should aspire to. “I’ve learned a lot. I am never bored at work. I get up excited about the day, and that’s the way life should be lived.”
The 42-year-old admits the balance between work and family is still a challenge, and she really only turns it off when she’s at the spa or on a family vacation. But she says she’s never going back. “I can see the big picture. This is what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.”