In business with Mom
Some moms wish they saw more of their adult children.
Other moms ask their adult children if they’re done working on payroll.
This Mother’s Day, I checked in with Sevier County mothers who work with their kids. It’s a good arrangement, I gather. Except sometimes Mom has to let them know who’s boss.
“Then they grow up”
Sherri Tinker’s son Alex has an incentive to learn the family business.
“He realizes that one day, if he works at it, it will become his,” said Sherri, co-owner of the Sevierville interior design company Inspiration Home.
There is a flip side for Alex, who joined the firm a few months ago and works in installation.
“He has to be bossed around by Mom and Dad again,” said Sherri, laughing. “He lets us know when we’re trying to be bossy.”
Sherri started her company seven years ago with her husband, Dave. The idea for the business came when she helped a friend choose window blinds.
“I thought this was something Sevierville needed,” said Sherri, who previously worked at a bank.
“My husband and I talked about it, and he’s like, ‘We can do this,’” Sherri recalled. “I was leery at first, but then we did.”
She quit her job first. Then Dave did. In the beginning the Tinkers focused on window coverings, and then they expanded – to carpet, closets.
Motherhood is a blessing, Sherri said. “There’s no love like you have for your children.” Still, she said, parents have to let their kids make their own mistakes.
“Being a mother, you want to protect them and make sure they make the right choices,” she said. “You want to make their mistakes for them.” It’s a lesson Sherri has to keep in mind as she watches Alex work.
Sherri has this message to new mothers: “It only gets harder.”
She’s not really kidding when she says that. “I know that’s not encouraging,” said the mother of two sons. “You think it’s hard when you take care of them as babies – and then they grow up.”
“Put God first”
Marlene Houser is an owner of Stages West, the western clothing store in Pigeon Forge. So is her son, Stephen.
That’s not the only family connection.
Marlene and her husband, Steve, started the business with his parents in 1975, in Sevierville. “We opened May 1 and got married May 17,” she said. She added, mischievously, “We still love each other.”
The family bills Stages West as “cowboy couture.” “We are fashion-forward,” Marlene said, “especially in the women’s department. We have women’s clothes that have nothing to do with Western.”
The business benefits from the family connections. In Stephen’s case, Marlene said, “He brings a different perspective to what we do. We have different things we’re good at.”
Stephen has a good sense for design, Marlene said. “He’s a great boot designer. He has an eye for fashion. He has good judgement on what’s going to sell.”
He’s also good with customers. “He knows their tastes,” Marlene said. “We’ve built our business on personal relationships with our customers.”
What advice does she have for new mothers?
“Put God first, and everything else will fall into place.”
“It’s good to have fresh eyes”
“I’m not real technical,” said Robin Nichols, co-owner of the Willow Brook Lodge in Pigeon Forge.
She knows someone who is.
“Grant is our marketing and operations director,” she said, referring to her younger son. “He does a lot of advertising, social media – things I don’t know about. I’m glad to have new blood.” Grant also pays bills and handles sales and payrol.
Robin and her husband, Greg, opened the lodge in 1991. Grant works there full-time. A recent University of Tennessee graduate, he studied hospitality management.
“I made him my apprentice,” Robin said. “I’m hoping to retire soon and get out of it.”
The couple’s other son, Tanner, works at Willow Brook Lodge part-time doing maintenance, among other things. Tanner also owns Rocky Top Condos.
“It’s a blessing to work with my husband and sons,” Robin said. “We have lunch together, usually, every day. Sometimes business gets in the way, but sometimes you just have to have a meal and laugh and have fun.”
The family vacations together in the offseason. The offseason also is when remodeling takes place. In that endeavor, too, Robin benefits from her sons’ younger perspective.
“They’ve been good at saying, ‘This wallpaper needs changing,’” she said, imitating their groans. “It’s good to have fresh eyes to see improvements that need to be made.”
At work, her relations with her sons are businesslike. Mostly.
“There’s a few things that they get away with that maybe other people don’t,” she said. “Employees are not supposed to have their cellphone out. We may have to say, ‘Grant, put that up.’”
Children are a gift from God, Robin said. Parenthood is “a huge responsibility, and it should be entered into with much prayer and thought. I get a lot of joy from my children.”
Grant and Turner began working at Willow Brook when they were teens. Robin is glad they have stayed.
“They must love home, Sevier County,” she said. “It’s been good to our family. I don’t think the boys want to live anywhere but here.”