By Erin Pesut
Vibra’s is not only a mother, daughter business, but a four-generation mother daughter business! Vibra Herring, Donna Barefoot, Megan and Mary Adaline Stewart sell collectibles, clothing, jewelry, painted antiques, Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, decorative pillows, wreaths, monogramming and screen prints. What began as a consignment store eventually turned into a fashion boutique with two locations, one in Dunn and the other off Hay Street in Fayetteville. Vibra feels honored her daughter named the retail store after her. Her only request, which she said with a laugh to her daughter, when she opened her store in Dunn six years ago was, “Ya’ll better not ruin my name.”
We sat down to talk candidly about the ease that comes from working side-by-side, the challenges, the cherished time together and the successful way to do business as a family and as a team.
How did your collaboration begin?
Donna: I started Vibra’s six years ago in Dunn. I actually started with my sisters and now it’s Megan and me.
Megan: My husband bought me a vinyl machine, for designs to put on t-shirts and monogramming. Everybody loves putting their initials on things. Mom let me put my items in the store. That’s how I got into the shop.
Donna: Megan was working at Raleigh Radiology, which she still does a few times a week to keep her certification, and I knew I couldn’t do this by myself.
Megan: It’s more fun with family.
Can you talk about what’s most important to you with Vibra’s?
Donna: We try to do an affordable line of clothing. It’s very important that our customers are satisfied and happy.
Megan: We try to get stuff that can work for everybody, for every body type and every personality. My mom’s taste is completely different than my taste. We try not to keep it all the same.
Donna: We have learned with a small business that it’s important to get clothing that Megan would wear, that I can wear and that my mom, Vibra, would wear. In a small boutique, it’s hard to focus on something that only one person likes.
What does your process of working together look like?
Megan: I do a lot of the buying, definitely with her input. And the books. Mom is the painter.
Donna: I’m the worker.
Are you always talking business?
Megan: Pretty much.
Donna: Megan and I have always worked together because we are farmers. I raised all of my children on the North Carolina State Farmers Market. When they graduated college, I realized I couldn't do that anymore because I wasn’t working side-by-side with my children. I came home crying and I told my husband I was just a lady selling produce. I said, I’m not going to do to it anymore. That’s when I started. I opened up three different booths in antique malls and this just grew from there.
What did working at the Farmer’s Market teach you?
Donna: I’ve always told my young people when I was training them, “Sales is sales, no matter if you’re selling squash or Mercedes. Sales is sales.” The reason we out sold everybody was because…
Megan: ...because we were having fun.
Donna: It’s the atmosphere and the friendly customer service that draws people back.
Do you all have any conflict?
Donna: I met with my CPA a couple weeks ago and he was drilling me with all these questions relating to conflict. We’ve just never had that in our family. I won’t say it won’t happen—I mean, life happens, but we try to be very considerate of one another. I try not to make any decisions without Megan and I think she does the same. We have two stores, and I think that helps. We’re not always together. Usually I’m at one store and she’s at the other.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Donna: Megan brings the young in, obviously with the social media. I do not like sitting down! I’m happier mopping the floor and cleaning the store and I pretty much do the decorating. Megan is great at buying.
What do you gain in your partnership?
Megan: Family. Mary Adaline gets to see her grandparents pretty much every day and customers love seeing a baby walking around, even if she’s making a mess, which is most of the time.
Donna: When Megan started working in Raleigh, I think that was the best thing. She had to work eight to five and was fighting that Raleigh traffic. She realized how many hours away she missed from her child. Even though we might put in 14 or 16 hour days, we still have Mary Adaline with us. You can’t put a dollar sign on that.
What advice would you share with people?
Megan: Never lose the faith that you got it.
Donna: And you get what you put in. There are days when we’re freaking out and crying. It’s a roller coaster ride in a small retail business. The odds statistically are against us.
Megan: And a good support system helps.
What’s the best, best, best part of doing all of this?
Donna: I love my job. Not many people can say, “I can’t wait to get up.” We put in so many hours, but I can’t wait to get to work. I love it. Painting. Decorating. Fashion. Buying. What woman doesn't love to buy clothes?
Megan: I love buying the clothes. And, family. Raising Mary Adaline, being with “Miss Personality,”… it’s important.
