‘Learn to read a spreadsheet’ is the advice from WithIt panel to women in business

HIGH POINT – WithIt, the women’s leadership development network for the home and furnishings industries, featured a panel about the impact of women on business during this week’s High Point Market.

The bi-annual educational breakfast featured women leaders in the home and furnishings industry.

Sheila Long O’Mara with Furniture Today moderated the panel, which included Bailee Nebeker, co-owner of American Homestead Furniture and Wallaroo’s Furniture and Mattress; Carla Regina, co-founder and CCO of Regina Andrew; and Joni Burden, president and owner of J Banks Design.

Burden told of a hard lesson she learned after acquiring her business 37 years ago. She had been writing checks for payroll but saw some unusual invoices, so she asked about them. Turns out the previous owners had left $400,000 worth of invoices in a bottom drawer, and they needed to be paid.

“We decided to bite the bullet and ask the bank for help, and we called every vendor that we had and asked them to work with us, and they all said yes,” Burden said. “I tell people I got my MBA while working with those balance sheets.”

Burden said she is grateful to her father, a serial entrepreneur who talked to her about how to negotiate to get paid what she’s worth. “That’s hard to do for many women,” she added.

When Regina first started the company with her husband, they hired several women who had recently graduated from college. Many of them have now been with the company for 10 to 15 years and they have all grown up together.

One of the most stressful periods for Regina Andrew came in 2015 when the company decided to focus more heavily on quality control and cross training employees.

“We have been in business for more than 25 years, but we disrupted ourselves and created a quality control team,” said Regina. “This move changed who we are and put us on a path to greater success.”

Nebeker’s biggest challenge came during COVID, when her company had an inkling of what might happen by the end of 2019.

“Because we had the opportunity, we were able to prepare in advance, and after things shut down in March 2020, we decided to continue to pay our people for as long as it took,” she said. “We were fearless, and our team saw that and stood by us.”

The women offered advice to others who are just starting in the industry based on what they would tell their younger selves. This included being ready to work hard, trusting your gut, knowing that the difficult times will take away your fear and, in Burden’s case, “being better at math.”

They advised those who are thinking of starting their own business, whether in design or elsewhere, to take business courses and learn how to balance a spreadsheet.

The women also stressed the importance of community involvement. They all had a cause they supported including helping animals, providing families in need with furniture during hard times and starting a 501c3 to create a school in Tanzania to help educate children there.

“We also give our employees seven days off a year to volunteer for the cause of their choice,” Burden said. “That has proven to be a win-win for both our company and the causes we support.”

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