Business

Mom: The Ultimate Business Partner

These special Kansas City businesses also have some very special partners.

Story by Katy Schamberger | Photos by David Allison

Mother’s Day is, of course, the ideal time during which to honor the world’s original Wonder Woman. For some people, it’s also a day on which to pay tribute to a woman who’s not just their parent, but also their business partner.

There’s no denying that family and business don’t always mix. Yet for three Kansas Citians, going into business with their moms has been successful, educational, prosperous—and a heck of a lot of fun. Read on for a look into three local professional partnerships that bring a new dimension to the mother-child bond.

Teresa Loar and Sara Loar, Sophisticated Spirit

Many businesses flourish out of a need to solve a problem. Teresa Loar and her daughter, Sara, struggled with a fashion dilemma: The avid sports fans didn’t have any team-oriented apparel or accessories that were appropriate in a corporate environment.

“We’re huge sports fanatics but were always complaining that we didn’t have anything to wear to work to support our teams,” Sara says. “We talked about the idea a lot when I was in college, but we just didn’t have the time or resources to pursue the business so the idea went on hiatus.”

After Teresa made a dramatic move two and a half years ago, circumstances changed. As an employee at a large engineering firm, the former Kansas City council member was asked to travel to Afghanistan for a two-year professional commitment. Once there, Teresa found herself surrounded by inspiration.

“I immediately found scarves everywhere,” she says. “I looked for solid colors and bought what I found. A small group of Afghan women sewed the scarves for me, then I shipped them to Sara.”

As people in the Kansas City area began to wear the double-sided scarves, they started to attract attention—and compliments. Market research revealed that no one was yet fulfilling this accessories need, so Sara stepped up to tackle the business side of the operation, and Sophisticated Spirit was born.

“It was a huge learning curve—essentially a crash course in business,” Sara says.

Once Teresa arrived home in March 2013, the pair spent the rest of the year working on the business and officially launched in September 2013. After a particularly successful holiday season, Teresa and Sara achieved a professional milestone.

“A couple of months ago, we were contacted by a large, high-end retail buyer,” Sara says. “Later this year, our scarves will be in department stores around the country. This is a huge game-changer for us. Going through this process is a huge learning experience, but we’re having a blast.”

Although Sophisticated Spirit is poised to become even bigger, Teresa and Sara remain dedicated to their business roots: giving back to those who helped them.

“Once I left the military base in Afghanistan, we couldn’t find a way to get the scarves back to the U.S.,” Teresa says. “We found a group of local Afghan women who sew our scarves and still send back money to help the women in Afghanistan. We’re continuing to try and figure out a way to loop them back in—it’s an important part of our business plan since they’re the reason we were able to start the business.”

There’s no doubt that Sophisticated Spirit’s future is bright. Teresa and Sara have plans to expand into a larger accessories line that serves their target market of stylish sports fans—both men and women. All it takes is a quick look at their business inspirations and it’s no surprise that they’re so growth-oriented.

“We want to be like Spanx or Silpada,” Teresa says.

Despite their creativity and business prowess, Sophisticated Spirit would be nothing without the dynamic duo of Teresa and Sara, who are more than a mother-daughter team.

“We’re best friends who work very well together,” Sara says. “We both have our strengths and know our weaknesses, and I think that’s why this is working.”

Equally important? They share the same long-term vision, too.

“Our ultimate goal is to be on QVC,” Teresa says.

Adds Sara, “That’s a dream of ours.”

 

Marcia Lane and Stewart Lane, Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions

Growing up in a family business often results in a child following in a parent’s footsteps—and that’s certainly the case for Stewart Lane, who cultivated an early passion for food and entertaining while watching his parents.

“Stewart was five years old when we started Inspired Occasions,” says Stewart’s mom and business co-founder, Marcia Lane. “Stewart always had a strong interest in cooking and wanted to be in the kitchen.”

Although Stewart’s penchant for entertaining was developed at a young age, his parents were largely unfamiliar with the industry—professionally speaking, at least—before they founded Inspired Occasions in 1991.

“Lon worked for Hallmark in the advertising department,” Marcia says. “I was in real estate at that point. We started the catering business because Lon always had a love of food and entertaining.”

In what’s become a crowded catering field throughout the Kansas City metro area, it’s that dual focus on food and entertaining that sets Inspired Occasions apart from similar companies.