Suzanne & Tiffany Pennink - Coldwell Banker Advantage
Suzanne & Tiffany Pennink are a mother and daughter-in-law duo in real estate. Suzanne is one of the owners of and a broker for Coldwell Banker Advantage and Tiffany is also a broker. Their partnership began after Tiffany married Andrew, Suzanne’s oldest son, had a baby and decided to get her real estate license. When they’re in the office together, they make use of the partner desk Suzanne bought when she started her company in 1975. The key to their stress-free relationship? Communication, respecting each other as women and a seriously great sense of humor.
How did you two start working together?
Suzanne: I never really had an assistant. I’ve just always done my own thing. And even though I’m an owner, I like to sell and list. Tiffany was working at Hutchens Law Firm and the law office is right here in our building. Andrew, who works for NC Homefront Mortgage, had come home from Charlotte from a banking job. He had his eye on Tiffany. They started dating. They fell in love, got engaged and got married. They had a baby—Brooks, who is now two years old—and Tiffany had the idea to get her real estate license. We talked and she decided she would be her own broker and it just made a good paring.
How do you work well together?
Suzanne: There’s a lot of family involved in helping us to be where we need to be. When she needs to do something with the baby, I can help her and she can help me. She has her sphere of friends and I’ve got my sphere of friends. So, I might list a house that belongs to an older couple and a younger couple might want to buy it. I didn’t so much have that connection in the past.
How do you balance your strengths and weaknesses?
Tiffany: She has so much knowledge that I am trying to learn. She has been in every situation that you can possibly imagine, real-estate-wise. She can honestly work with anybody. She has such a good personality. What hurts me in a way now is I email and I text. She’ll pick up the phone and call someone in a heartbeat, whereas I’m more likely to text someone.
Suzanne: But it works both ways. She gets some things done that I wouldn’t be able to. When you say weaknesses and strengths I’m not sure that’s exactly it. The differences in the way we do things enables us to get to the bottom line, which is to get the business done. We complement each other. It’s like having four sets of hands that can manage the issues where before I was just doing it by myself and some things were falling through the cracks.
How do you manage any conflict that comes up?
Suzanne: We’ve never had a fight that I know of.
Tiffany: We honestly get along so well. Even my friends say I wish I had the relationship with my mother-in-law the way you do. We literally work together every day. We probably see each other every night. We’re at each other’s house until 9 o'clock, 10 o’clock at night. We’re going on a vacation together next week. They’re such an open family and I’ve always felt connected.
Suzanne: We end up a lot of nights eating dinner together. Sometimes we’ll all go to her house or all go to my house to eat. We see each other way more than most families do.
What do you tell people when they ask about your secret for collaboration?
Tiffany: I think it’s just our personalities and we work well together. She’s very true. She’s always 100% her. I think I’m the same way.
Suzanne: In real estate I’ll give her more advice because she asks for it. But when it comes to the baby, I respect that she’s the mother and he’s the father. Even though you want to take control, you have to be careful. People have their own ways of doing things. I’ll give a little advice here and there, but I try not to interfere with that.
Suzanne: A sense of humor is really important. We laugh. We don't take things too seriously. We don’t like an argument. We don’t raise our voices. It’s not an effort. If we had to work at it every minute, I don't see how it would last. If there’s something we need to say to each other, we just say it. We also have a written agreement about how we would do things. How we’ll split the money, the responsibilities. It wasn’t very long. We had to tweak it a few times. But it’s about communication and respect. I respected her from a business standpoint because I worked with her when she was at Hutchens. It wouldn’t matter to me if Tiffany was my daughter-in-law or not. I respect her as a woman.
How do you separate work and family life?
Suzanne: That’s a thin line of working together and the family part. I think you have to be respectful of the other person’s ways with their child. It’s one thing to give advice if there’s no children. I could give her plenty of advice on Andrew! And poor Andrew, he doesn’t get any rest because when we’re sitting around, we don’t sit around and talk about business, but we don’t not do it. Some family might say it’s family time, but with real estate, people can call at any time. We’ll be talking about the baby and then we’ll be wondering about a showing. It’s all meshed together.
Do you think that contributes to your success?
Suzanne: I do. People can always reach us. We’re excited when we get a call! We love real estate. If you do a good job and get someone in a good home, they’ll love you forever.
What is the most special aspect of working with family?
Suzanne: To know you can depend on that person to have your back. There's never any hesitation to help each other. That makes it very stress free.
Tiffany: Being able to be with someone that you really care about and have fun with all the time. You’re working, but you don’t feel like you’re at work. And you’re going to laugh, because she is very funny.