I was over 15 years deep into my career when I quit my job as the editor-in-chief of a magazine. I was at the top of my game yet during the months leading up to my resignation, I started having anxiety attacks. Part of it was because I was trying to do too much (you can read more about my work-life wake-up call here). The other part was because I just wasn’t happy at work anymore. My career no longer fit for many reasons and every freak out and headache and tremor was my body telling me it was time to resign and try something new.
While I was going through my awakening, Andrea Hopson was the Canadian VP of Tiffany & Co. and was having panic attacks too. She had an amazing decades long career with the coveted brand but she could feel it—it was time for change. “I would come back from a work lunch and have over 150 emails waiting for me. No one can manage that. For my health and for my family, I needed to do something different.” Around the same time, Martha Grace McKimm, a public relations executive who had blue chip clients like P&G Beauty on her resumé, was feeling let-down by the corporate grind as well. “It became too much; the never-ending pressure; the 24-hours a day. There was no relief or respite. I would fantasize about having control again.”
What she could control was dinner time. Martha loved the dining table from what was being served and how it was being served and valued the table as a natural panacea for modern problems. (As we all know, there are documented benefits of the family dinner like healthier diets and a lower risk of depression and substance abuse). Her personal passion propelled her to call Andrea, a former client and lifelong colleague. The result: Hopson Grace, a retail store featuring coveted treasures for the tabletop that combined their brand know-how, retail smarts and consumer strategy. After some natural humming and hawing, they packed up their longstanding careers and even sold their houses to finance the endeavour (now that’s what I call nervy).
It’s been a little over 18 months since the store opened and they’ve self-admittedly traded corporate stress for entrepreneurial stress, however, they’re noticeably happy and relaxed while we chat. “Despite the headaches of starting your own business, there’s no question I feel relief,” says Andrea. “It’s so meaningful to touch and control your own environment. But I wasn’t ready a few years ago. I’m glad I waited until I was.” Martha adds: “If I had done this any earlier in my career, I wouldn’t have had the confidence. I’m happy I waited because you learn so much in the corporate world that can help you in your own business.”
The Corporate Habits They’ll Never sShake
Know your customer. “Whether through a retail or communications lens, we both learned the importance of understanding the desired consumer experience. That means before embarking on any project, doing your homework is essential. This is how we approach our curated product assortment as well as the customer experience, both in-store and online.”
Plan, but be flexible. “As a startup, we’re grateful we were exposed to the rigour and discipline of the corporate cultures we worked in. The skills we developed, both from a strategic and tactical perspective, were invaluable. Not only do we complement each other’s skills, we both know the value of research and planning, and the flexibility needed to adjust tactics as things change.”
People are more important than business plans, numbers or slogans. “We’re passionate about treating everyone with respect and dignity. We both experienced good and bad managers over our careers, and it was clear the ones who treated employees, suppliers and customers with respect always got the best out of everyone.”