How a Late Bloomer Crafted a Successful Quilting Company

Jenny Doan, Missouri Star Quilt Company

Who would think you could reinvent your whole life at age 50? It’s a question Jenny Doan still ponders, even though she did just that.

Jenny is a co-founder of the Missouri Star Quilt Company, which offers over 30,000 bolts of fabric along with hundreds of its own quilting patterns, quilt kits, a quilting magazine (called BLOCK), and a huge selection of precut quilting fabrics. She’s also the star of the company’s free YouTube tutorials about quilting that have been viewed millions of times (more on this intriguing accomplishment in just a bit).

The Doans started their quilting business over a decade ago, when Jenny, her husband Ron, and their seven children decided to relocate from California to “a spot somewhere in the Midwest” where the cost of living was lower. That spot turned out to be Hamilton, a Missouri town of about 1,500 people.

In California, Jenny had designed theatre costumes but the theatre scene wasn’t big in Missouri. It was all about quilting. So Jenny took a quilting class and was immediately hooked.

One day, she took a couple of quilts to be machine quilted at a local quilt shop–and was told she’d have to wait a year for them to be finished. As she explains on her website, two of her children, Alan and Sarah, sensed a business idea and encouraged her to start her own machine quilting business.

By then, it was 2008, when the stock market crash had wiped out most of Ron’s retirement savings. Needing a new retirement plan, Jenny decided to heed her children’s advice. In November 2008, the Doans bought a small brick building in Hamilton to set up shop–and the Missouri Star Quilt Company was born.

In 2009, the company started its YouTube channel where Jenny gives step-by-step instructions for quilting projects. This marketing technique proved to be a game changer. Thirteen years later, the 65-year-old Jenny has become a quilting “sewlelbrity.”

Not all entrepreneurs want to (or should) partner with relatives, of course. Missouri Star Quilt Company, however, is a nice example of what can happen when family members are able to blend their talents and skills together. In this case, Jenny engages YouTube viewers through her friendly, authentic, and down-to-earth demeanor. Her son provides the technical know-how needed to make the weekly video tutorials happen.

You can see Jenny in action by watching the video below.

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How to Test Your Business Idea

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

For entrepreneurs, there’s nothing like the excitement that comes with creating a new company, a new service or a new product. Or maybe a new process that’s better than an existing one.

But here’s the problem: People fall in love with their ideas. Eager to get started, they rush forward with the idea without taking the time to vet its viability.

In many business circles, this vetting process is known as “proof of concept.” Although definitions vary, I especially like this one from TechTarget: “A proof of concept (POC) is an exercise in which work is focused on determining whether an idea can be turned into a reality. A proof of concept is meant to determine the feasibility of the idea or to verify that the idea will function as envisioned.”

For 40-and-older entrepreneurs, testing in advance can be especially important for at least one reason: If the idea isn’t sound, you don’t have as much time as a younger entrepreneur to recover and regroup afterwards. And for all entrepreneurs, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” as Benjamin Franklin once said.

When you’re ready to test your proof of concept, here are a few ideas to consider:

Start small – If your idea is to open a restaurant, for example, start with a food truck before opening a full-scale eatery. Starting small lets you create demand and grow the business before you sign a lease or make other longer-term commitments.

Work for someone else first. Before Savvy Rest founder Michael Penny launched an organic mattress company at age 51, he worked at a futon company for seven years. This gave him an opportunity to learn the mattress industry and better understand how its products are made, marketed and sold. It also enabled him to identify where voids existed before he went out on his own.

Create a prototype – This lets you to envision what your invention might look like, correct problems and refine your design as needed before production.

Leverage social media – Use these platforms to conduct polls, ask questions and monitor discussions about similar products or services.

Start in your own backyard – Do a pilot program with a local organization with customer or member demographics that match the target users for your offering.

Hold focus groups – Meredith and Lee Hedrick used this technique before launching Doha Designs, a souvenir company, in 2013 (the Hedricks, then in their early 40s, have since sold their business). Feedback from focus groups comprised of local residents suggested strong potential for their business idea.

