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North Hills Monthly

Female Entrepreneurs Find Flexibility, Unique Niches Lead to Success

Apr 27, 2020 08:03PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Owning your own business may sound like the great American dream, but it isn’t as easy as it seems. Despite the challenges and the daunting odds of success, a number of North Hills women were willing to make the move from working for others to becoming entrepreneurs.

Kelly Malone, owner of WorkshopPGH, feels that her background in business helped. “My long history of corporate retail working in creative roles, such as merchandising and serving as a training manager and more, has helped me learn a number of various roles that I use to run my own business, especially since I couldn’t afford college,” she said.

Malone owned Workshop as a do-it-yourself (DIY) school in San Francisco over a decade ago, and when she moved back to Pittsburgh, the idea came with her. “I felt that it was really perfect for Penn Avenue with the creative energy,” she said.

Malone opened the DIY WorkshopPGH four years ago, and two years ago expanded to include a shop carrying handmade items and art. Despite her extensive background, that doesn’t mean everything came easy as a business owner. 

“It’s always been hard. When I first quit my job, I lived in our bathroom at Workshop for a bit,” she said.  Malone still works side hustles to stay afloat while building her business.

“I think with any new business, you have to be multi-talented and have other facets to your business,” she explained. “I do classes, have a store, host events, and also make things. It makes it so that if one avenue closes, there are more to fall back on.”

That flexibility has helped Malone during COVID-19 since the storefront is closed and workshops are on hold. She has created craft kits and online classes—and she hasn’t stopped. 

“Business takes time to build, and I’ve built something I’m proud of. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said.

Jennifer Pomerantz, CEO of American Natural, worked in the asset management industry and focused investments across energy, infrastructure, and convenience stores. Like Malone, her business background helped her when she started American Natural.

“I saw a difference in the offerings in the U.S. as compared to other countries. Notable differences included a greater emphasis on higher-quality ingredients in food and coffee plus more local sourcing for food and beverages,” she said. Pomerantz also saw the opportunity for an introduction of alternative energy for customers seeking a different choice in fuel.

After meeting with people in the community, Pomerantz wanted to provide a one-stop shop for a fresh variety of food and fuel. “American Natural stores offer a careful mix of quality, variety, speed and community warmth,” she explained.

While COVID-19 has forced the closure of the dining area, the restaurants are still open for pickup and delivery. Gas pumps are also still open. “The American Natural network also provides access to both traditional and alternative energy in order to provide a flexible choice for fueling,” Pomerantz said.

Soon after beginning her career as a nurse, Tracy Armstrong wanted a change. “I knew right away it was not a good fit for me,” she said.

At the suggestion of her husband, Armstrong started an in-home pet sitting business and loved it. But after the birth of her son, she felt it was impossible to balance the 24/7 business and be the mom she wanted to be. “I sold it and started working for a welcoming service,” she explained.

When the owner retired, Armstrong updated the model, creating North Pittsburgh Greeting Company. Armstrong welcomes new homeowners to the area, visiting their homes with baskets of products from her sponsors.

“I’ve welcomed more than 10,000 families since I started in 2009,” she said.

With the quarantine in place, Armstrong has had to modify her services, focusing on social media and email outreach connecting clients and sponsors. “I know my clients—what kinds of houses they own, their age brackets, etc. It is a great time for my sponsors to reach out because people have more time on their hands and can read the advertisements,” she explained.

As far as her nursing career, Armstrong has never regretted leaving. “Are you kidding me? I love what I do,” she said. 

Mary Bickley also comes from a healthcare background. The owner of Clearskin Acne Solutions was a physical therapist for 30 years before she became an aesthetician in 2009.

“As much as I enjoyed working in healthcare, the increasing amounts of paperwork and general bureaucracy led me to find another field,” said Bickley, who has seen more than 1,000 clients at her Cranberry business. “And working with acne clients has proven to be incredibly rewarding.”

Like any new business, Bickley had challenges, particularly since she did not have a local mentor. 

“The program that I learned was based in California, and once I returned home, there was a lot of trial and error before I became comfortable with treating clients,” she explained. “Then everything just seemed to ‘click,’ and now it is second nature.” Although COVID-19 has closed her storefront, Bickley is still able to sell products.

Christine Iksic worked in retail in her youth but became a pilot and then earned a degree in geographic information systems (GIS). 

“I had a career in aerial mapping for five years, and for the past 10 years, I was selling GPS equipment,” she said. But her love of the outdoors inspired Iksic to partner with friend and outdoor enthusiast, Chris Kaminsky, to open 3 Rivers Outdoor Co. 

“My parents were small business owners/entrepreneurs, and I think they instilled the spirit in me,” she said. Iksic considered other ideas, but nothing ever motivated her enough to take the plunge. 

“One day while visiting an outdoor shop in Montana, a lightbulb went off that Pittsburgh lacked a cool small outdoor shop,” she said. “The seed was planted.” 

The partners opened the independent retail shop not only to provide apparel and outdoor equipment, but to serve as a gathering place for those with mutual interests. 

“I wanted the shop to be a way to bring other like-minded outdoor people together and to help build Pittsburgh’s identity as a world-class outdoor town,” Iksic said. 

Iksic still works full-time in her corporate sales job but is dedicated to the success of 3 Rivers Outdoor Co. 

“It’s all worth it; the moments when I see 20 people in the shop after a trail run, finding other friends, it makes me feel like regardless of our financial success, we have succeeded in so many ways,” she said. “We do what we set out to do.”