The number of women-owned businesses has more than doubled in the last decade. Meet three Upstate women who are part of the trend

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Across the nation, entrepreneurship is on the rise.

But growth among female business owners, particularly in South Carolina, is far outpacing growth among males and closing the gap between the two sexes.

Credit card giant American Express said in its annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report that, as of January 2017, there were an estimated 11.6 million businesses owned by women in the U.S.

From 1997 to 2017, the number of women-owned businesses increased 114 percent, compared to an average national growth rate of 44 percent for all businesses, according to the report.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 Survey of Business owners showed there were about 9.9 million firms owned by females in the country, a nearly 27 percent increase compared with 7.8 million in the previous survey done in 2007.

Meanwhile, the number of businesses owned by men increased only 6.8 percent to more than 14.8 million in 2012, compared with about 13.9 million five years earlier, according to the survey.

Citing U.S. Census data, the National Women’s Business Council said that of the country’s nonfarm and privately held businesses, 36.3 percent were owned by women in 2012, compared with 28.8 percent in 2007.

In the Palmetto State, female entrepreneurship jumped 32.6 percent in 2012 to 131,856 firms, compared with 99,445 in 2007, U.S. Census data showed.

Male ownership in South Carolina grew by less than 2 percent from 198,870 in 2007 to 202,446 in 2012.

FranNet, a franchise consulting firm, said that between 2011 and 2016, it has seen a 71 percent increase in female franchise ownership, compared with 26 percent in male ownership.

“The most obvious reason is that women who are employed as executives get laid off just as men do,” said Mike Hall, president and owner of FranNet Carolina, a franchise sales and consulting firm with offices in Charleston and Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C. “The more women that get into middle-management roles, the more that are going to get laid off.”

“In my experience, I have found that women, who have made good money and are highly educated, are reaching a place where they’d rather take control of their own destiny rather than letting someone else be in charge of it,” Hall added. “For me, I’ve seen about a 25 to 30 percent increase in women owners during the past few years. I would expect that to go up in the future.”

Despite some of the perceptions about men having the edge when it comes to the entrepreneurial spirit, Hall said women have many strengths their male counterparts don’t have that make them successful small-business leaders.

“[Women] tend to be better collaborators,” he said. “They are better at getting things done in teams. Those are two things you need to be in order to be successful as a small business. You’re not going to grow a business unless you create an environment where people feel valued.”

“In general, women listen better, reason better, and they understand what’s needed to build a good team,” Hall said. “They’re just as good as men at solving problems.”

Women are also proving their mettle in sectors traditionally thought of as dominated by men, he said.

Hall referenced one former client who was a franchise owner for Cottman Transmission, a transmission and auto repair shop, and established herself as one of the company’s top leaders.

“If there was ever an industry dominated by men, that would’ve been it,” he said. “But she was one of their best owners. The men very much enjoyed working for her. … It’s all businesses. Franchises are just another way for women to own businesses. I don’t see that demarcation, where women should own a business for women.”

Hall explained that since the Great Recession, men and women have gravitated to entrepreneurship rather than to “corporate America.”

He said that people, especially parents, are seeking things that go beyond merely being in control of their destiny, such as a different pace of life, flexibility in their schedule, less travel, and more time with their families.

“I think it’s a natural evolution based on the economy in general,” Hall said.

He said with economic and population growth in the Upstate happening now and projected into the future, the region is poised to see an explosion of small businesses, particularly in the service sector and companies that appeal to millennials.

“The Rust Belt is the Rust Belt for a reason,” Hall said. “Tires and cars are being produced in Mexico and Japan. … This is considered a really good place to live. The Greenville-Spartanburg area feels large, but when you compare it to Charlotte, it feels small. Charlotte has grown really large, but when you compare it to Atlanta, it seems small. Whether it’s Atlanta, Charlotte, or Greenville-Spartanburg, people are moving here. We have a favorable tax climate and an environment that is business-friendly.”

With the growth rate of female-owned businesses in South Carolina on the upswing, the Upstate Business Journal has identified three local women out of many who are successfully growing their ventures.

 

Rebecca Feldman, co-owner of Two Men and a Truck of Greenville

In 2001, Rebecca Feldman and her husband, Bryan, were newly married and living in Atlanta.

Rebecca came from a background in fundraising for nonprofits. Bryan has worked for the moving franchise Two Men and a Truck in Columbia.