A final thought: The proof of concept process may reveal that your idea isn’t viable. If that happens, it isn’t the end of the world. Get up and dust yourself off. Then use your newfound knowledge to create something that will work.

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Where to Find Your Next Business Mentor

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I was a guest speaker at a meeting held by the Dallas Chapter of Women of Visionary Influence (WOVI), whose mission is “to empower women to lead and mentor.” Each member has access to a mentor to help her achieve, succeed and prosper in her chosen path in life.

For me, the WOVI meeting was a reminder of the power and importance of mentoring. That’s especially the case when it comes to starting a business, launching new products and services, and achieving other major goals.

Here are a few groups in addition to WOVI that offer opportunities to connect with mentors.

SCORE – This nonprofit organization has the largest network of free volunteer small business mentors in the nation. Visit SCORE’s homepage and click on “Find a mentor.” This link takes you to a page with three options to find a SCORE mentor who fits your goals and needs.

Inventors networks – These groups can be highly valuable for new and would-be inventors who need support and advice to bring their products to market. The Washington, D.C., area, for example, has the Inventors Network of the Capital Area (INCA). To find an inventor association in your geographic region, click on this U.S. map provided by the United Inventors Association.

Meetup – Use this service to find business mentoring groups and other events focused on entrepreneurship (or just about any other topic). If you can’t find an existing group that meets your needs, Meetup lets you organize and host your own group.

Toastmasters International – This public speaking and leadership development organization offers a way to build supportive relationships with goal-oriented people as well as a place to practice business pitches in a safe, supportive environment. Toastmasters has clubs all over the world, including some that are especially for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

LinkedInHere’s a post from Rising Innovator with tips for using LI to find a business mentor.

If you don’t have mentors to support you, it’s time to cultivate them. Last year, fellow freelance writer Kristen Edens and I co-authored this article about the value of business mentoring for people of all ages, including older entrepreneurs. As we mention in the article, finding a mentor may not happen overnight — but it’s well worth the time and effort.

The search itself is beneficial because you meet new people and gain different insights. When a good connection happens, it can launch a relationship that’s valuable and fun for both the mentee and the mentor.

A mentor sometimes sees something in you that you don’t see in yourself. It could be a talent, an attribute, a special gift  you didn’t know you possessed. Once you and your mentor unearth that hidden talent – and you become aware of its existence — it might turn into something big.

In short, mentoring can change your life. What are you waiting for?

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A Late Bloomer Overcomes a Big Challenge to Open a Candle Business

A proud moment for Ivy Vaughn and her family at the official opening of Sleepy Jean’s Candle Co.

When Ivy Vaughn held her August 3 ribbon-cutting ceremony for Sleepy Jean’s Candle Co., she wasn’t just celebrating the opening of her new candle business. She also paid tribute to her mother, Barbara Jean, who passed away in 2020.

As explained in this TimesNews article, Barbara Jean loved The Monkeys’ 1968 recording of “Daydream Believer” and the song’s catchy refrain (“Cheer up sleepy Jean/Oh what can it mean/to a daydream believer and a homecoming queen”).

Said Vaughn about her new shop: “This is a way to honor my mom. I miss her a lot. I really do.”

Sleepy Jean’s Candle Co., located in Kingsport, Tennessee, makes handcrafted luxury candles, wax melts and more. To get the word out about her business, Vaughn hosts special events. In conjunction with her ribbon-cutting ceremony, for example, she held “Candles and Cocktails,” where participants received instruction and materials to make their own Sleepy Jean’s candle as they enjoyed music, snacks and libations.

A Citronella & Sea Mist candle boat from Sleepy Jean’s

In addition to common obstacles faced by most entrepreneurs, the 40-year-old business owner has an especially difficult challenge: overcoming Agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder that involves a fear of public places, crowds or other situations that could cause panic attacks.

“I didn’t leave the street we lived on for four years,” she told TimesNews. “My husband didn’t leave that street for six years. We’ve overcome a whole, whole lot. I started making candles then for income.”

