What’s Different About This Couple’s Cabinet Design Business

Ross and Trivonna Irwin aren’t your garden-variety cabinet designers.

For one thing, both are late blooming entrepreneurs. Ross was 59 and Trivonna was 56 when they founded Cabinets by Trivonna, a Lacey, Washington-based business that custom designs kitchens for homeowners and contractors in the state of Washington and Northern Oregon.

They opened in 2007, which turned out to be the start of a recession. While many housing-related businesses folded, Cabinets by Trivonna managed to survive.

“We made it through by not just putting our customers first, but by truly getting to know them and their families and designing a product truly meant to fit their needs,” says Ross in this news release.

Today, Cabinets by Trivonna employs four full-time designers and refers all their construction work out to other local contractors, creating more local work and profit. Their commitment to supporting the local business community is one reason why they received the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) 2018 Seattle District Encore Entrepreneur of the Year award this spring.

Cabinets by Trivonna abides by four core values: “integrity,” “respect for others,” “teachable spirit” and “team player.”  The company’s mission is to “create nurturing environments for our customers with carefully thought-through designs that are planned around the lifestyle of the family.”

In this article, Trivonna explains how her life experience contributes to her ability to help her customers.

“I’ve gone from not knowing how to cook when we first got married to having kids (under foot, or learning to help) to being empty nesters,” she says. “I understand all those phases.”

Here’s a video that tells more about Cabinets by Trivonna’s philosophy and services.

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5 Uplifting Stories About Dad Entrepreneurs

Photo by Sabine van Straaten on Unsplash

This month is Father’s Day.  Maybe it has you reflecting on the lessons your dad taught you.  Or maybe you’re thinking about your own kids and what they might get you this year (hopefully not another tie).

Any way you look at it, family tends to be a very big deal for 40-and-older entrepreneurs.  Shown below are a few past posts about entrepreneurs who embraced parenthood fully.  Some of these dads wanted to help their offspring (or other family members) and created a new organization along the way.  Others used uncommon approaches to manage the struggles of work-life balance.

Here’s hoping these stories make you smile.  Happy Father’s Day to all you dads and granddads out there.


Social Entrepreneur Helps Fathers Become Great Dads – A one-time economist starts a nonprofit that provides fatherhood training worldwide.

How One Dad Teaches His Kids About Entrepreneurship – A father starts an initiative with a simple goal:  to have fun as a family while learning how to run a business.

Entrepreneur Bikes for a Bigger Cause – A son’s cancer diagnosis leads an entrepreneur to found a nonprofit and take on a grueling physical challenge.

Father-Son Entrepreneurial Team Helps People with Autism – A family starts Rising Tide Car Wash to employ a son and others with autism.

From Groceries to Garden Ponds:  John Olson’s Journey – A business owner converts a former executive retreat into both his company’s headquarters and his family’s home so he can spend more time with his kids.

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Successful Entrepreneurs Likely to be Older, Finds New Study

Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels

As much as we love reading about young entrepreneurs who create killer businesses, these cases are the exception rather than the norm, says a new report.

In reality, the average age of the most successful entrepreneurs is 45, according to “Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship.” The research team that prepared the report used U.S. Census Bureau data to analyze all businesses launched in the U.S. between 2007 and 2014 (which encompassed 2.7 million founders).

The study also found that middle-aged founders dominate successful exits.  A 50-year-old founder is 1.8 times more likely than a 30-year-old founder to create one of the highest growth firms.

While these findings may not come as a surprise to readers of this blog, the release of a report confirming the success and value of older entrepreneurs could be beneficial on several fronts.

“If venture capitalists and other early stage investors take our findings to heart, they’ll consider founders from a broader age range and thereby back higher-growth firms,” write Benjamin F. Jones and J. Daniel Kim in this article.

The two researchers also point out that a shift in the narrative about founder age could make older aspiring entrepreneurs “feel more confident about their chances – and more likely to win the resources they need to bring business visions to life.”

Let me add another thought: If the spotlight intensifies on successful older entrepreneurs, younger ones may become more interested in partnering with them. Whereas 40-and-older entrepreneurs have many years of work experience, more extensive networks and (usually) greater financial resources, 20- and 30-somethings tend to be tech savvy, energetic and fresh thinkers. An older-younger combination of founders can be a beautiful thing.

Here’s a link to the full report for those who might like to read it.

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Remembering an Icon in the Beauty Industry

By Lynne Beverly Strang, Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs

Mary Kay Ash

Mary Kay Ash

Vision, drive and tenacity.

