Debbie Thompson, Tristar Martial Arts, works with a young student of martial arts.

Photos by: Walter Calahan, James Rada, Jr.

Maryland is a good place to run a business if you are a woman and the women business owners of Carroll County seem to agree.

The county has a number of women-owned businesses in diverse fields from retail to waste services, from construction to insurance.

The National Association of Women Business Owners ranked Maryland seventh in the country for being a good business environment for women-owned companies, and Carroll County can take kudos for contributing to that ranking.

“Carroll County is actually very friendly and incredibly helpful to women business owners and business in general,” said Laura Kirby-Meck, owner of Sonata Venture in Westminster.

Jo Fleck, owner of Gypsy’s Tearoom in Westminster, knew when she retired as a clinical director at Carroll Hospital that she didn’t want to sit idle. She opened a retail shop that sold florals, teas and tea cups. “Our customers got us started in the tea business because they kept asking us to host teas,” Fleck says.

After 17 years, her small shop has four tearooms and employs 15 people.

Lyndi McNulty, owner of Gizmos Art in Westminster, also nurtured her business from selling antiques on half a cafeteria table to a shop that sells antiques, appraising pieces and restored art. These were skills that she grew up learning as she worked with her mother. It is part of who she is as well as her business.

“My business revolves around things I grew up around and they are things I’m good at,” said McNulty.

Teresa Daytner, owner of Daytner Construction in Mt. Airy, took a more analytical approach to her businesses. She has started multiple businesses based on her abilities and needs that she saw.

Although she currently runs a commercial construction company, she is a certified public accountant.

“I studied accounting not because I loved it but because I wanted to know where the money was,” she says. “I’m more analytical in my business approach.”

Although women can get preferential treatment when bidding on certain types of business, Carroll County business women prefer pursuits based on what they can do.

“We have never pursued anything based on being a women-owned business,” said Karen Leatherwood, owner of Carroll County Waste Services in Sykesville.

McNulty said that women business owners should not expect special treatment because of their gender, they should earn their business based on their skill, prices and offerings.

This does not mean that women business owners have not hit some bumps on the road to success. Fleck said that when she was starting out, she may have experienced some resistance at the bank because she was a woman trying to take out a business loan.

Debbie Thompson, owner of Tristar Martial Arts in Eldersburg and Mt. Airy, says, “I think women business owners have to be careful how they say things. A woman can say the same thing as a man, but it will be taken differently. I find myself thinking a little more about what I want to say before I say it.”

Carroll County’s business women say that their businesses are successful because they have worked hard.

“If a business is successful, it’s because the owner had worked many long, hard hours,” said Thompson.

Running your own business can also be stressful in a way that working for someone else is not.

“It’s definitely easier to work for yourself rather than being constrained by someone else’s schedule,” said Daytner. Working with her husband and being able to set her own schedule allows the couple to “tag team,” taking care of their children and business.

These business owners rely on able employees to help run their businesses and supportive husbands to help them juggle family schedules. Not only does Leatherwood run her business, but she has home-schooled her two children. Her flexible schedule has enabled her and her husband to do that.

“It allows me to be home for them, but it also means I have to spend a lot of time in the office on Saturdays. It’s all on you,” she said.

So if you’re thinking about starting your own business, these successful women have some advice: When Daytner owned a CPA business, she used to meet with people who wanted to start a business. She played devil’s advocate and worked to poke holes on their plans to see how great their commitment was to be a business owner.

“I don’t like to see a dream fall apart and fail,” said Daytner. “Prospective owners need to make sure they have Ôright-sized’ their dream.”

Fleck recommends that potential business owners use all of the resources available to them. “They should approach the bank with a solid business plan and have a good mission statement that they stick to,” she said.

McNulty urges women to build their skills and network with other business owners. Kirby-Meck added that too often women business owners seem to see other women business owners as a threat.

“Don’t be fearful,” said Kirby-Meck. “What they perceive as competition could be coopetition. They should reach out and be open to sharing with other women business owners.”

However, said Leatherwood, to last as a business owner, “Only go into a business if you really love what you’re doing, because it will consume your life.”