I couldn’t be more excited to launch the Women On Purpose series with these two beauties. This is close to home for me, literally. Watching Gina Bennett and Debbie Trachtenberg start their business, just as two girlfriends, having a home show several times a year in their living room over 15 years ago in my city of Oklahoma City to now having this booming amazing store in one of the most upscale shopping centers has been awe inspiring. It’s personal because I’ve shopped at On A Whim from inception at their home shows, to each growing location they’ve had, to of course their current store. Kudos to you two ladies for what an awesome store you’ve built with some fabulously curated finds. Women On Purpose: On A Whim – Gina Bennett and Debbie Trachtenberg.
Names: Gina Bennett and Debbie Trachtenberg
Location: Oklahoma City, OK
Age: Gina, 49 Debbie, 44
Current Title/Company/Business: Founders of On A Whim
1. What does living on purpose look like for where you are in your life right now?
Gina: Living on purpose to me, is working on being the most successful I can be in every aspect of my life. My priorities include having a happy family and succeeding at work. I try to live a life of treating people on a daily basis as I would like to be treated… with respect, kindness, an open mind and a true concern for others. With my children being young adults, Bailey living in New York and Blane living in Boulder, we as a family have had a great interest in traveling the world while learning the cultures of other countries. I feel this knowledge has helped me to grow into a better person. I have also been able to bring this knowledge back and apply it to different aspects of work and family.
Debbie: Living on purpose for me looks like working hard in all aspects of my life. From my work at OAW – we are constantly working to improve our store and make it a happy place for customers to come and shop… to my 3 kids – I am working to help them become kind an thoughtful teens who work hard to be successful both in the classroom, sports and also their volunteer work they do to help others in our community.
Purpose for me also comes from the volunteer work I do. I am passionate about Cleats for Kids – which provides gently used shoes and sporting equipment to kids in need so that each child has the opportunity to compete in sports. Our whole family has a strong passion for this and we spend a lot of time working to make this successful… (all 3 kids are also on the teen board).
Children’s Hospital Foundation is another one that is close to my heart and gives me great purpose. I have served on the board for about 15 years.
Lastly, I feel great purpose from helping with Donors Choose… Jeff and I are both trained in helping teachers in the public school system to get projects posted on the Donors Choose website – so we go into schools and answer questions and help teachers and coaches to post their projects so that they can get funding for items needed.
2. How did you know you were ready to jump into opening a store from doing shows in your home?
G: This goes back to your first question of living on purpose. I had been living in Dallas working for Ross Perot as an accountant, and in 1991 we moved back to OKC. Bailey had just been born, and I thought I would give it a shot of being a stay at home mom. I found myself extremely bored with not working, so eventually ended up on many charity boards, volunteer opportunities, the board of the preschool, homeroom mom, etc… I had been playing around with interior design, and Debbie had been working in fashion when we met. We both are very driven women, and the idea of opening a store together was immediate. We both were wanting to open a retail store, and both were looking for a business partner. We actually were never just planning on doing “home shows”. We knew we wanted a store, but went to market before the location was finalized, therefore having a home show or two before our space was ready. I guess you could say we had the cart before the horse. However, within a few months, our space was finalized and the ball began rolling quickly!!!
D: This is a tough question – and I am not sure if we knew we were really ready or just had a feeling that it was the right time for us. We loved the idea of bringing merchandise to OKC that was unique and really just decided to start with MacKenzie-Childs and add on from there…
3. How do you work as partners to make running your business a success? Are there certain things that each of you do separate and other things you work on together? Share how you make it work and work so well.
G: First of all, Debbie and I respect each other 100% and trust each other’s decisions as if they were our own. This is how our business has always been a success. Over time, our duties that we each preform have changed based on where we are in our lives, etc… Currently with my children being grown, I go to all the markets and traveling. With Debbie’s kids still being at home she takes care of most of the day to day operations. As she said, we each just take care of what needs to be done and split it up. We don’t worry or micromanage what the other has done. We have had complete confidence in the other’s business decisions since the day we opened in 1998.
D: We work very well together and yes – we split the duties… I work with Mackenzie-Childs, while Gina works with the fashion vendors… As for the rest of the tabletop vendors – we both share those duties. I think what makes it work well is that we both know our strengths and so we naturally gravitate towards what we are good at. We both get our responsibilities done and so we don’t ever have to worry or check to see if the other has accomplished her tasks.
4. How do you balance it all? Work, kids, family?
G: Well, this is a hard question… You just do it!!! I thought when my children went off to college, graduated, moved out of state starting their young adult lives, my life would get easier! Boy was I wrong!!! Although I am even busier now than when they lived at home, it has made my life so much more fun and enjoyable with traveling to see them, family trips and watching them grow into who they are. Owning a retail store is 24/7 work. Thank goodness for the internet!!! When in Thailand, Africa or anywhere, I am still working 24/7 with vendors, employees, budgets, social media, advertising, you name it!!! So is Debbie… We just make it work!!! We are both so passionate about On A Whim and LOVE our job!!! I feel if you are passionate about something, that it does not really seem like work and it remains fun!!!
D: This is always a challenge for me due to having 3 very busy teenagers… but it comes down to organization and just staying on top of everything daily so that nothing falls behind.
5. What’s been your biggest mistake you’ve made since you started your business?
G: I really don’t feel we have ever made a “big mistake”. Sometimes you make a bad decision, but bad decisions are sometimes the way you learn, and in the end are a positive.
D: I honestly can’t think of one… we make small mistakes all of the time – but we are quick to correct them and adjust to what will work best for OAW.
6. Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
G: You have to be passionate and LOVE what you do!!! I feel this is our success.
D: Hard work, passion and dedication. This is a 24-hour 7-day a week job – because we are always thinking about and looking for new ideas and how to incorporate them into our current plans.
7. To what do you most attribute your success?
G: I honestly attribute our success to all our hard work, including our employees’ hard work and dedication. I truly feel that On A Whim is like a little family and we all care so much about each other as family and friends. I also feel that everyone at the store feels that way about our customers, whether it is a new customer who becomes a friend, a current customer who is a friend or a friend who becomes a customer!!! We always want customer service to be number one!!! We always want our customers happy!!! We always want our employees happy!!!
D: Hard work and willingness to change… we are constantly changing and evolving based on what our customer wants. We spend a large amount of time analyzing sales reports to determine this.
8. What would say are the three key elements for starting and running a successful business you would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
G: 1. To be willing to work hard.
2. To be willing to let go of certain responsibilities to your staff, trusting their decisions as if they were your own.
3. To be willing to grow and change.
D: 1. Plan on lots of hard work and time… it will be on your mind constantly and needs to be in order to be successful.
2. Attention to detail in all areas… from choosing your employees, to merchandising, to lines you carry, budgets and the list can go on and on.
3. Passion… you must be passionate about your business for it to succeed… no one will care about it as much as you do.
Here’s a peek into this fabulous store.
Here’s a short segment I did a few years ago for a lifestyle segment on KSBI Oklahoma Live! showcasing On A Whim.
What are some of your favorite nuggets of inspiration Gina and Debbie shared with us?