There’s an old legend about the Vineyard that women who come here grow strong. They may have been strong to begin with, but even so, they grow stronger. A corporate executive might find herself scratching around for new ways to survive, so she adds growing artichokes, opening a candle shop, and writing grants for nonprofits to her resume. Such was the species of capable women who assembled to speak and to listen under the umbrella of Martha’s Vineyard Women’s Network, in the Baylies Room of the Whaling Church, on Tuesday, between the ungodly hours of 7 and 9 a.m.
“It feels like the middle of the night,” observed butterscotch-voiced moderator and renowned storyteller Susan Klein of Oak Bluffs as she took her seat at the center of four key Island businesswomen invited to relate their professional sagas.
If the early bird catches the worm, it’s easy to see this formula at work for the speakers and attendees alike: In the audience of 35 sat writers, artists, teachers, and lawyers, along with an architect-turned-vintner, a real estate agent/journalist/WCAI contributor, educators, Chamber of Commerce executives, retailers, and several celebrated photographers.
First lesson: Successful women pay attention to the stories of other successful women.
Second lesson: It’s never easy.
Jan Pogue, publisher of the Island-based imprint Vineyard Stories, related the 2005 start of her business with husband, John Walter. Mr. Walter, a “hot shot editor” in Atlanta, moved with his wife and kids to the Island for an editorial job that dissolved within 18months. “But meanwhile,” related Ms. Pogue, “we had a son in the eighth grade and we’d fallen in love with the Island.” She herself had left a position as an author of corporate histories for a publisher in Atlanta. She brought this same publisher an Island-based book idea to which she received this reply: “Why don’t you and John do that on the Vineyard?”
Thus was born Vineyard Stories, whose declared mission was to promote and tell true stories of Martha’s Vineyard. “We’ve published 10 books since we started.” The most recent release, Morning Glory Farm and the Family That Feeds an Island by Tom Dunlop, with photographs by Alison Shaw, has proved the publisher’s first hit out of the park, with national sales, high marks from reviewers, and the Best Local Cuisine Book rating (out of 6,000 new titles) by Gourmand World Cookbook Award.
Ms. Pogue’s voice breaks when she relates the sudden death of her husband in September of 2008. “John was a fabulous editor and understood all the specs.” She herself has been struggling with design details with her printer in China. “Now in the fourth year, I’m finally starting to feel like the company has a life. The key is to find the best people you can work with and don’t give up.”
Next to speak was wedding planner Lynn Buckmaster-Irwin: “Planning is in my blood. I was the social chairman of my sorority, and later, for stores in Columbus, Ohio, I became a professional planner.”
Ms. Buckmaster-Irwin and her husband, Jim Irwin, were married on the Vineyard in 1980. They mused on the ferry, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this were the ride home?”
In 1992 in Columbus, the couple began to comb the Vineyard Gazette for its real estate ads, and gradually the pipe-dreaming turned to reality when they bought a house on the Island. For several more years, Ms. Buckmaster-Irwin continued as a consultant and project manager for mainland clients. And then in 1997, she staged her first wedding on these shores. “I was still doing corporate work. I knew every pilot on Cape Air.”
Soon enough she was able to concentrate full-time on Vineyard weddings.
Engaged couples typically ask her, “What does a wedding cost?” and she replies, “Fifteen dollars for the registration. Anything else you want to add is extra, but you don’t need to add much, or anything at all.”
As far as economics are concerned, the wedding planner revealed that the recession has made hardly a dent in her business. “Families plan their whole lives for their daughters’ weddings, so I don’t see an appreciable difference.”
At the end of Ms. Buckmaster-Irwin’s lively discourse, moderator Susan Klein quipped, “And not a single mention of the mothers of the brides.”
The wedding planner smiled and said, “They’re all lovely.”
The third speaker, Sherry Sidoti of Fly Yoga at Rise, the Vineyard Performing Arts center in Vineyard Haven, moved here from Los Angeles with her husband and baby in 2002, herself in exile from her specialist job at the Getty Museum.
In the beginning she “just wanted to be a mom,” but a mom feeling an intense urge to reconnect with her body after giving birth. “There were at the time no yoga classes for moms with babies, so I got certified as a yoga instructor for that target group.”
She began in homes and parks and backyards; the mothers would take lessons and the babies would play alongside them. Next she earned certification for teaching fitness classes. “My first four years as a yoga instructor was a hodgepodge of one-on-one training and multi-student classes.” Her devotion to yoga deepened to the point that she spent much of 2007 at the Certification for Yoga Studies Center in New York, putting in a total of two hundred hours to acquire a full ranking.
Back on the Vineyard, she was contacted by Sandy Stone and Jill Matriciano about joining them in their new dance studio as the yoga practitioner. They asked her, “Wouldn’t you prefer one place where everyone comes to you?”
Enthusiasts flocked to Ms. Sidoti’s classes. She was modest about her own teaching ability and charisma, although clearly those are key ingredients of her success. “I play great music,” she offered as another qualifying reason.
Her seasonal visitors asked for recommendations of good yoga teachers in their home towns of New York and Los Angeles. Ms. Sidoti decided to train teachers in her methods, and now she oversees a company of twenty instructors on both coasts. In addition she lends her own person to her out-sourcing efforts: “This winter I’ll be teaching in California and presiding over a retreat in Belize.”
The fourth speaker, Carol McMannus of Espresso Love in Edgartown, described a long trajectory from her original hideaway on North Water street — she started with $7,000, $5,000 of which she borrowed from her son — to the purchase of the $1.2 million site of Savoir Faire.
In 1986, Ms. McMannus, in retreat from the running of three childcare centers in the Boston area, divorced her husband, and with two out of five kids still at home, moved to Martha’s Vineyard. When it came time to make the leap from her tiny Espresso Love to the terrazzo-ed space off Church street, she managed to convince the previous owner to take back part of the mortgage, inspired a local banker to believe in her, and borrowed a final sum of $50,000 from a near-stranger who saw the restaurateur’s potential.
“I don’t give up,” she stated. “’Fail’ is a word I can’t have in my head.”
The above is but a brief survey of the rich information imparted by the four speakers. A question and answer session launched an open discussion of outreach, self-promotion, business plans (or lack of), and of how a focused interior life of intent and manifestation is every bit as important as spreadsheets and bookkeeping, all of it adding up to S.I.F. (Success Island Femme-style).
The next Martha’s Vineyard Women’s Network seminar will take place on Jan. 12 with an entrepreneurial professor from Cape Cod College. To find out more about network events, visit mvwomensnetwork.org.