IN IT FOR THE LONG HAULTHESE ICONIC ENTREPRENEURS MEAN BUSINESS
EVEN TODAY, WOMEN ACCOUNT FOR JUST 36 PERCENT o f U.S. business owners, according to the Small Business Administration. But locals Carole “Orange” Schroeder, Rachael Stanley and Amy Moore had the female fortitude and savvy—in what used to be a “man’s world”—to make their enterprises thrive, even through the lean times, “This year two of these women’s businesses celebrate 40th anniversaries and the third, 25 years in operation.
And, they stand as Madison icons—recognizable and memorable to both those who live here and visit.
There’s the 40-year veteran, whose kitchen and gift store is practically a historic landmark on Monroe Street: Orange Schroeder came to Madison to earn her graduate degree in Danish literature. Inspired by the shops of Copenhagen, she thought it would be fun to do a Scandinavian imports store, which evolved into Orange Tree Imports. It’s arranged in “his” and “hers” sections—husband Dean handles the buying and management o f all things kitchenware and entertaining and Orange oversees gift and seasonal items, “Though in its original location, the store now features a cooking school and additional space in an adjacent building.
The Monroe Street location helped the business thrive, but the Schroeders also weathered economic turns by stocking a diverse product line and paying careful attention to buying trends. Ultimately, though, Schroeder’s investment in the people she works with— be it her employees, sales reps or customers—has been her favorite, and most valuable, part of owning her own business.
“ People are very loyal and Madison has a wonderful ‘buy local’ ethic that helps independent businesses so much,” says Schroeder. “”The average customer seems to understand that where they spend their dollars makes a difference.”
Before it was even “ a thing,” Schroeder managed work-life balance when she and Dean started a family eight years into ownership instead o f opening more store branches, “They made it work by arranging their schedules so that one could be home with their children most days.
The talents of many hands have contributed to the success o f Orange Tree Imports over the years, ” Schroeder says, nodding to her involved staff. “So it’s not as if we’re doing all the work, and that makes a huge difference.”
And that may be a factor one day when she considers retirement. But Schroeder, who heads the Monroe Street Merchants Association and is actively involved in many local arts organizations, doesn’t plan on hanging up the keys to the till any time soon.
Schroeder’s fellow women owners of iconic Madison businesses took different tracks to the helm—Stanley through family ties and ground-up work, and Moore via a part-time job that catapulted her to management, then ownership.
Unofficially dubbed the “Hamburger Princess”—because her father, Jeff Stanley, has been “Hamburger King” for the past 40 years—Rachael Stanley didn’t set her sights on taking over the family business at first.
Yes, she did her stint as a Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry “basket girl” when she was 10 and waitressed there while attending the UW. But she majored in child development and education. Finishing her degree at San Francisco State University, she spent most o f her 20s in California. But Madison was always “home” to Stanley, so she returned in 2003 and became a preschool teacher at Creative Learning.
She loved what she was doing but the pay was marginal, so she took on extra shifts waitressing at Dotty’s. “That’s when she began to notice some management issues, “The youngest of five, Stanley was the only offspring that had ever shown interest in the restaurant business. Her dad, now in his mid-70s, preferred cooking to management. So Stanley felt she needed to take the reins.
“ I really had to teach myself, it was a trying few years there,” says Stanley. “ But I’ve definitely caught my stride now. I like to say that a lot of this has been osmosis, just because I was around it for so long.”
Within five years of ownership, Stanley grew the profits 50 percent and bolstered her confidence. She also touts the fact that Dotty’s sells a product that people never get tired of.
Starting out in 1974 as a simple burger joint with 10 stools and a grill, right down the street from Orange Tree Imports, the restaurant has made several moves, finally settling into its current location near the Kohl Center. Over time, Dotty’s has developed quite a following.
In fact, some of their loyal customers have been coming to the restaurant since before Stanley was born.
Stanley says her biggest challenge now is balancing work and family life—raising her daughters, ages 4 and 6, can make for chaotic schedules.
“You carry all the responsibility,” says Stanley. “ … But that just comes with the territory. It’s definitely not for everybody.”
Graduating from the UW with a degree in interior design Amy Moore, owner o f Little Luxuries, always knew her career path would be creative. Traveling after college, she gained a new appreciation for the world of design, and for the value of flexibility and variety.
“ It inspired me to find a work environment that was more dynamic and less structured,” says Moore.
Originally opened by Janice Durand in 1990, Little Luxuries—which sells gifts, cards and accessories— has been a State Street staple for 25 years. Durand’s original vision was to have a store geared toward professional women, with a vintage appeal and classy feel.
Moore joined the business part-time in 2006, eventually becoming a manager. She helped relocate the store a few doors down in 2008, when it got a fresh look and added items for children and men. In 2011, Moore was offered the opportunity to take over the business.
“ It was always a dream,” says Moore. “ I just never realized it was going to come to fruition. Sometimes opportunities arise [and] that’s where you get to exactly where you want to be.”
And while her takeover came at a historic economic downturn, Moore says an advantage of running a small business is that you can very carefully gauge customers’ buying trends and change how you order products.
Another advantage, says Moore, is your access to the community. She makes it a point to connect, not just through social media and the Internet, but also with downtown events like Gallery Night, Make Music Madison and Dane Buy Local’s Independence Week. Moore feels the open-house environment during such events allows customers an experience beyond just shopping and creates a stronger sense of community.
Moore also feels her staff members are a community. She strives to build a team environment and create benefits for her employees that, in turn, make for an enjoyable workplace.
Overall, Moore loves creating without limitations. “Definitely a benefit is the feeling of the sky being the limit,” she says.
But, she agrees with Stanley that you need to maintain that delicate work-life balance.
“Even though you might be enjoying thoroughly what you do within your business, it’s still important to disconnect from that in order to connect with your personal life,” says Moore, who believes her business would become overbearing if she didn’t take time to unwind by getting away from the work world for a bit.
Despite the statistics, Madison has a strong force o f female entrepreneurs who are determined to keep community at the forefront. If the past is any indication, Madisonians will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors for years to come.