THE BLOG

Women in Business Q&A: Lisa Kornstein, Founder, COO of Scout & Molly's

03/03/2015 05:27 am ET | Updated May 03, 2015

Lisa Kornstein is the original founder of Scout & Molly's and now also serves as the Chief Operating Officer of Scout Franlogic Development, LLC. Lisa opened the very first Scout & Molly's boutique in 2002. The store was named after her beloved labrador retrievers, who for many years, could be found lounging in the store. Lisa has over a decade of experience in owning and operating a successful boutique business. She has a proven ability to pick out trend styles and also to make her customers feel as though they are shopping in the comfort of their best friend's closet.

Lisa is passionate about incorporating philanthropy into her business model. She is an active volunteer with the National MS Society. That particular cause is one she holds close to her heart since her own diagnosis with the disease over 6 years ago. She is also involved with Saving Grace Animal Rescue as well as various other charitable groups throughout the community.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
When I was a little girl, around 9 years old, I decided it was time to finally jump off the high dive at the local pool. My brother was standing at the edge of the deep end ready to cheer me on. With my mind made up and all the confidence I could muster, I climbed the 15ft. ladder to the top and walked the plank, knees shaking, to the edge. I looked down at the water below and suddenly the distance between the water and the plank seemed to increase in altitude every second. I panicked. I walked back towards the ladder with the lifeguard shouting, "you must jump, you may NOT climb back down, it's too dangerous!" I was now terrified of both options but deciding against the jump, I placed one foot on the top step of the ladder. I slipped on the wet metal, lost my footing and fell 15ft. to the hard concrete. My brother, in complete shock at the sight, fainted and fell into the pool having to be rescued himself.

The next memory I have is waking up in the hospital, my parents by my side and my Dad saying "Boo (his nickname for me) as soon as you get out of the hospital and healed, you are going straight to the pool and jumping off that high dive. When you fall off the horse, you have to get back on baby girl."

That one talk in the hospital with my dad is how I have chosen to approach life and business. I know there will be times when I fall off the horse, but as long as I know it's not about the fall as much as it is about the getting back on that shapes what happens next I know I will always be ok.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Scout & Molly's?
To be honest, I didn't have a whole lot of previous employment experience before I started Scout & Molly's in 2002. I was 25 years old when I opened the store. I did work part time at a boutique while in grad school and it was then I realized I could sell. It was addicting to me. I craved the high of making the sale. It wasn't about the money or the merchandise, it was about the look on the customer's face when she felt beautiful in something new and she was thanking me for picking it out for her! There's something powerful about feeling like you had a part in lifting someone's spirits, enhancing their self-esteem and giving them a certain inner glow.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Scout & Molly's?
A huge highlight in my career was when I started to get calls from people who had shopped in my store and fallen in love with it to the point of wanting to have their own Scout & Molly's. I was approached by a customer who said she really wanted to open a boutique of her own, but every time she tried to envision it all she could picture was Scout & Molly's. Then more people approached saying pretty much the same thing and thus began the growth phase of Scout & Molly's, ultimately into franchising.

Growing pains are certainly something almost all, if not all, business owners experience at some point in their businesses lifespan. Trying to find the perfect location, making sure your business plan is solid and consistent across multiple locations is challenging. However, finding the areas you need to enhance ultimately makes your business more sustainable.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do something. If you want it badly enough and you have the drive within yourself to work hard, you CAN do it. Believing in yourself is where it all begins, the rest will fall into place with hard work and determination.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
My very first business counselor, Mark McKnight, from the Small Business Technology & Development Center here in NC, told me before I opened my very first store to always remember one thing, he said, "Lisa, no matter what, ALWAYS run it by the numbers! ALWAYS." There have been times when I let my emotions steer a decision and I have almost always been sorry and wished I had remembered Mark's advice. Whenever I meet with aspiring entrepreneurs I am sure to pass forward that info that Mark gave to me because it's been incredibly important.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I giggle whenever I am asked this question because I feel like it is the one answer I will always be searching for. Years ago before I had babies, and my only responsibilities were work and my dogs, I rarely thought about work/life balance. Then came babies and then a very unexpected MS (Multiple Sclerosis) diagnosis. Nothing will make you think about balance more than family and a health crisis. I was forced to re-think the way I was living life always with my foot on the gas pedal full speed ahead.