Vaughn hopes her story will help others who feel stuck.

“I fought, a long, hard battle (actually still fighting it) to get to this point,” she wrote in an email to Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs. “I’ve not always had support or even understanding along the way… but those that have been there and helped me like my mom, husband, and close friends make me realize that I’m not alone and that there is always hope.”

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How to Find Your Why

Mark Twain once said: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

For some lucky people, “the day you find out why” arrives at an early age. But for many of us, finding our passion takes longer.

Vera Wang was 40 when she launched her beautiful line of bridal wear.

Pat Brown was almost 60 when he decided to find a way to produce delicious, affordable meat and dairy products directly from plants. Soon after, he founded Impossible Foods.

And then there’s Grandma Moses. She didn’t start painting until she was in her late 70s.

No matter where we are in life, each of us needs a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning.

Not long ago, I suggested five ways to “find your why” in a guest talk given to Hear Me Roar Toastmasters (HeR), which focuses on leadership issues of importance to women. I’m sharing the suggestions below with the hope that they’ll help others.

1) Get to know yourself better. This starts with knowing your core values. Do they include authenticity, a strong work ethic or kindness? Or maybe spirituality, community service, justice? When you have a clear set of core values, you can find a purpose that aligns with them.  

2) Scratch the Itch. Think about an unmet need in your life. Is there a pressing concern or issue that isn’t being addressed? Or a product or service that doesn’t exist? This could become your why. Many organizations and inventions came about because someone who had an itch uttered these seven words: There has to be a better way.

3) Try New Things. Thousands of nonprofits, with all kinds of missions, need help with data entry, marketing, translating, teaching – you name it. Choose a volunteer opportunity that lets you explore interests. It’s a great way to discover what you like – and what isn’t the right fit before you make a long-term commitment.

4) Be willing to make mistakes. On December 26, 2010, I launched this blog. Having never written one before, I had no idea what I was doing. I made lots of mistakes — but I kept going. More than a decade later, I’m still here. I would never have gotten this far if I had let a fear of mistakes get in the way.

5) Join Toastmasters. The mission of this terrific organization is to help its members improve their communication and leadership skills. It’s also helped many people find their calling. Some become professional speakers and leadership coaches. Others transition into advocates, mentors and teachers. Joining Toastmasters lets you find your voice.  

One more suggestion:  As you explore your life purpose, don’t forget to enjoy the journey. That, by itself, can be very gratifying.

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6 Late-Blooming Businesses Begun During the Pandemic


Photo by Kadir Celep on Unsplash

For business owners, COVID-19 brought many, many challenges. Yet the last year or so was also a time when some aspiring 40-and-older entrepreneurs decided to act. In some cases, these entrepreneurs moved forward on business ideas they’ve thought about for years. In others, they pursued new causes that presented themselves as a direct result of the pandemic.

Here’s a sampling of these businesses:  

Shakadi Arts – A paint-and-sip concept streamed via Zoom by Diana Daniels, a 66-year-old retired grandmother who lives in West Brighton, New York. As reported in this story, Diana began painting with her children and grandchildren via Zoom once COVID-19 lockdown shut everything down. Over time, her idea evolved into a “virtual abstract pour sip-and-paint class.” Her goal is “to give my participants a little distraction and have some fun.”

YesterToys – A Virginia Beach–based toy shop that sells old collectables. Owner Jim Augustine opened the store in August 2020 as a place to buy, sell and trade vintage toys. As this article explains, the 46-year-old “had always wanted to open a vintage toy shop, it just took a pandemic to push him to do it.”

Danielle Renee Beaute – A skin care and beauty line launched by Danielle Dials, who turned 40 in 2020. “We put so much pressure on ourselves to get things done in a timeline,” says Danielle in this article. “If this inspires another woman to start a business at 40, or older, that would make it all the more sweet.”

Diana Original Hoops – A hula hoop and exercise company started by Diana Miller. The 49-year-old from Baltimore took up hula hooping at the beginning of the pandemic. Now she holds socially distanced classes, which customers can attend free once they buy her custom-made hula hoops that she sells on social media.