“A lot of it has to do with how we approach events, and that comes from Lon’s advertising and marketing background,” Marcia says. “There’s always a reason for the event—and sometimes the food is secondary. We’re there to make the event work for the client and show them off, whether it’s a bridal shower or a corporate branded event. Lon always tells the event staff: every event should have a story with a beginning, middle and end, and the end should always circle back to the beginning.”

Marcia and Stewart have played large roles in Inspired Occasions’ success, thanks in part to their differing roles. As head of company operations, Marcia helps “get events out the door” by helping with styling, design and other related responsibilities. Stewart continues to develop his culinary passion by serving as research and development chef. Not only is he often the brains behind Inspired Occasions’ menu offerings—he also teams with his dad to teach at catering conferences and other events.

“They’ll have presentations that are standing room only because they love to give good, solid knowledge,” Marcia says. “They’re just such a great team. And as a mom and wife, I love seeing that.”

Working with family members isn’t always easy, yet Marcia says the work ethic that she and Lon strived to teach their two sons helped them on the road to professional success.

“Both of them had to earn their college money by working events or in the company,” she says. “It just worked out really well. It’s sometimes hard to balance the roles of mom and business associate, but we try to separate and give Stewart his own authority.”

The end result isn’t just a thriving, growing business—it’s a deeper sense of pride and accomplishment that’s invaluable.

“The most rewarding thing you can do with your children is to be able to work with them and put out great products and revel in how they grow,” Marcia says. “I think you have to have a lot of mutual respect for each other. And we’ve always been a really, really close family. There’s a lot of love.”

 

Kathy Koehler and Heather Bortnick, The Koehler-Bortnick Team

If you’ve spent any length of time in Kansas City’s residential real estate market, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with The Koehler-Bortnick Team. Founded in 1996 by Kathy Koehler and her daughter, Heather Bortnick, the Reece & Nichols team is known for an innovative approach to the real estate industry, not to mention a billing (no pun intended) as the highest grossing real estate team in the city.

“As I was building my real estate career, I went out of state to New York and California to do a lot of seminars and realized they had real estate teams in these cities but not in Kansas City,” Kathy says. “I asked my former boss, Jack Frost, for his permission to bring the first team to Kansas City. I also asked to put our faces on real estate signs and add info boxes to the signs, too—we brought them all here.”

That sort of trailblazing approach has become a hallmark of Kathy and Heather’s careers. And despite their oft-celebrated success, Kathy wanted Heather to learn an important lesson before she joined her mom as a business partner.

“I think if you have children in the business, they should work for someone else before they work for you,” Kathy says. “Go out in the school of hard knocks and work for someone else. Heather worked for another company, was number one in sales, then came over and worked her way up in the company and became my partner.”

Once that partnership was established, Kathy and Heather quickly learned to play to their strengths.

“We’re opposites, so we’re very good partners,” Kathy says. “She’s calmer and more professional, nicer, younger, prettier and smarter. I’m the bad cop. I love a challenge. I love an objection—I turn it into an opportunity. Give me the unhappiest person you know and I want to make them happy.”

Under Kathy and Heather’s dedicated direction, the Koehler-Bortnick Team has grown to encompass 28 agents and eight staff people in four offices: 75th and State Line, 135th and Roe, Lee’s Summit and the Northland. That sort of growth doesn’t happen by accident—and in this case, it’s a direct result of the dynamic mother-daughter duo.

“We both use each other very wisely,” Kathy says. “For example, if I go into a listing and don’t get it, I’m going to call Heather, give her the details and tell her to contact them to make a follow-up appointment. Heather and I support each other. I don’t think there’s anyone better than Heather Bortnick to handle your transaction—she’s the best. And she feels that way about me—she calls me the ‘amazing dynamo.’”

That sort of passion is exactly what keeps Kathy and Heather working so hard not just for themselves and their team members, but also for their clients. And as long as that sense of excitement and invigoration is a daily part of the job, Kathy sees a bright future ahead.

“We had a goal to do $200 million in sales,” Kathy says. “Last year, we finally hit the goal with 708 clients and $232 million. My goal this year is 750 clients. I’m not motivated by money—I should be—but I want to make more people happy. Our brand is strong. Heather and I are both extremely passionate about our jobs, and what keeps that passion for me is the team. My daughter thinks I’ll never retire. Every day is still a party for me. When the party’s over, I’m done.”