Entrepreneurs who want to build sustainable businesses need these traits. Mary Kay Ash had them, plus the self-knowledge that comes with being older.

This month marks the 100th birthday of Ash, who founded Mary Kay – a multibillion-dollar direct seller of cosmetics – at age 45.

Ash was born May 12, 1918 in Hot Wells, Texas as Mary Kathlyn Wagner. Her upbringing wasn’t exactly glamorous. As a girl, she ran the household and took care of her ailing father while her mother worked. Shortly after high school, she married her first husband, with whom she had three children.

A Pivotal Moment

Her determination to get ahead surfaced early in her life. In 1939, the 21-year-old Ash went to work for Houston-based Stanley Home Products. Three weeks after joining the company, she heard about its annual convention in Dallas – and made up her mind to go.

But there was a problem. The cost for the roundtrip train fare and hotel stay was $12. And Ash didn’t have the money.

As recounted in this article on the Mary Kay Foundation’s website, Ash asked every friend she had before one agreed to lend her the $12. The event didn’t include meals – so for three days, she lived on crackers and cheese that she packed in her suitcase.

At the convention, Ash watched as the top saleswoman was crowned queen of sales. Afterwards, she sought out company president Frank Stanley Beveridge and said, “Mr. Beveridge, next year I am going to be queen.” Beveridge looked into her eyes and replied, “Somehow, I think you will.”

“Those words changed my life,” said Ash. “I could not let him down.” Sure enough, she became the new queen of sales the following year.

In 1952, Ash moved to the World Gift Company, where she became its national training director. She quit in protest when she was passed over for a promotion in favor of a man she trained.

The Advantage of Life Experience

Mary Kay Ash greets a group of admirers

After she left, Ash began working on a book to assist women in business. As she wrote down her ideas and analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of her previous employers, she inadvertently created a marketing plan for her ideal company – one where women would have unlimited earning potential and growth opportunities.

Ash’s collective life experience influenced her entrepreneurial choices in a couple of key ways. One, she focused on direct sales since that’s what she knew. And two, she opted to create a business to help other women because of what she went through herself.

As a working parent who married three times, she understood the struggle for work-life balance long before that phrase came into vogue. And as someone who experienced sexism for decades, she shared the frustration and anger felt by workers whose gender kept them from advancement.

With her life savings of $5,000, she bought a formula for skin lotions from the family of a leather tanner who developed the products while he worked on hides. In 1963, she and her son Richard opened Beauty by Mary Kay (as it was then called) in a small Dallas storefront with nine salespeople.

A Legacy Continues

Fifty five years later, the company is in nearly 40 international markets and has millions of consultants worldwide. According to its website, Mary Kay also has more than 1,300 patents for products, advanced technologies and packaging designs in its global portfolio. To date, Mary Kay and its foundation have given a combined $76 million to combat domestic violence and cancer.

Mary Kay Ash passed away in 2001. Although it’s been over a half century since she set out to help women fulfill their potential, that objective remains in place for the consultants who work with the company today.

“I’ve really grown as a person and traveled to places I never would have seen had I not joined Mary Kay,” said Independent Sales Director Anna Sempeles. “It’s provided a great platform for both me and my family.”


Mary Kay Ash had a way of words.  Here are a few of her sayings:

“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”

“Sandwich every bit of criticism between two layers of praise.”

“Most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try.”

“A good goal is like a strenuous exercise — it makes you stretch.”

“Don’t let the negatives in life control you.  Rise above them.  Use them as your stepping stones to go higher than you ever dreamed possible.”

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How a 76-Year-Old Became a Swimwear Entrepreneur

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Cherry Harker always wanted to design bikinis. Her infatuation with the skimpy swimsuits began in the late 1950s.

Back then, she was a teenager who spent holidays at exotic places like Monaco and St. Tropez. Her father, Ronnie Harker, was Rolls-Royce’s first test pilot. When his work took him to these posh resorts, his family went with him.

During those trips, Harker had opportunities to watch glamorous people and observe what they were wearing, occasionally spotting celebrities (she bumped into Brigitte Bardot in St. Tropez). She also became familiar with the hazards of doing watersports in a bikini.

“I pretty much learnt how to water-ski one-handed – one hand on the tow-handle and the other holding my briefs up,” she says in this Mailonline article. “And I noticed that quite often some women lost their swimwear when they dived into a pool.”

Fast forward to almost 60 years later, when Harker retired and needed something to do. After contemplating possible projects, she chose her lifelong dream: designing a bikini line.

