From Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur's Soul

A Recipe for Success

In the summer of 1980, I was thirty-five years old and had been out of the workforce for eight years as a stay-at-home mom to our two daughters. But come that September, both girls would be in school, thus allowing me to return to work full-time. My husband, Jay, had a career as vice president of operations at Lien Chemical Company, and I wanted to do my share, especially with the cost of two college tuitions looming. I didn’t start out wanting to set the world on fire, I just wanted to find something to supplement our family income, earning extra money we could sock away for our daughters’ educations and their futures.

But heading back into the workforce had its advantages and disadvantages. While I would be earning money for our future, I didn’t want to miss our daughters’ school functions such as being room mother or chaperoning field trips. I wanted to bake cookies with the girls after school and take them to the library. I needed to find a job that allowed me to do all these things, and possibly more. With Jay’s help, I decided to start my own business, drawing on my years as a former home economist and teacher. I decided to sell high-quality kitchen tools at home parties.

But my home parties (a.k.a. direct-selling parties) would be different. They would be informative and fun. I would incorporate a cooking demonstration into each party and let the guests try the tools by helping out with the demonstration. I needed a name for my new business, and after a brainstorming session with some friends, we came up with “The Pampered Chef.”

At the beginning, I was on a mission: I wanted the business to make a difference in people’s lives. I knew that the best way to fulfill my mission was by drawing families together, and what better way than through shared conversation and collective laughter during mealtime? It is where we live between bites.

I talk about the launch of my business and the ultimate success of The Pampered Chef in my 2005 book The Pampered Chef: The Story of One of America’s Most Beloved Companies (Doubleday). One section of my book offers eleven tips for start-up entrepreneurs, five of which I would like to share with you:

Follow your passion. I loved working in the kitchen, and I loved teaching. With my business, I was able to combine these two passions. When I was in college, I was able to get through difficult math and science courses because I knew I had to in order to graduate with a home economics degree. The same is true in business. There are some chores that you as an entrepreneur must endure. If you are passionate enough about the other facets of the business, you will put up with what you don’t particularly enjoy. If you find something you love, I assure you that your work will be considerably easier.

I believe that one of the key elements to success in business, and in life, is having a passion for what you do. My passion for my work plays a vital role during difficult times; it fortifies my resilience and ability to overcome obstacles, supports my dedication to remain true to my original vision and fuels my determination to succeed.

Be the best you can be. I have always had a single goal: to be the best I can be at what I do. So should you. For the vast majority of us, this isn’t such a difficult task because most work isn’t rocket science. Martin Luther King Jr. put it eloquently when he said, “If a man is called a street cleaner, he should sweep the streets as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts in heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

Watch your overhead. With a bankroll of only $3,000 to start my business, I didn’t have any choice; I had to watch my overhead. It taught me discipline, which I have been mindful of throughout my business career. Of course, even with a small bankroll, with credit the temptation to overspend is always present. Simply put, don’t do it! Establish a budget and stick to it. I kept my overhead down. For several years I worked out of my house until it was bursting at the seams. It’s easy to spend money; anyone can do it. It’s more difficult not to spend. Oftentimes, start-up entrepreneurs who get off to a good start find that success goes to their heads. They want to let the world know they’ve done well; they want to impress people, they overspend. In a matter of time, high overhead takes such a heavy toll that the entrepreneur is unable to withstand even a short downturn in business. Don’t let this happen to you.

Go with your instincts. In the beginning, I operated on sheer instinct. Yes, Jay, my husband, was there for me to bounce ideas off, but in the end, if we didn’t agree, I made the final decision. Over the years I have found my intuition and instincts about my business are seldom wrong. If I have to work too hard to sell myself on an idea, it’s probably not a good idea. Unless Jay strongly objected and convinced me of a flaw in my judgment, I stuck with my intuition. Jay respected my intuition even when it didn’t make good business sense to him. Was my intuition always right? Of course not! No entrepreneur is ever 100 percent right. If you’re always right, then you’re not taking enough risks. Fortunately, my batting average was high enough that I learned to trust my intuition.

It’s only a business. There were times when I was stressed and overwhelmed with work, and Jay would say to me, “It’s only a business.”

“But Jay . . . ,” I’d start to say, and he’d interrupt, “Doris, this is still only a portion of your entire life. Don’t get so hung up with it. Don’t take yourself so seriously.”

What wonderful advice. This is not to say that I always appreciated hearing it. When I got wrapped up in the business, it was hard to take a breather and unwind. Fortunately that’s what I eventually learned to do. Thinking that it was only a business put things in perspective. My family was my number-one priority. They are the reason I started the business. Sure, on rare occasions I become so focused on a pressing problem that I momentarily put the business before my family. But it happens rarely, and whenever I catch myself falling into that trap, I say to myself, “Doris, it’s only a business!” That phrase is a reminder to keep priorities in order.

* * *

Maintaining a balance between work and family is one of our company’s missions, one that is appreciated and enjoyed by the nearly 70,000 Pampered Chef consultants. All entrepreneurs in their own right, I am proud to have helped them start their own businesses, proud to have them be the first impression to the 12 million customers who attend home parties each year. And the party is definitely not over yet!

Doris Christopher

EPILOGUE: Doris Christopher is the founder and chairman of The Pampered Chef, Ltd., the premier direct seller of kitchen tools in the world. In twenty-six years, Christopher has taken a home-based business and has grown it into a multimillion-dollar company, with over 1 million home shows given annually throughout the world. In 2002, the company was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway.

Christopher continues to lead her company into the future, creating start-up business opportunities for new consultants, and pampering the rest of us along the way! To learn more, visit www.pamperedchef.com.

Dahlynn McKowen

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