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Published Oct. 27, 2008

Karen Gulbrandsen and Kimber Moore did something that many experts say could endanger their friendship.

They started a business together. And you know what people say about mixing friends and money.

"The outsiders said, 'Forget it,'" said Gulbrandsen, who with Moore started a gift shop, the Stitchery, in June. "'That will be the end of your friendship.'"

But so far, so good. Said Gulbrandsen: "I wouldn't have done this on my own."

Maybe this economy doesn't seem like a good one in which to start a business. But for the Stitchery women and a number of other women who went into business with a friend, having a partner makes taking the risk a little easier.

Anecdotal evidence suggests women may have an easier time making partnerships work, especially if their motivations are rooted not just in making money but in finding "personal fulfillment," said Annette Gray, an adviser with the Florida Women's Business Center. But their businesses can also fall apart over spats, she said.

"Women are more willing to compromise," said Gray. "But then their feelings get hurt."

Gray recommends all partners draw up the business equivalent of a prenuptial agreement and get separate lawyers and accountants.

So how are local female friends handling their new enterprises these days? Here are just a few.

The Stitchery

Who: Best friends Karen Gulbrandsen, 41, and Kimber Moore, 39, run the Stitchery, a boutique on Seven Springs Boulevard in Trinity that specializes in personalized gifts and clothing. Think monogrammed backpacks and rhinestone-studded T-shirts.

How they met: Thirteen years ago, Moore taught one of Gulbrandsen's daughters at Seven Springs Elementary. The two women often found themselves gabbing after class and became such good pals that people sometimes think of them as a Lucy and Ethel-type couple.

How the business started: In late 2006, Gulbrandsen was looking for some Christmas-themed tank tops and Moore needed dance and cheerleading outfits for her girls. They hatched their business idea while walking around the block, and later went to a trade show, invested in an embroidery machine and started out of Gulbrandsen's basement. Their storefront opened in June.

Why partner up: Moore and Gulbrandsen split a $13,000 equipment investment, and both received a lot of sweat equity from their husbands and kids. Neither woman says she would have had the time or money to launch the operation on her own.

How they divide tasks: Moore handles marketing and sales. Gulbrandsen handles finances. They've also adapted the business to meet their lifestyles: Moore, who has younger children, spends less time in the office so she does a lot of work - ordering items, for instance - from home.

What they do when they disagree: They don't have a written agreement. But they love to talk. And talk. "We get mad, we cry, we laugh," said Gulbrandsen. "We don't like confrontation. We'd both choose our friendship over the business."

Culinary Delights

Who: Retirees Beverly Ely, 70, and Linda Russell ("over 65") recently purchased Culinary Delights, a State Road 52 bakery that specializes in handmade pierogies and blintzes.

How they met: The pair are next-door neighbors in Heritage Pines. Russell, who used to run a multimillion dollar snapper distribution company with her husband, trained as a chef in Italy and France. Said Ely: "I smelled her cooking."

How they decided to buy the business: Ely learned that the bakery - including equipment and recipes - was up for sale. Neither she nor Russell much enjoyed the work-free retirement life and had talked about starting a business together. They've got big plans to eventually package their pierogies and sell them to grocery stores. They split the investment 50-50.

How they divide the tasks: As the chef, Russell is in charge of the food preparation. As a former marketing director, Ely is in charge of sales and marketing.

What they do when they disagree: The women have a partnership agreement that spells out what would happen if the business ends or if one of them dies or gives up her side of the operation. When they disagree, said Ely, "we look up the facts." Ely didn't think they should get a credit card machine, for instance. Russell collected data to figure out how much business they would lose, compared with the credit card fees they would owe. They decided getting a machine would pay for itself.

"Linda and I are friends and we definitely value our friendship. But we're also businesswomen," said Ely. "We try to keep our personal lives differentiated. We don't hang out with each other. ... We try to live our lives separately."

Back in Health center

Who: Cindy Perkins, 29, and Carrie Oleston, 30, a year ago started Back in Health Wellness Center, a holistic practice that offers chiropractic services, acupuncture, massage therapy and nutrition plans. Their Lutz office is just over the Pasco/Hillsborough county line, but most of their patients come from Pasco County. Perkins, mother of a 21-month-old son, lives in Wesley Chapel, and Oleston lives with her husband in Citrus Park.

How they met: Oleston and Perkins were classmates at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Minnesota, stayed in touch and eventually met up again when both landed in Florida to escape northern winters.

How they decided to start the business: It was good timing: By the time both women arrived in Florida, each was ready to start her own practice - but needed a little help. When it came to how they wanted their practice to look and operate, they clicked. "Our personalities are similar," said Oleston, "and our styles are similar."

How they divide the tasks: Both see about the same number of patients, but they often work at different times so the practice can keep extended hours - and they can keep their sanity. "Because it's two of us splitting it up," said Perkins, "we're not going to get burned out." On the administrative side, Perkins handles most of the insurance claims while Oleston does the marketing.

What they do when they disagree: The women, who have a partnership agreement, attribute the smoothness of their operation thus far to a lot of early planning. But they also say it helps that while they are friends, they are not close friends. Their relationship is defined as much by the business as by good times outside of work. Perkins said they know each other well "but not so much that the personality issues are going to interfere."

The Diaper Bag Co.

Who: Friends Sheri Shaw and Tracy Pelosi, both 33, in June launched an online baby registry called the Diaper Bag Co. Both women have young children and full-time jobs, Shaw as a pharmaceutical saleswoman and Pelosi as a personal assistant.

How they met: The pair, who met through a friend about six years ago, live in the same neighborhood outside New Port Richey.

How they decided to start the business: "We both basically are crazy over baby items," said Pelosi. Both women often put together gift baskets for their expecting friends and started brainstorming on how they could turn that creative impulse into a business. Each used personal loans, and they set up their venture as a limited liability company.

Shaw said they knew they needed each other's help if they wanted to hold onto their day jobs and take care of their kids. "Without us doing this together," she said, "we could never pursue our dream."

How they divide the tasks: The women agree that Shaw is the more "Type-A" salesperson type while Pelosi is the more creative, low-key personality. That can drive who does what, though sometimes the division of labor is as simple as who is putting together the package that night and who is dropping it off at the post office the next morning.

What they do when they disagree: The pair has a partnership agreement. "We wanted to start off right," said Pelosi. "It is awkward but it's something you have to deal with."

Sometimes they disagree over what products to order, which ones might sell. But they say they manage to find plenty of room for compromise. Said Pelosi: "We just talk it through."

Shaw said the pair tries to make an effort now to do things outside of work. "We try to go out to dinner and have fun," she said. "I think it's important to make time for that. You have to remember your friendship."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at or (727) 869-6247.


Locations of businesses in this story

The Stitchery: 2317 Seven Springs Blvd., New Port Richey

Culinary Delights: 9831 State Road 52, Hudson

Back in Health Wellness Center: 18942 N Dale Mabry, Lutz

The Diaper Bag Co. is on the Web at

Florida Women's Business Center is on the Web at