It was time to take a step back and realize it wasn't all about me anymore. I had my two beautiful children, now 9 and 10, to consider and I needed to be strong and healthy for them. I had to adjust the way I was running my business so that I could be present, well rested and healthy for everyone who depended on me, including Scout & Molly's. A lot of people say "work hard, play hard." I had to add one thing to that saying in my own attempt at balance, "Work hard, rest hard, play hard." With my MS, if I don't get enough rest, I start getting "symptomy" which leads to a flare up which puts me out of commission for weeks. So, I have a fold out chair in the back of the store in case I need to lay down, I take breaks and mental health days when I need them, and I have the stores staffed in a way that they can run without me if they need to. When I'm working, you better believe I am working my tail off and when I'm with my kids, you better believe I'm playing my tail off just as hard and in between those, I try to remember that taking time for me is equally important. I do the usual things like going to the gym and sleeping in now and then. I will always be in search of a more effective work/life balance formula so if you know one, please send to me!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I sometimes think self-confidence is the root of a lot of issues for women in the workplace. If others doubt you or you are constantly having to fight for an advantage, like many women are faced with, you can get worn down and start second guessing yourself. I think always remembering to keep fighting and never give up, never let anything get in your way is a powerful notion. Believing in yourself is key.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've thought a lot about this through the years. Because I started my business at such a young age I hadn't really had the chance to work for many other people. There have always been people I admire personally and professionally, but I never really had a true mentor in business. I've always participated locally in opportunities to mentor women or men interested in the fashion business. The thing I truly think is wonderful about the franchise world is that when someone buys into a franchise system, they basically are given immediate access to a built in mentoring program. I certainly could have saved myself from making many mistakes if I had the benefit of someone else's experiences in the exact same field I was blindly jumping into. I love that we can offer that now via franchising and the specific ways we run our franchise from an operations perspective.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire women from all different walks of life, but there has been one woman in business who has been meaningful in terms of how I aspire to be as a professional entrepreneur, she also happens to be a busy mom. Crandall Bowles is the mom of my best childhood friend, Annie. Crandall Bowles has been Chairman of The Springs Company, a privately owned investment company, since 2007. She also served as Chairman of Springs Industries, Inc. from 1998 until 2013 when the business was sold. She was a member of its board from 1978 until June 2013 and was Chief Executive Officer from 1998 until 2006. You would wonder how a woman of such great professional accomplishments had time for anything else at all, but she did.

She had an incredible energy about her. I learned from watching her that you didn't have to bake cookies and be an active member on the PTA to be a good mom. During the weeks she worked incredibly hard, but the weekends were family time. The time she spent with her 3 children and their many friends put a new meaning to the phrase "quality time." She took us on nature hikes, trips to the beach, the homeless shelter to serve food on Thanksgiving, and I remember countless nights of late night board games around the kitchen table at her house. I was always amazed that she was able to balance it all and even though I know no one really feels like they ever have that figured out, she made it look easy. If one day one of my kids or one of their friends is interviewed about their career and who influenced them and they say, Lisa Kornstein, because she was able to be successful in business and be a great mom too, then I will have achieved all I ever wanted!

What do you want Scout & Molly's to accomplish in the next year?
By the end of next year I want to have 25 Scout & Molly's locations up and running. I'd like to help give some of that confidence and empowerment we all need to succeed back to women all across the country. I'd like to leave a mark, an impression, make a memory...if I can do that I will be happy.