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WOMAN OF THE 90s

LINDA WOLAVER

Business is blooming at a florist shop on Henderson Boulevard, but it wasn't always that way for owner Linda Wolaver. The south Tampa businesswoman talked with Times staff writer Jackie Ripley recently about how she got her business on sound financial footing.

Not many people know that I turned to the classifieds. And the ones who do have pretty much the same reaction. They're aghast.

But I was desperate. I had too much invested in this business and too much riding on the outcome to let it go under.

I had put all my savings _ plus money I had borrowed from my parents _ into the start-up costs. But I hadn't counted on how much it takes to run a business. After the first year I knew that if I was going to make it work, I needed more capital.

I remember turning to the classifieds for business opportunities and thinking to myself, "Can these people be for real?" After answering about 30 ads, I found an accountant who was willing to kick in $15,000 for a temporary partnership.

He had a lot of business sense and helped me get over the hump. Eventually, I was able to buy him out and pay back every penny to my parents. I was lucky, really lucky.

Owning your own business can be a blessing and a curse all at the same time. Certainly, there's the fun and prestige of being the boss. But when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of paying the bills, the fun and excitement can wear pretty thin. It was three years before I could even take home a paycheck.

It's true I didn't struggle as much as I might had I been single. I was married, but wasn't just somebody's wife playing at running a business on the side. In the back of my mind I knew this company was going to have to support me and our two sons, who were in junior high at the time.

I got the florist business in my blood when I was still in high school. I grew up in a suburb outside Cleveland and worked for the neighborhood florist during the summers. Actually, running my own business was not entirely new either.

My husband and I owned two companies when we lived in Ohio, but he was in charge. He ran a florist supply house, and I managed a florist shop. The only problem was money from the florist shop was constantly being siphoned off to keep the supply house afloat. Eventually we closed both companies, and when my husband was presented with a business opportunity in Tampa, we took it.

I spent three years working for a florist in south Tampa before opening my own shop. And when I did, I was determined to do it my way.

In the beginning, I worked 60 to 80 hours every week. I'd come home every day and put dinner on the table and then help with homework.

Part of the reason I worked so hard was that I was trying to stabilize my life, and avoid the stress and tension at home. But as I became more and more dedicated to the business, my husband and I grew further and further apart. Eventually we divorced.

Walking away from 22 years of marriage wasn't easy. It was scary. I knew I had to make the business work.

I'm still working long hours, but there's more satisfaction in running a successful business than one that's floundering. The company is finally solid, but it took a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

Naturally my home life has changed a lot. Both boys are grown and on their own, and I'm responsible only for myself now. I don't have to race home and cook dinner, and I can actually put something in the refrigerator and come back later and find it still there.

It's so quiet, though. I miss the hubbub that goes with having teenagers around and the phone ringing at all hours. But I also feel as if I've finally arrived.

I'm able to do things for myself now, like take vacations and help my kids with their tuition for school. There was a time when I wondered if that would ever be possible. Now we've actually gotten to the point where we sometimes have to turn down a function because we're so busy.

I also bought a new car and a condo recently. But getting financing was a nightmare. I think the only thing worse than being a self-employed divorced woman trying to get a bank loan is being an unemployed divorced woman trying to get a bank loan.

Eventually I found someone willing to take a chance on me, and I'm in my new home. Business is good, and I'm feeling optimistic about the future. I've accomplished so much and come such a long way from where I was.

But I know the speed bumps of life are always going to be there _ the trick is figuring out how to get over them.

Jackie Ripley can be reached at 226-3342.

PERSONAL:

Linda Wolaver, 43, florist

Owner of Creative Flowers in south Tampa

Divorced

Two sons: Scott Wolaver, 20, and Todd Wolaver, 19

Tips:

Be persistent. Develop customer loyalty. Give clients with a small budget the same professional courtesy you extend to ones with a big budget.

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