I received a warm greeting at the reception desk for NJAWBO’s 2007 annual state conference, the biggest event of the year for this group, one of the most active networking groups in the state, and one of the most long-lived, active groups in the Princeton area. The event was held at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City on May 15 and 16. The greeting I received was exactly what I should have expected. NJAWBO is, after all, a women’s group, and the bottom line of the many women’s groups I’ve been part of during my life has been mutual support.
Linda Richter, the first person I ran into after getting my press badge, immediately confirmed my initial impressions. “You don’t join this organization just to get business, network, and get on with things,” says Richter, last year’s Business Woman of the Year for both New Jersey and Mercer County.
“You give and you get,” she says. “When you go to a meeting, someone will give you a hand and empathize. When you are successful, the whole room lights up.”
Richter, whose firm is Personal Paperwork Solutionsand More! in East Windsor, was particularly excited that Mercer County had captured the state Business Woman of the Year award for two years running, and she promised to E-mail after the conference if the Mercer contestant won again. Sure enough the winner was Kathleen Morolda of Cranbury Station Gallery, who also heads up the Borough Merchants for Princeton.
My next stop was the NJAWBO expo, where exhibitors large and small were offering support services for women and women-owned businesses.
Some of the tables featured services that might, in a less politically correct age, have been said to require “a woman’s touch”: lyrical orchids and scrumptious chocolates to dress up business affairs, and wardrobe advice from a fashion coordinator, formerly a school teacher, offering Weekenders — washable, packable, and extremely comfortable mix and match clothes for the business woman on the go.
Also present were corporate procurement and government services. Sue Hogan told me about PSE&G’s “aggressive goals for women and minority-owned businesses.” “We’re hoping they are selling something we need to buy,” she said.
Novartis, one of the conference’s sponsors, was also on the lookout for small and diverse suppliers. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority was advertising both its entrepreneurial training and the below-market loans it offers, in partnership with banks, to women-owned, minority, and small businesses.
Two women’s magazines for New Jersey were also on offer. Joan Lerman started Primewoman after her lengthy marriage ended. The sales person for the Manalapan-based magazine explained that Lerman wanted to pick herself up by her bootstraps and do something on her own. Her magazine caters to women, whom she sees as having power as the consumers who most often make buying decisions.
Another magazine, “Garden State Woman,” based in Long Valley, began nine years ago. Judy Chapman, its owner and founder, felt that women needed a reliable source of information and resources because they were key decision-makers in the family, in the community, and in business. Her articles run the gamut from finance, health, and law to education and entrepreneurship. The magazine also runs two conferences a year for women, one on finances and the other on health and wellness.
After the keynote, I met a number of women from the Mercer chapter of NJAWBO. Suzanne Rosenblum, of S.P. Rosenblum in Lawrenceville, does “mostly taxes,” because that’s what she loves to do. She was the top math student at her high school and did her first tax return at 17, when too much money was withheld from her paycheck at a summer job.
Liz Scafa, of the financial planning and investment firm Scafa Financial Services, went into business by dint of a chance remark someone made to her while she worked for Morgan Stanley. She happened to meet someone who asked her, “Do you know someone who would be interested in renting a space from me?” Scafa said yes, took the space for herself, and has been on her own for four years.
Cathy Meshumar, of CLM Productions in Princeton Junction, has been a printer for eight years, doing large-format, offset silk screening. She wanted to talk about NJAWBO means to her: “When you’re working on your own, it’s important to have a good network for camaraderie, support, resources, and referrals.”
Eileen Entin started Diamond Cruise and Travel in Hightstown in 1993 because she loves cruising. “People used to ask me — where do I go? What do I do?” and she figured she could make her expertise into a business. She has been on some 70 cruises, some out of her own pocket and some for free.
Whether NJAWBO’s members see its warmth as the essential draw of the organization or just a perk, everyone I met seemed happy to be together. The conference also offered myriad possibilities for learning, but perhaps choosing Atlantic City as the conference venue had a message, too. Combine business with pleasure. I only regretted having to get back to work before I could try out Verizon’s relaxation room.