The couple were presented with the opportunity to purchase the Greenville Two Men and a Truck franchise.

In 2002, they capitalized on the opportunity, picked up stakes, and moved to Greenville.

During the past 15 years, the Feldmans have grown their company to eight locations and just under 250 employees in Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia, all while raising their two children.

“For women, it’s so hard to strike a balance,” Rebecca Feldman said. “You are trying to get the children where they need to be, run the carpools, have dinner prepared, get everyone fed. … When you own your own business, you have many tasks and expectations that need to get done within the day. But at times you have more flexibility. You’re able to carve out bits of time with your family. It’s much easier than if you are at a job where there are hours you have to be there, set amounts of vacation days, and are working within someone else’s structure.

“For me, the flexibility has been amazing over the years,” Feldman added. “Bryan and I, we’ve always been able to find a balance. If we have a sick day, a snow day, a field trip, we’ve always been able to share the load.”

She said she never thought “in a million years” that she’d be an entrepreneur.

“There’s a sense of accomplishment when it’s yours,” Feldman said. “You take every single thing to heart. There’s such a sense of pride. In the corporate world, you may not get as much recognition, or praise for a job well done. When you own your own business, your work is reflected in it. I think that’s attractive for women. They can truly see progress, positive outcomes, and know it’s theirs. You also have the opportunity to improve the lives of your employees and your community.”

 

Rita Blackwell, co-owner of Mosquito Joe (Upstate and Western North Carolina)

Rita Blackwell grew up in Spartanburg County, but graduated from Wade Hampton High School in Greenville County.

She spent 14 years in England, where she graduated from Chester University and worked as a registered nurse.

Blackwell returned to the states and worked for Liberty Tax Service’s corporate office in Virginia Beach, Va. She later became an area developer for the company, where she said she “learned a lot about the franchise model.”

Eric, her husband, had spent the past two decades working for his family’s tool and stamping business after graduating from Chapman High School in Spartanburg County.

In 2017, the couple, who love being outdoors and being active with their children, decided to get into pest control.

“I instantly became a fan,” Rita Blackwell said. “I tried it and I knew if this stuff works for me, it will work for anyone. … This is the easiest job I’ve ever had because I’m passionate about it.”

Blackwell said the couple were drawn to the franchise model because it offers corporate backing and support from a network of other franchisees.

They also enjoy the freedom and flexibility that come with owning their own business.

“The best thing about it is you’re in business for yourself, but not by yourself,” she said. “I like the fact that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If I do my best, I’m going to be successful. When I run into bumps in the road, I don’t have to spend my money to figure it out. I can ask corporate or other franchisees for advice based on their experiences.”

Blackwell said she knows home services businesses aren’t traditionally thought of as being attractive for women, but she said there are plenty of opportunities for women to get into the field and succeed.

“If there is anything I would say to any women looking at something like this, don’t be scared,” she said. “In the corporate environment, it’s almost impossible for a woman to attain financial security and flexibility at the same time.”

 

Karen Rampey, owner of Pi-Squared Pizza

When Karen Rampey was in high school, her family moved from Trenton, N.J., to Greer.

Her parents bought a restaurant, where she worked while earning her degree at Clemson University and then continued until she turned 26.

After she left the restaurant, Rampey had her first child and eventually found her way into a career as a director of human resources for a large long-term care company.

While she disliked the travel that was part of the job, Rampey did have the opportunity to visit friends in Detroit.

And it was in the Motor City where she was familiarized with a new style of pizza that she decided to bring back to the Upstate.

On Feb. 1, 2016, Rampey opened her flagship Pi-Squared location in Hendersonville, N.C., which isn’t too far from her home in Mill Spring.

In summer 2017, she launched two other stores in Spartanburg County — a corporate store in Boiling Springs and another one she owns at Drayton Mills Marketplace.

Rampey said Pi-Squared recently became a legal franchise. She hopes to open at least one more store featuring the brand’s signature pizzas, Motown music, and a Detroit theme.

“[Entrepreneurship] is great because you make your own hours,” Rampey said. “You only answer to yourself. Your success or failure is on you. … It’s a wonderful feeling to offer job opportunities to people and to help them advance their careers. And, since we are now franchising, we’ll be giving others the opportunities to follow their dreams.”

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