Suzi Home Maker – A Peterborough, Ontario-based company that helps older adults with downsizing, de-cluttering, packing, donating and other tasks associated with a move. Founder Susan Dunkley, an active volunteer and member of her community for over 30 years, came up with her business idea in 2020 after a family member had to move while pandemic-induced lockdowns were in full swing. Her husband, then recovering from COVID-19, wasn’t well enough to help – so this job fell upon Susan. “I realized that there was a great need for elders in our community for this type of service,” she says in this article.  

ADV Roof Tents – Thomas Parkes, 51, is the founder of this Bristol, UK startup, which sells foldout tents that sit on top of a vehicle. Before the pandemic, Thomas ran another company where he took clients on challenging off-road adventures. Although COVID-related travel restrictions squelched this business, Thomas found a new opportunity in the growing popularity of staycations. As he explains here, his latest endeavor provided a big plus: the opportunity to work with his son.     

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8 Ways to Become More Resilient

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For entrepreneurs, a key trait for success is resilience. While that’s always been the case, an ability to weather tough times matters more than ever as the pandemic continues to upend the world.

To boost your resilience, consider these suggestions:

1) Think long-term. As seen from such disrupting events as 9/11, the 2008 mortgage meltdown – and now COVID-19 — a crisis changes the way we live and operate. This disruption, in turn, creates new needs – and new opportunities for innovative people who seek to make things better.

2) Take care of yourself. The basics — eating well, regular exercise, getting enough rest – give you a positive mindset and a fitness level needed to endure a difficult stretch.

3) Surround yourself with resilient people. Through osmosis, you’ll pick up their philosophies and glean tips about dealing with hardships.

4) Be someone’s rock. Providing support for a person who’s struggling improves your own ability to cope. When you help others get stronger, you get stronger too.

5) Believe in something bigger than you. This could be your faith, a social mission, or a desire to leave a legacy for younger family members. Having a larger purpose puts things in perspective and helps you remember what’s most important.

6) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Cold calls, public speaking, networking – everybody has a nemesis that puts them outside their comfort zone. Rather than running away from your nemesis, confront it. Embrace it. Through repetition, you become less uncomfortable.

7) Be willing to make mistakes. Chances are most people won’t notice or care. If somebody does criticize the mistake, so what? It isn’t the end of the world. When you adopt this thinking, you develop a thicker skin.

8) Keep going. Daily action augments your ability to ward off negativity and other forces that threaten your progress.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

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How One Woman Found Her Calling in an “80-Year-Old Startup”

By Lynne Beverly Strang, Late Blooming Entrepreneurs

As Stuckey’s CEO, Stephanie Stuckey aims to continue the legacy started by her grandparents.

For almost three decades, Ethel “Stephanie” Stuckey had a successful career in environmental law, sustainability and politics. Now she’s gone in a totally different direction for her next chapter.

In 2019, Stephanie became a first-time business owner at age 53 when she bought Stuckey’s, the roadside pecan stores begun in Eastman, Georgia by her grandparents, W.S. Stuckey Sr. and his wife Ethel, during the 1930s.

The purchase of all of Stuckey’s shares took most of her life savings but Stephanie knew she had to act. “I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to take back the business and see my family’s legacy restored,” she says.

Reviving an Ionic Brand

If you’re over 50 and your family took road trips in the South or Southwest, you might remember Stuckey’s pecan log roll, grilled pimento cheese sandwiches, the touristy knickknacks (like seashell ashtrays and plastic green toy alligators) in its souvenir shops, and the pitched roof with teal blue shingles that marked its restaurants. In its heyday, more than 350 Stuckey’s dotted the U.S. roadways.

By the 1970s, the network began to wane after a large corporation purchased the business. In 1984, W.S. “Billy” Stuckey, Jr. – Stephanie’s father who was a five-term congressman from Georgia’s 8th District — acquired the company and began to turn it around.

