Doris Harkness is the co-founder of PACE Company, a bulk-material-handling company based here in Richmond, Virginia.
We had the great pleasure of talking to Doris about how PACE came to be, her love of nature and children, and what we can do to help grow her business.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I’m originally from New Jersey, but I moved to Richmond in 1986.
Q: What are you passionate about in your personal life?
A: I love to go hiking, doing anything around the water and reading. I’ve always loved the outdoors and I always will! I’m also very passionate about children and their education. In fact, I want to write a program for 10-12 year olds about how to run a small business. I have the stamp of approval from my 12-year-old niece.
Q: What college did you attend and what did you study?
A: I went to West Chester University, where I played women’s basketball. I studied Health and Physical Education.
Q: In your words, what is your company?
A: My company is PACE Company. We sell bulk material handling products and have 10 lines that we contractually represent. Our equipment is used for conveying, metering, screening or storing. Customers that handle products ranging from sugar to cement can use our products. We cover the state of Virginia with our contracts.
Q: How long have you been in business?
A: 33 years. I always ask my youngest son how old he is to remember how long it’s been. We moved here when he was 3 weeks old!
Q: What was the transition from your career to entrepreneurship like? What sparked you to start your company?
A: After I graduated, I had a long-term sub position. My boyfriend at the time (later my husband) suggested that I start working in sales. My first sales job was with Playtex, They were known for their training! Interestingly, when I started in the early 80’s, sales was still very much a man’s gig. Even for an intimate apparel company, most of the sales people were men! I moved on to advertising for 15 years prior to joining my husband at PACE. We moved to VA to start PACE in 1986. After his unexpected passing in 1995, I continued running the agency and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Q: What was the biggest surprise as a business owner from working as an employee?
A: The biggest surprise was definitely worrying about cash-flow, and the fact that you have to worry about everything dealing with money. It wasn’t until later when I realized I wanted to make better long-term plans and I decided to get a business coach. Another big thing was learning when to let go and ask for help. It’s a matter of doing what you’re most gifted at most of the time and not what you aren’t.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges in growing the business? What have you done differently as a result?
A: I think it’s definitely knowing who you can do business with and identifying who the best customers are. When you first open your own business, you want to do business with everyone. As time goes on, you eventually train yourself on when to say no.
Q: What can we and others in the community do to help your business grow and be more successful?
A: The majority of my clients come from referrals from satisfied customers. I’ve even gone up to people and started talking to them about my business and being bold enough to ask for a referral.
Q: What advice would give other entrepreneurs / small business owners?
A: Be clear about what your mission is and identify your best customer. You must pinpoint what you do really, really well and make sure you communicate your mission. From my experience, getting a business coach is very useful if you need help. Get that advice early on. But, above all, never stop learning. I’ve never stopped learning about myself, the field of work I’m in, or my company, and it has been nothing but rewarding.
“How I Got Started...” is a blog series that spotlights the entrepreneurial and life journeys of various small business owners and professionals. The content of this blog was curated by members of the CreativeMktGroup team.