In 2016, Harker launched ZwimZuit at age 76. Her swimwear features four collections made from neoprene, a non-slip material that enables ZwimZuit customers to enjoy the water without worrying about a wardrobe malfunction.

As she explains in this article published in The Telegraph, the launch of her UK-based company came at the right time in her life. “I married when I was 30, then spent my 30s and 40s focused on family life, supporting my husband, John, in his business and raising our daughter, Tamarisk. I’d battled breast cancer in my 50s, cervical cancer in my 60s, so now I finally had time to do something that was just for me.”

While running a business isn’t easy for Harker, family support makes the challenges more manageable. Daughter Tamarisk, a costume designer, assists with the product design. Husband John, the founder of a classic car business, helps with orders and social media.

ZwimZuit now has customers all over the world. For Harker, one of the most rewarding parts of her business is turning on her computer and seeing women in Brazil or Florida wearing her creations.

“I never really thought of retiring, what do people do when they retire?” she tells The Mailonline. “My father died at 90 but he was fit and healthy and doing things right up to the end and he always said you’ve got to have a project.”

Looks like Harker followed her father’s advice. And what a project she has.

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6 Ways to Market Your Business for Free (Well, Almost)

Photo by Karolina Zuraw on Unsplash

Most new and small business owners operate on shoestring budgets that leave few resources for marketing. If that describes you, take heart. You don’t have to spend big marketing bucks at the beginning (if ever). For greater brand awareness, try these tactics:

  1. Get positive reviews and testimonials. These will help establish trust and enhance the credibility of your business. Provide great service and a quality product to generate “organic” reviews (where people take it upon themselves to comment on their experience). Some customers may forget or just not think about writing a review. In those cases, reach out and ask if you feel like the customer had a good experience.
  1. Be social. Most businesses need a social media presence – but you don’t have to be everywhere. Think about your target audiences. Where do they hang out in the social media world? The answer should guide you on where to focus your time and efforts.
  1. Line up speaking gigs. This can be a highly effective marketing technique for business owners. Speaking in front of groups lets others know about you, ask questions and better understand what you have to offer. You also establish yourself as an authority and gain confidence that carries over to other areas of your business. 
  1. Build relationships with journalists. If you prove to be a good source, reporters will contact you regularly – bringing opportunities to get mentions in articles. Consider signing up for Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a free service that connects journalists and bloggers with expert sources.
  1. Have a blog that relates to your business. Take the time to produce useful, high-quality content. Your readers will come back for more – plus you’re more likely to get shares via social media. If you’re too busy to blog yourself, ask an employee or hire a writer.
  1. Volunteer strategically. Give back to your community and help your business grow at the same time. Encourage employees to do the same. If you own a pet supplies business, for example, volunteer at an animal shelter – where you or your team members may cultivate clients as you help prospective pet owners find a new furry companion.

Any suggestions to add?  Please share them in the comments section below.

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How to Stay Motivated in February

Photo by Firasat Durrani on Upsplash

February can be a tough month for entrepreneurs. The holiday parties are over. People may be reluctant to spend money right now. They’re still paying credit card bills for the gifts they bought in December.

Then there’s the weather, a big factor for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. When ice and snow keep customers away, brick-and-mortar businesses suffer. So do the moods of their owners and employees.

How do you keep going when it’s the dead of winter and spring seems far away?  Here are some ideas that may help:

Join a networking group. You’ll meet new people and may come away with ideas to grow your business. If you prefer virtual networking, LinkedIn has all kinds of professional groups to explore. An advantage of in-person groups, however, is the opportunity to get out of your office and attend events (a good remedy for cabin fever). Meetup can be a good place to find groups that share your interest.

Put the quiet time to good use. Clean your work space, organize your files or tackle another indoor project. Compile the information you’ll need to file your tax return. This particular activity isn’t exactly motivational but you’ll be glad you took care of it.

Review your goals. Remember that list you made for the New Year?  Read through it for a jolt of inspiration. Print another copy and put it in a place where you’ll see it every day.

Get one-on-one support. Head to SCORE’s website to find free counseling. Or consider hiring a coach, which can be a worthwhile investment. Third-party accountability can do wonders to keep you on track during times when you’re tempted to slack off.

Be a mentor for someone else. It’s uplifting to help others – plus you’re sure to learn from the experience.

Exercise. Hit the gym or, better yet, go outside for a walk and some fresh air. It will clear your mind and make you feel better.

If all else fails, remind yourself that February only comes once a year. Take some time to enjoy the good things it has to offer, including that special occasion on the 14th. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

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