Like so many others who grew up in America during the 60s and 70s, Stephanie has childhood memories of Stuckey’s, tagging along when her family visited its locations. But she never worked at the company until she became its CEO. It was a huge transition for someone who spent almost 30 years as an attorney specializing in sustainability and served as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives for 14 years.

Once she took the reins at Stuckey’s, she had to get up to speed quickly. Recognizing she needed help, Billy Stuckey put his daughter in touch with Robert “RG” Lamar, Jr., who was running another family-owned business called Front Porch Pecans. In September 2020, Stuckey’s acquired Front Porch Pecans and RG Lamar became Stephanie Stuckey’s business partner, bringing hands-on experience managing the day-to-day operations of a pecan company.

At 37, RG Lamar is 18 years younger than Stephanie – an age difference that she sees as a big plus. “In addition to balancing out my skill sets with solid financial acumen and knowledge of the pecan business, RG has fresh ideas and a different perspective,” she says.

Embracing Social Media

RG Lamar has “fresh ideas and a different perspective,” says Stephanie Stuckey about her business partner.

With RG on board, Stephanie is able to focus more of her attention on Stuckey’s marketing and pitching the company to potential partners. As a state legislator and a lawyer, she learned the basics of storytelling and public speaking, giving her a strong comfort level in front of in-person and virtual audiences. All of that experience comes in handy as she reintroduces the Stuckey’s brand to those who remember it, and creates awareness among younger people who weren’t around during the company’s peak.

“The number one rule in public speaking is ‘know your audience,’” she says. “That’s true about social media as well. Before I post anything, I always ask why people should care and how it’s relevant to them.” She also engages her audiences with interesting, historical images and shares personal anecdotes that let customers get to know the people behind the brand.

Her emphasis on marketing seems to be paying off. After five straight years of losses, Stuckey’s made a small profit during the second half of 2020. “I don’t consider myself especially skilled. I just know how to tell a story,” she says modestly, “and I’m passionate about the Stuckey’s brand.”

Lessons Learned

When it comes to entrepreneurship, Stephanie agrees that starting a business at a later age has advantages. “It’s less about the skills because you can acquire those,” she says. “Your character, your resilience and your ability to function under stress – that’s more important. You also tend to be more financially secure and have a credit history, making it easier to have access to capital.”

For aspiring entrepreneurs of all ages, her transition offers other lessons. Among them:

Play to your strengths – A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis or books such as StrengthsFinder 2.0 can help you determine what you do well – and where you need help.

Revisit your strategic plan regularly – All too often, a business plan sits on a shelf collecting dust. Stephanie says she reviews and revises her business plan quarterly.

Don’t burn bridges – While serving in the Georgia state legislature, Stephanie learned that an opponent on one issue may become an ally on another. The same is true in business. It pays to always be respectful, open-minded and willing to listen to others with different points of view.

What’s Next

“Things are really exciting right now,” says Stephanie. “I feel like we’re at a tipping point – and that in some ways, we’re like an 80-year-old startup.”

The company just purchased a manufacturing plant in Wrens, Georgia, which will enable most of its core candy and pecan snack items to be produced in-house. Plans are underway to add new product lines geared towards health-conscious consumers and those who enjoy a decadent treat every now and then.

In addition to growing its e-commerce platform, Stuckey’s expects to add to its 70-plus franchises, focusing on quality rather than quantity. “Our future locations are likely to be in the South and Southwest since that’s close to our distribution center and we have a solid customer base there,” says Stephanie. “But we’ll base our decisions on market research, traffic counts and other data.”

For this roadside business, the road ahead won’t be easy. But Stephanie believes Stuckey’s can make a comeback by following the same principles used by W.S. Stuckey Sr.

“My grandfather used to say, ‘Every traveler is a friend,’ and he meant it,” she says. “That fundamental philosophy will never change.”

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Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs Celebrates 10th Anniversary

On December 26, 2010, I launched this blog. My first story — a one-sentence post titled “Hello World!”– wasn’t exactly a barn burner. Yet it was gratifying to click on the “publish” button and watch the post go live.

