An Interview with Desma Reid-Coleman
Reid-Coleman has a way of making the newest of acquaintances feel
like old high-school pals.
down for an interview with Desma on an overstuffed couch feels more
like a late-night chat with a girlfriend, only without the comfy
pajamas and the requisite pint of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia.
even through her genuine smiles and friendly banter, it's perfectly
clear Desma is all business. A born leader with an entrepreneurial
spirit, she owns four impressive Detroit-based businesses, is the
president of the Detroit chapter of the National Association of
Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and is a single mom of four adult
a disarming smile and an air of confidence, Desma's presence is
easily felt the moment she steps foot into a room, whether it is
our small office (the setting of our interview) or a 500-person
auditorium. The reality is that this woman, dressed and accessorized
with panache, complete with large Jackie O sunglasses and a flowing
black coat, has charisma (and a boatload of style). She's a people
person, someone to whom other people are drawn, a quality that made
her 2001-2002 NAWBO reign all the more natural.
main goals during the one-year term, which began June 14, 2001,
were to diversify and double membership.
started off wanting to develop NAWBO to reflect the community it
represented. We went from having five to seven percent women of
color in our organization to having 25 to 30 percent," Desma
said. "Our membership went from 260 to 500. My missions were
Detroit chapter of NAWBO, the only dues-based national organization
representing the interests of all women entrepreneurs in all types
of businesses, is now the largest chapter in the country. Desma's
tactic in recruiting new members was smart, yet simple: each member
brings in one new person.
wanted to make sure I encouraged membership," Desma said.
"I asked everyone to bring in one member, and I promised I'd
bring in 30 to 50 by myself, which I've done."
are women running businesses out of their basements as well
as those running large conglomerates. NAWBO is a common
denominator, a sisterhood."
addition to recruiting members, Desma also wanted to keep current
Detroit-area members in the organization. "I know we needed
to develop programs that would be attractive to new members, but
would also help retain our current members."
Desma sprung into action, her hard work resulting in a string of
seminars, panels and programs that saw high levels of success and
try to choose topics and locations to excite people," she
says, adding that the NAWBO programs on attaining press for business
and becoming a certified woman business owner received Destination
Reviews from the membership.
of the most well-received programs focused more on the personal
aspects of being a women business owner, addressing the growing
trend of women earning more money than their husbands (or significant
others). Randi Minetor, author of "Breadwinner Wives and the
Men They Marry," captivated the 400-person audience with her
experience as a breadwinner wife.
whole other level of women are thinking, 'Why can't I find Johnny
who makes twice as much as me?' Now you may be Johnny...or
Johnetta," she laughs. "This is a big issue
now as men are being laid off and trends are shifting. Women are
catching up, outearning men. They want to know their choices when
it comes to divvying up financial responsibility in a relationship."
NAWBO's program not only brought these new trends to light, it educated
women on how to better deal with them. "Women were very enlightened,"
Desma comments, pride apparent in her voice.
on her agenda is a departure from typical NAWBO seminars — a resort
retreat aimed for family-style relaxation and education. "Women
can get away, bring their kids...there's even a spa."
the productive seminars and getaways, it's making sense why women
join NAWBO, but I ask Desma anyhow.
looking for a support group because they don't want to feel alone,"
she said. "There are women running businesses out of their
basements as well as those running large conglomerates. NAWBO is
a common denominator, a sisterhood."
only does NAWBO offer camaraderie for women, it also offers formidable
business opportunities, Desma says.
a great way to network and to get contacts in other businesses,"
is an eight-year veteran of the women-owned business community.
In 1994, she left the corporate life at Modern Engineering as the
manager of human resources to begin Quality Professional Services,
her own human resources consulting firm. From there she started
Innovative Staffing Services, a personnel supplier; Kary Kart, a
luggage cart business at Detroit's Metro Airport; and in 1998, began
the business she describes as her "passion."
$en$e, a resale shop in downtown Detroit, caters to people of all
classes, races and backgrounds, but Desma emphasizes it is also
there to bring some pride in shopping resale to the urban African-American
are the people who grew up going to the Salvation Army — they don't
want to shop resale now. As soon as they come into my store and
see the quality merchandise, their minds are changed," she
dream was to one day have a store to serve a lot of the indigent
people in our community," she continues. "They come to
our store, which is well-lit and attractive and they feel good about
buying from us. We've changed their mind set."
people put $14 of merchandise on layaway and take six weeks to pay
it off," Desma continues. "We take their $1.50 payments
like it's $500."
shopping had become a way of life for Desma as a single mother raising
first I was embarrassed into to it by friends by overspending instead
of visiting garage sales or resale shops," she recalls. "It
kept my kids well-dressed on a budget. And even as I started making
money, I still shopped resale — it was a way of life."
of her major goals is to spin Fashion $en$e off into a national
have expressed interest in it," she said. "I'd like it
to be the Play It Again of resale clothing stores, especially in
much as Desma loves her businesses, her face takes on a real glow
as soon as she mentions her children. "They are my joy,"
she expounds. "It's the first time I've been able to function
with four adults — it's redefining Desma."
pauses for a moment, then smiles as a thought occurs to her. "This
is the first year I didn't have to go through all those back-to-school
her 48th birthday, she flew her children (who range in age from
19 to 27 and are scattered about the country) to Puerto Rico, where
they had a relaxing getaway/reunion.
was fabulous, wonderful, a defining moment," Desma remembers.
"It was good for me to see that they're alright."
every Sunday she makes time to have dinner with her brothers and
sisters at her mother's house. "My mom is still the matriarch
of the family. Our dinners are a lot like (the movie) 'Soul Food'
— a big table with greens, cornbread and fried chicken."
family obligations, four businesses to run and her work with NAWBO,
you'd think Desma wouldn't have time for anything else.
mention the word "golf" and watch Desma perk up. The sport
is Desma's "ultimate love outside of my children and the resale
way I unwind is to play golf," she said. "I'll get up
on a course by myself or walk on as a single in a heartbeat."
plans her vacations around golf and tries to work it in with her
business trips. A natural golfer, her handicap is an astounding
19. "My goal in life is to be a low single-digit scratch golfer.
It would be great to be on a senior women's tour, to be playing
still when you're in your 70s."
is not only a passion for Desma, it's also proven to be a great
way to network and do business. "I think that it was on the
golf course that I got involved in the airport luggage cart business,"
she says. "I was on the golf course, the opportunity presented
itself and interests were sparked."
is one of the most important factors in making a business succeed
and the easiest way to make contacts is by joining NAWBO, Desma
addition to networking, NAWBO provides a strong support system for
its members. "My number one piece of advice for women business
owners is to join NAWBO," Desma says. "It provides inspiration
in dark times, and believe me, there are dark times."
Desma made it through those dark times and is now basking in the
glow of success. And a woman couldn't be more deserving.