Apr 20

Vera Stewart: Trailblazing Entrepreneur and Founder of VeryVera

Vera Stewart: Trailblazing Entrepreneur and Founder of VeryVera

Vera StewartWhat adjectives do you think of when you think of trailblazing women entrepreneurs: maybe resilient, tenacious, adaptable, creative, even driven perhaps? You can package all those descriptors together and what you would have is the awesome Ms. Vera, founder of VeryVera. The brands she has created since her first career as a teacher, through love, sweat and probably a few tears are as remarkable as her own personal brand.

To meet Vera is like meeting a lightning bolt–you better hold on because you are about to be inspired, energized and want to go out and conquer whatever obstacles you have in front of you. You might think that Vera is a life coach, which she probably is, or in leadership development, and that would be a true statement. However, what this entrepreneur creates is a passion for others to really love good food. Like any strong brand, you must have a brand story that is impactful and Vera’s story will have you saying, “hallelujah” from the very beginning.

Since Vera and I are contemporaries, it was easy for us to dive deep into what it took to start a business in an era, 1970s, when women business owners were not widely accepted. That may have been a fact of the day but it wasn’t going to stop Vera. So how did her journey begin?

Early Influences

Like many young women in the South, Vera’s love for cooking was passed down through the generations. She was fascinated by the boxes of hand written recipes from her grandmothers. Early on, she engaged in the process of managing and organizing this piece of her family history. She loved learning all about cooking but also relished her role as a steward of her heritage, helping her hone her craft as chef, baker, super organizer and manager. It all seemed to come naturally to her.

One influence that helped propel her natural abilities into a possible career was her homeroom teacher her senior year in high school. Vera was not signed up for a Home Economics class but it just so happened that Ms. Dupree, her homeroom teacher, was also a Home Ec. teacher. Vera found herself coming to school early to help her teacher organize and learn cooking techniques. Ms. Dupree’s impact was so strong that Vera has honored her in the forward of her new cookbook VERY VERA. Recently, Vera had the pleasure of reading her tribute to Catherine, now 97 years old.

A Lifetime of Entrepreneurial Accomplishments

Fast forward, over the last 30 plus years Vera has started a catering company, a mail order cake company carried by top end retailers like Newman Marcus, a retail store and café, a syndicated cooking show and a children’s cooking camp now in franchise. Is your head spinning? All the while, she has stayed nimble and adaptable to needs and changes in the marketplace. She mastered differentiating her products by having exceptional packaging that her competitors could not duplicate. Her strong entrepreneurial skills, I believe, come naturally and are hard to teach. Her mentoring to up-and-coming entrepreneurs is a badge of honor she wears proudly. Did I mention that Vera did all the above while raising two successful young men?

Vera’s Latest Ventures

In recent years, Vera has contemplated her exit strategy. Don’t confuse that with stopping working and continuing to do what she loves. She has closed her retail store, freeing up time and energy to write a cookbook that will be out in April 2018, a must buy at VeryVera. Vera will also continue to focus on her TV cooking show and the cooking camps. You can check out all her projects at veryvera.com.

Lest you think Vera is all work and no play…some little-known facts about our role model entrepreneur: she never misses a chance to dance to Carolina Shag or Big Band music, she is known as a silly grandmother with rules, and Vera’s special day is most Sundays when she spends the afternoon with her grandchildren playing in the fairy gardens they have created in the backyard.

Oh, And She Beat Bobby Flay!

There is so much more I could have written about Vera, like that fact that she beat Bobby Flay in the Carrot Cake Throw Down and her ability to understand the science behind cooking. If you have the desire to start a business and live the entrepreneurial life, I hope you have the opportunity to cross paths with Vera the Wise One.

Q and A:

Q: What drove you to start the business?
A: After starting my career as a teacher, I decided I wanted to stay home after my first child. The catering business was my answer to a cottage industry. After a second child and a few years under my belt, I made it an official business in 1984.

Q: What did you learn from your previous career that helped you with being an entrepreneur?
A: I actually still think of myself as a teacher. Writing lesson plans and pre-planning are still an essential part of my business. Each employee turns in weekly lesson plans on Sunday evening and we review them on Monday mornings.

Q: What are your distinctive selling points or how do you distinguish yourself from others in your space?
A: The selling point to all VeryVera products was the fact that they were all handmade and shipped with exceptional packaging and care. We continue to capitalize on these in our other endeavors.

Q: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone starting a new business?
A: I adopted a “school” approach and grew my business as my sons grew, allowing me to grow it slowly and manageably. I encourage other entrepreneurs to stay the path. The rewards along this journey will far outweigh any pitfalls and at the end of the day, you will feel a deep sense of pride and joy.

Q: What is your favorite part of owning your own business?
A: Definitely the investment I’ve been able to make in other people and the blessings they have been to me.

Q: What is the best investment (money or time) you’ve made in your business to date?
A: Looking back, I think my attention to detail and expecting the very, very best out of all staff and not selling for less has paid off for the integrity of the brand.

Q: How do you maintain a work life balance?
A: First, marry the right person. An entrepreneur is driven, determined and courageous, not always the definition of a doting wife. A successful home is like a successful business, in terms of organization, communications and expectations. When all these things are in place, the balance comes naturally.

Q: What is your personal definition of success?
A: I would consider myself as a servant leader. Anyone who I have served in my business over the last 33 years, as a client, customer or associate, who has been positively affected, turns into a “win” for me. The ones who may have had a complaint or problem became part of the growth and allowed me to be better by expressing that concern so they are “wins” too. If you look at it that way, every day is successful.