My kids thought it was pretty funny. “Look,” one of them shouted gleefully. “Mom is starting a BLOG!”

I can’t blame them for having some good-natured fun at my expense. Having never written a blog before, I didn’t know what I was doing. But I did have a vision: to create a place where I could share the inspirational stories and interesting research I unearthed as I wrote my book about 40-and-older entrepreneurs.

Over time, the blog became so much more. After I wrote this post about a Five Guys franchisee, I heard from a former work colleague I hadn’t spoken with in many years. Soon after, we met for burgers and fries at a local Five Guys restaurant. That meeting rekindled our friendship. We enjoyed several more lunches together before she passed away from cancer five years later.

I’ve also connected with other bloggers and business leaders I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Some of these connections, in turn, led to conversations about a wide range of entrepreneurial topics, from finding the right business idea to dealing with setbacks. After I wrote about late-blooming entrepreneur Steve Fredlund and his first-ever TEDx talk titled “Putting the Right Peeps in Your Jeep,” Steve invited me to be a guest on his podcast. We had a great conversation about the value of public speaking for small business owners.

From these types of exchanges, I’ve seen that late bloomers who start successful endeavors tend to be persistent. They are also optimists. Rather than seeing themselves as “too old,” they embrace the many benefits – such as life experience, knowledge and resilience — that come with starting a business at an older age.

To mark 10 years of blogging, I’m re-sharing 10 of my favorite posts. After 264 posts, it’s tough to narrow the list to just 10 — but I hope you enjoy this walk down Memory Lane.

Whether you’ve just started reading this site, or have been visiting it for a while, thank you for joining me on my blogging journey. Wishing you much success in 2021.



How One Couple Found a Business Idea Seven Thousand Miles from Home

Late-Blooming Mompreneur Thinks Outside the Lunchbox

Building a Business One Bike Wheel at a Time

Cookies on Call: Franny Martin’s Sweet Success

A Love for Photography Leads to a Business

How Two Friends Built a Gourmet Licorice Business Together

Cyber Security Entrepreneur Turns Her Vision into Reality

How One Dad Teaches His Kids About Entrepreneurship

From Crunching Numbers to Chopping Veggies: How a 40-Something Found Her Calling

How a 60-Year-Old Entrepreneur Crushed His First Gravel Bike Race

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5 Business Books to Read Over and Over

Photo by Dakota Corbin
on Unsplash

Each year, somewhere between 600,000 and one million books get published in the U.S. alone. With so many new titles to choose from, why would you want to re-read books that are already on your shelves?

Repetition makes things stick. Sometimes you need to read a book two or three times (or more) for its key ideas to sink in and take hold.  

You catch things you missed earlier. A standard business book is around 50,000-60,000 words, according to this blog post by ghostwriter Ginny Carter. With that many words, some details might not get noticed the first time around.   

You don’t have to start at the beginning. If you’re looking for certain information, you can choose sections or chapters to review — and understand the context — without having to re-read the whole book.    

It’s fun to re-read your favorites. Old books are like old friends. It’s enjoyable to spend time with them.

As the pandemic lockdowns continue, now is a good time to enjoy some of these favorites and learn from them again. Here are a few business books that I go back and re-read from time to time:   

Think and Grow Rich – In this book first published in 1937, author Napoleon Hill presents principles used by Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and other millionaires to become wealthy.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey presents a holistic, integrated, principle-centered approach for solving personal and professional problems. First published in 1990, it’s packed with wisdom and advice that’s still relevant today

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living – In this book, author Dale Carnegie (probably best known for “How to Win Friends and Influence People”) presents time-tested methods for conquering worry.   

Time Tactics of Very Successful People – Written by B. Eugene Griessman, this book is concise, easy-to- read and, of course, gets right to the point. This post lists a few of the book’s tactics.

Customers for Life – Author Carl Sewell shares principles that he used to build his auto dealership into a near $1 billion business and become one the top retailers in the U.S.

Are there some business books you read over and over?  Please feel free to mention them in the comments below.

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