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Articles by Business Journal Senior Writer Tiffany Rider;
Photographs by the Business Journal’s Thomas McConville
May 07, 2013 - As the number of women-owned businesses grows across the country, female entrepreneurs are opening up shop in Long Beach, expanding existing operations and focusing on growth.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Ownership Act, allowing women to get a loan without a male cosigner and full reporting of the economic impact of women-owned businesses. Today, in addition to U.S. Census data, the business division of American Express, American Express OPEN, is three years into its now annual State of Women-Owned Business Report.
The most recent report, released last month, offers a summary of trends happening across the nation since 1997. Two important factors are revealed: the number of women-owned firms continues to grow, particularly among women of color; and the economic contributions those businesses make to the country is on the rise.
As of 2013, there are approximately 8.6 million women-owned firms nationwide, employing above 7.8 million people and generating more than $1.3 trillion in revenues, according to the report. From 1997 to today, the number of women-owned businesses is growing at 1.5 times the national average. And one in three of these firms are owned by women of color, a significant increase from just 17 percent in 1997.
Industry trends highlighted by American Express OPEN reveal that the sectors with the highest concentration of women-owned firms are education services, administration and waste services, and healthcare and social assistance. These sectors are also experiencing the fastest growth in the number of women-owned firms over the past 11 years.
In an effort to better support women business owners, American Express OPEN partnered with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Women Impacting Public Policy last month to launch ChallengeHER, a campaign leveraging the three entities’ resources to promote the nation’s women-owned small business federal contract program.
“A robust supply chain of innovative small businesses makes our country more globally competitive, encourages more corporations to bring production back to the U.S., and helps create jobs here at home,” Marie Johns, deputy administrator of the SBA, wrote in a blog post on the SBA website. “Our goal, and the goal of the ChallengeHER Campaign, is to ensure that women-owned small businesses across the country have the access and opportunity they need to succeed.”
While there may be a few women-owned small businesses in Long Beach seeking federal contracts – see Patricia Watts’ story below as an example – the fact is the government, non-profits and big business are taking the time to recognize and support women business owners. We at the Business Journal recognize the following women and their contributions to the greater Long Beach economy.
3946 E. 4th St., Long Beach
Owner Laura Gonzalez took a leap of faith when she opened Ambiance Skin Care Salon in a vacant retail complex on 4th Street in December 2001. Her investment activated the space and Ambiance has become an anchor tenant in the recently fully occupied building.
Gonzalez wasn’t always in skin care. Her first career was in finance, working as an operations officer for a small, independent bank near where she grew up in Corona. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) shut down the bank, and so the company reopened under a new name. This happened several times during her employment, a sign to Gonzalez that it was time to move onto something else. So, in her thirties, Gonzalez quit her job and went to beauty school.
As soon as she earned her license, Gonzalez moved to Long Beach and began working at a spa. She moved up to management and soon realized it was time for her to go into business for herself. Finding a small, 600-square-foot store on 4th Street, she decided it was the place to start her salon. The business eventually outgrew the store, so when two spaces opened up next door, Gonzalez expanded the salon into what is today’s 2,000-square-foot location.
The retail complex is full and the neighborhood has grown. “Since I’ve moved in, it’s been great that our neighbors have come together as a group,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve even had neighbors thank me for moving in because we did such a good job [activating the space].”
Ambiance offers massage, airbrush tanning, body treatments, facials, manicures, pedicures and waxing for men and women. The spa carries its own makeup line as well as lotions, scrubs, slippers and gifts.
Gonzalez said the space is available to rent out for bachelorette parties and other events. Ambiance also gives back to the community, donating a percentage of what parents spend at the salon to the Belmont Heights Church Preschool.
“Our business grows on referrals,” Gonzalez said. “We give $20 gift cards out to referrals. We also do Facebook promotions daily. If we have openings, we give a discount. And each week we have one item on sale that is featured on Facebook.” Though the economic downtown was a challenge, Gonzalez said numbers are up this year. “We’re finally feeling like we’re getting ahead again,” she said.
Hend Elarabi always knew she wanted to be her own boss, and her experience in the restaurant industry helped her do just that.
Elarabi was born in Morocco. She moved with her family from North Africa to Studio City in 1990. From Studio City she went directly to Long Beach, moving here to go to Wilson High School 15 years ago. That’s when she got a job working for Open Sesame Mediterranean Grill. “I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was 16, working as a bus girl to serving to making sandwiches,” Elarabi said. “I started from the bottom and worked my way up. It put me through high school and college.”
Elarabi attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and studied business marketing and fashion merchandising. At the time she graduated she moved into management, learning more about the inner workings and business flow of a restaurant operation. “Having been with them for so long, they gave me tons of experience to be where I am today,” Elarabi said.
Today she is the owner of two restaurants: The Greenhouse, a natural, organic coffeehouse opened in November 2011; and ASHA, a Moroccan restaurant in the same building, which she opened within six months of each other. Elarabi has about 15 people working at each restaurant and said managing 30 employees is a challenge.
“I deal with 30 different personalities, and it is a challenge to accommodate all 30 people,” Elarabi said. “I deal with everyone from the baristas to the servers,” Elarabi said. “It’s tough finding the right employees, getting them properly trained and then having to re-staff again.” The biggest challenge, however, is finding dedicated employees. “We are in a service-based industry, and they are part-time,” she said. “They give very little of themselves to their job.”
Looking forward, Elarabi is focused on growing and developing both restaurant brands in preparation for expansion in about two years. She hopes to go beyond Long Beach, preferably into Los Angeles.
3734 E. 4th St., Long Beach
Cindy Atkinson is a foodie. While a waitress in her youth, she fell in love with the restaurant business.
“I love food and I always have,” Atkinson said. She worked at several different types of restaurants before realizing that she wanted to open her own breakfast and lunch eatery. “I felt like I could do it; it wasn’t a problem,” she said. Atkinson said she spent a good 10 years thinking about opening the restaurant, finally doing so at age 36.
She and her late husband, Tom, bought the property on 4th Street in Long Beach and opened Coffee Cup Café 18 years ago this month.
The idea behind Coffee Cup Café was to appeal to two markets – both meat eaters and vegetarians. Atkinson’s favorite dish on the menu is a vegetarian scramble. “We also have a lot of good Mexican food on the menu,” she said.
This was Atkinson and Tom’s first restaurant; they later opened O’Malley’s in Seal Beach and bought that building as well. Tom passed away seven years ago from a brain tumor, and Atkinson has since sold the Seal Beach property.
On any given morning, Coffee Cup Café has a line out the door. “It kind of surprises me how long people will wait to eat here,” she said. Because she owns the building for Coffee Cup Café, she was able to take over one of the stores next door and expand. She completed that project in one week last August. “That was a really big endeavor,” she said, noting the project included expanding seating capacity, adding new tables and chairs and new flooring.
Atkinson has 19 employees at Coffee Cup Café and is looking to hire another. “At different restaurants where I’ve worked, you go through peaks and valleys,” she said. “Mine hasn’t. . . . We are staying super busy and we get a lot of good ratings on Yelp and TripAdvisor and sites like those.” She has even had the opportunity to expand, opening Café Cup in Huntington Beach with two of her friends just last year. Atkinson said her focus now is understanding where the restaurant market is going and staying creative.
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