(March 2011, By Kathy Moats, former Director of the Eastern Kentucky Small Business Development Center)
Beulah Hester is without a doubt the most market-savvy business person I have met in my 40 years of experience with small businesses. True entrepreneurs share certain characteristics. In my opinion the top four are perseverance, persistence, creativity and passion. After five minutes of conversation with her, Beulah’s unsurpassed passion for her business is evident.
She has persevered in spite of situations that would have caused many of us to give up. She has persisted through personal and professional challenges, and come back stronger and more prepared to meet the next event in her life. She has definitely shown her creativity in the products she has created and the flexibility she has demonstrated in order to take her business to the next level. This brings us back to her extensive knowledge of her market and how it responds. Beulah is a true entrepreneur. There is no doubt in my mind that she will use all her entrepreneurial skills to continue to anticipate the needs of her market; thus ensuring her continued success.
One of the greatest challenges for any business person is to know enough about their customer base and their market so that they can meet the ever-changing needs of the market. Beulah meets that challenge every day by studying the market, talking to potential and existing customers, seeking feedback from the market, and examining the past market trends. Then she plots the future of her products and how the market will respond to those products. This ability has served her well. She became involved in e-commerce before it was popular; she created products that had the features and benefits her customers sought, but could not find; she stream-lined her distribution channels to serve customers more effectively and efficiently.
PERSEVERANCE aptly describes the personal and professional life of Beulah Hester. From a life threatening experience at the age of 7 to the design 74 product ski’s thru 2007 and 22 new products for 2008, and 46 for 2010, Beulah has persevered and managed to turn challenges into opportunities. Beulah is truly a role model for others; her inspiring story offers a true example of perseverance, persistence and the ability to turn life’s challenges into opportunities.
Early Trials led to her Inspiration
When Beulah was 7 years old she was spending time in her grandmother’s kitchen. A pot of boiling water spilled onto her back and right arm, causing third degree burns, and a diagnosis from her doctor that Beulah not only would she be scarred for life, but in all probability Beulah would permanently lose the use of her right arm. The doctor told the family to encourage Beulah to throw a softball as therapy for her arm. The therapy worked beyond the hope of doctor and family. Not only did Beulah regain the use of her arm, she went on to play league softball and many other sports. After high school she started work in a sewing factory and became a floor supervisor. As a budding entrepreneur, Beulah was able to combine her love of sports and her knowledge of sewing. However, it was to be a period of time before Beulah would become a business owner—life got in the way.
Beulah married and had three children. Her third child, who was born in 1981, had a mild case of cerebral palsy that caused chronic asthma. The child was often ill, and required lengthy hospital stays. Beulah needed to be home more in order to care for her family. She started her first business, an alteration business in Danville. Beulah was able to spend more time with her children and operate her own business. In 1989 Beulah again faced a life-changing challenge: her husband was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor that permanently disabled him. Beulah became the primary bread winner for the family as well as providing care for both her husband and her children. Beulah closed her business in Danville and moved the business to her garage that was remodeled by her church family.
During the next three years, Beulah found herself running a business, and caring for her ill husband and daughter. There were times when her child was in one hospital in Lexington, and her husband was in another. In addition there were the constant doctors’ appointments for both her daughter and her husband. When her husband died in 1992, the family lost its health insurance. Beulah was forced to take a second job with the Lincoln County school system just to make ends meet, and get health insurance for the family. In 1994, Beulah received a request from the owner of the National Softball Association to design an umpire bag for NSA. As the design developed, Beulah believed that the product might be patentable. She decided to leave her job at theLincoln county School System and devote her time to her business and manufacturing for the NSA. Truly this was a leap of faith.
Ump-Attire’s creation in 1995
In early 1995 Ump-attire, Inc was born. Beulah attended embroidery school in Chicago, IL in order to offer customized products to her market. Things were looking up; sales increased, new products were offered to customers, and in 1998 Beulah received a utility patent on her ball bag. Ump-attire, Inc, and Beulah were featured in ‘Referee Magazine’, ‘The Lane Report’, The Wall Street Journal, theBusiness Magazine of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Additionally, stories appeared on four TV stations in three states; and she was featured on the “Made in Kentucky” series. Along with all the accolades, 1998 also saw an increase in medical bills from her daughter’s chronic asthma, and Beulah’s diagnosis of and treatment for colon cancer. Again Beulah persevered with her business and with her personal trials. In 1999 Beulah was nominated for Kentucky Woman in Achievement and her ball bag was used in the movie “For the Love of the Game”.
Over the next three years the business grew, but Beulah continued to face personal obstacles with her daughter, and the illnesses and passing of her parents. Beulah was physically and mentally exhausted and sought need to reduce her night and day involvement in Ump-attire, Inc. In 2003, she formed a joint venture with another company to lend her expertise in starting 10th Planet, embroidery and screen printing venture. However, after 10 months Beulah decided that she could best serve her market by again operating her own business.
Beulah’s Community Involvement
Tragedy struck again in the summer of 2004 when her 22 year old daughter who suffered from chronic asthma died from asthmatic complications. Beulah was faced with a plethora of medical bills due to the fact that her daughter had not had health insurance since reaching age 18. Beulah buried herself in her work, and by 2005 sales for her company grew by 1000% from the 2003 level. In 2006, Beulah sold the web store in order to concentrate on designing new product lines. Most recently she began working with the Amish community in Lincoln County to form a local cottage industry that could manufacture products with the outstanding quality her customers demand.
Beulah remained active in her community throughout her life. As a member of the Methodist church Beulah has served as youth director, president of the United Methodist Women, and district officer of the United Methodist Women, Chairman of Missions, and the Pastor Parish committees and a member of the church board. She currently is a member of the Southland Christian Church where she is actively involved in a life group. She has been involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes for many years, and has traveled out of state with the high school girl’s golf team FCA camps. She has been involved with the Kentucky Organ Donor Association and represented Kentucky in Washington, DC in 2005. Because her daughter was an organ donor, Beulah flew to Texas to meet with the recipient of her daughter’s kidney.
In 2007 Beulah was asked by The World Affairs Council on several occasions to share her business story with participants in the International Visitors Leadership Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and National Council for International Visitors. She spoke to 65 International Women Entrepreneurs that traveled to Stanford Kentucky from 33 different countries. Upon hearing the events in Beulah’s life the author of ‘Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes’, requested permission to include her story in the book that was released in February 2005 and is being sold at book stores around the US. Presently after much encouragement, Beulah is planning to write a book of her own. As of 2010, at least 40 jobs have been created as the direct result of Beulah and most recently she has been nominated as Small Business Administration success story of the year.
Inspiration leads to Opportunity
A truly inspiring story, a truly inspiring person—from a 7 year old girl determined not to be defined by a serious injury, to an entrepreneur with passion for what she does, a perseverance to make it through the tough times and a belief in herself and her abilities—Beulah moves forward willing to meet the next challenge and find a new opportunity.