3 Female-Owned Businesses Shine in Dark Economic Times

The past year has been tough on local businesses, but these three female-owned North Shore companies have done more than survive the storm; they’ve thrived.

The woman entrepreneurs share some common traits—a passionate belief in their products, dedication to their customers, and an incredible work ethic.Their successes bring much-needed sunshine to an economic climate that, lately, has been too much doom and gloom.

Keep it clean– Betsy Neumann, Clean Air Lawn Care, Evanston

In late 2007, Betsy and her husband Steve saw the writing on the wall with his mortgage wholesale lending business and decided to make a proactive change.

They sold their house in Evanston,packed up their three boys (now ages 11, 8 and 6) and took an 8-month RV trip around the country, visiting many national parks along the way. The result was an unforgettable family experience and a deep appreciation for the natural beauty of our country. That  appreciation, combined with the couple’s desire for a hands-on, meaningful way to earn a living, led them to partner with Clean air Lawn Care, a sustainable lawn care business based in Colorado.

The Neumanns returned to Evanston and opened their company last spring.

“Our goal was to start small and keep it manageable,” Betsy says. “We wanted to make sure we could deliver what we promised.”

With more than 60 regular customers across the north Shore and Western suburbs, they have more than surpassed their goal for their first season. The business uses methods that make the lowest impact on the environment and homeowners’ health. Clean air Lawn Care uses quiet, clean electrical equipment and organic materials that restore the ecosystem and soil. One might think a lawn care service is a luxury when money is tight, but Betsy found that people spend more time at home in uncertain times, and the yard is a more important space than ever.

Feel the beat —Julie Windsor, Beat Street, Winnetka

While many north Shore retailers have closed their doors, julie Windsor, owner of the quirky, charming gift shop, Beat Street, is in expansion mode. In July of 2009, she moved across Green Bay Road in Hubbard Woods to a space that, at 2,000 square-feet, is double the size of her former store. And sales are responding. “Sales are up—they’ve always been up for the 6 years I’ve had the store—but this month (October) we’re seeing a very significant increase,” Julie says.

Shopping at Beat Street is a special experience. The store carries an astounding 30,000 unique items. The diversity and abundance of merchandise, mostly priced between 50 cents and $50, keeps customers coming back.

“There’s nowhere else you can go to find the perfect hostess gift, housewarming present, five birthday presents and a little something for you, all in one stop,” says Melissa Bianucci, who assists Julie with buying and merchandising.

But it’s Julie Windsor’s devotion to her customers that really makes Beat Street stand out. Even as the store has grown and added staff, Julie is there every day, waiting on customers, buying items with specific people in mind, and gift-wrapping even the smallest trinket.

ASK LORI — Lori Kaplan, Clothing Consultant, Wilmette

Department store sales suffered in 2009, but business is booming for independent clothing consultant Lori Kaplan. Lori represents a line of high-quality, well-priced clothing that’s sold at parties in private homes. The personal atmosphere of the events, combined with the fun of shopping with other women,
makes customers feel confi dent about spending money on Lori’s clothes because they’ve already been girlfriend approved.

Lori holds 30-40 shows a season, and attendance this fall was stronger than ever. Lori presents her line to the group, then allows customers to seek out and try on the pieces they like best. Her approach is low-key because the clothes (with the help of knowledgeable and persuasive girlfriends) tend to sell themselves. The whole experience is relaxed and fun.

However, Lori is always on hand with her fresh eye to suggest pieces that will flatter the customer’s body or coordinate with items they already own.

“I work with people to make them feel good about themselves, and that’s what this is all about,” she says. “Whether you spend $49 or $1,500, you’ll get the same time and attention from me.”