But Howe, founder and president of the specialty retail group that operates Creative Kidstuff, The Paradies Shops and other successful airport retail franchises, admits that she isn’t much of a planner.
“I’ve never mapped anything out on paper,” says Howe, whose company has been growing willy-nilly since the mid-’90s. “I’ve always shot from the hip.”
That’s why she hired Jim Stelten as chief operating officer in 2000. He brought a strategic approach to growth and marketing, and the company really began to take off. Between 2001 and 2003, its revenues grew more than 50 percent, to $20.6 million.
Stelten’s strategy centers on opening more stores in the company’s existing airport markets and partnering with huge competitor Host International to acquire more space at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, CBR’s home base. The small retailer started opening 10 stores a year and now operates in 12 airports.
The arrival of Stelten let Howe quit running the whole enterprise herself and focus instead on the creative side: anticipating hot retail trends and developing boutiques. The airport’s business developer says that if she wanted to open a fly-swatter store, he’d probably let her do it.
Lesson: Be honest in appraising your strengths and weaknesses. Then, play to your strengths, and look to hire people who have excelled in the areas you have not.
— Adapted from “Women Leading Growth 50 Companies,” Twin Cities Bizwomen.com, The Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal.