What goes into the making of a successful business owner? Now, there is an age old debate: is it nature or is it nurture? Carolyn Bowman, founder and owner of The Farmer’s Daughters, a nursery and landscaping business in Burkeville, Virginia will tell you that it takes both, and that inspiration and creativity spring from challenges and hard work.
In a recent visit and interview with Carolyn, a longstanding client of the Longwood SBDC, she told of the importance of family no matter what challenge one undertakes. Carolyn explains:“Family is like a carefully woven afghan… one string comes loose, and the whole afghan unravels.” All of Carolyn’s six sisters work in the business in some capacity and are very close. Her father, Corbett Bowman, now 80 years old, also works daily in the business. His stories of growing up in Southside Virginia and raising a family on a tobacco farm provide an understanding of the character traits that make The Farmer’s Daughters so successful.
Corbett Bowman grew up on a farm himself, with 10 other siblings, five boys and five girls. A World War II Veteran, Corbett enlisted at the age of 18 because he could not bear to know that two of his brothers might be alone as the only family members involved in the war effort. He rode his bicycle ten miles to the recruitment center to volunteer. After returning home, he settled down on a 110 acre farm in Burkeville where he raised tobacco, corn, cows, chickens, and hogs, and of course, seven daughters! Carolyn says:“That’s where it all began. That’s where we learned to work. Growing up on a tobacco farm creates a way of life where you are used to the challenges of making a living. You learn at a very young age how to set goals and meet them. You also learn how to make the best use of resources. My dollhouse was a shoebox. We had to use and play with what we had.” From this background came the resilience, the goal setting, and the imagination that Carolyn and her family need to do what they do so successfully today: beautiful landscaping.
Along with these skills, Carolyn’s background and personality has equipped her with a very positive attitude. She is insistent on following through with her plans and states:“Don’t dare tell me “no”. Even my license plate says“just do it”. If someone tells me I can’t do something, I’ll do it just to prove them wrong.” This trait came in handy when Carolyn decided to leave her long employment history in various sales positions and strike out on her own. In 2000, she started her own home based business after she had been denied insurance coverage by her employer. She returned to her love of the land and growing plants and from this grew The Farmer’s Daughters. Soon after starting the business, Carolyn moved her business to a rented plot of land that she ultimately wanted to purchase. It was then that she was referred by the Bank of Charlotte County to Sheri McGuire at the Longwood Small Business Development Center for help in constructing her very first business plan.
With her new business plan in hand, Carolyn was able to finance the purchase of the land and set goals for her business. She and her family have grown the business by over 500% since she started and she is again planning to expand. The Farmer’s Daughters has grown to include two greenhouses, a gift shop, an office and serve customers as far away as Richmond. Carolyn is President of the business and her sister Penny is Vice President. Carolyn, Penny, and their sister Sherry do most of the landscaping work while another sister, Janet runs the retail gift shop and greenhouse. They get help from other sisters, Rosa, Susie, and Cathy on weekends and evenings. When talking about the involvement of the SBDC, Carolyn states:“When I started out, the SBDC made me feel so welcome and gave me the feeling that I had what it takes to succeed. The staff of the SBDC looked through my eyes and saw my business as I saw it. Not many people have that ability.”
Carolyn continues to work with the SBDC through her business planning activities and recommends that others also take advantage of the services:“People come up to me, women in particular, and ask me about going into business for themselves. I tell them they need to do two things: Have a drive to succeed and go get help from the Longwood SBDC. Just knowing that someone is out there to listen and help you structure your plans is a big help.” Carolyn and her sisters agree:“starting your own business is the hardest thing you will ever do, but by far it’s the most satisfying.” They, like their father before them, are passing on the traditions of hard work and business skills to their children. When visiting, take notice of the next generation, as Carolyn’s son Corbett age 6, Penny’s daughter Emily, age 5, and Janet’s daughter Emma Claire, 22 months, play with their own imagination and creativity under the watchful eye of “The Farmer’s Daughters”.