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Talking Shop with Donna Cook, co-owner of Main Street Flooring and Interiors
When she was a student at Jackson High School, Donna Cook never dreamed of owning a business, but the Jackson native and her husband, Dennis, purchased a flooring business in 2008. The owner of Main Street Flooring and Interiors in Jackson, Cook sat down with Jackson reporter Brian Blackwell to share why she purchased the business and other details of her life.
Q: Who has influenced you the most?
A: Wilma Wilcoxson, my business teacher in high school. She became a friend and is still a customer even after all this time. It's still Mrs. Wilcoxson to me. It will never be Wilma. Seeing her come in is a pat on the back. When I was in high school I never dreamed I'd be running this business. Another influence are my parents, Orville and Nora Ahrens, who still live outside of Gordonville. They taught me that you have to work for what you want and you do that even when it's hard.
Q: You're a lifelong resident of Jackson. What makes Jackson such an appealing place for you to live?
A: It's home. I haven't lived anywhere else. I can say that heavy traffic is not my favorite thing. So living in St Louis would never be an option for me. I trust my neighbors. And I'm two minutes away from my store if need be. It's comfortable. You're close enough to the big city if you want all those things like shopping and theatrical events and sports. But you're far enough away that you don't have the nonsense that goes along with a big city.
Q: How has it been working in the Jackson business community?
A: It's very diversified. There are small businesses, and places like Rubbermaid, Procter & Gamble and Nordenia that employ lots of people compared to us, with four employees. For the most part we all know that if we work together and help each other, we'll be the better for it. It's that small-town attitude. We're still neighbors and have to see each other in the pews on Sunday morning. Our kids all go to school together.
Q: What it is like owning a business with your husband?
A: In some ways it's really easy. Family life is real strange because he sleeps during the day. Made it easy to go to ballgames. He's not in the store on a regular basis because of his full-time job. If we have to move displays we can coordinate schedules in that respect.
Q: What is the most difficult aspect of being your own boss?
A: Being responsible for everything and knowing that other people may not have a job if I screw up. It's scary, especially when everything crashed after we bought the store. Reducing employees' hours that winter was the hardest thing I ever had to do. When we bought the store in May 2008 before the elections, everything slowed down. The experts said it would get better after the election, but it didn't. It made sense to reduce hours rather than laying people off. For three months they worked three-quarter time. But things got busier, and we haven't had to do it since then. I never dreamed things would get as slow as they got that first winter. But we survived. Someone asked me at a job site how things were going. [I said] that we were lucky. Then we decided it wasn't luck, it was the prayers each night that were answered. If we needed a job, it came through the door. If we needed materials, they went on sale.
Q: What is something most people don't know about you?
A: I'm very shy. If you met me at an event I'd probably be standing out of harm's way rather than in the thick of things.
Q: How is it, being a woman business owner? Have you encountered any challenges?
A: Flooring in general is a "good old boy" thing. It took a long time for the male contractors and vendors to realize that I had learned and knew what I was talking about. It is strange that they now come to me for answers and that I'm supposed to be the one with all the information. Those first couple of years it was strange. I proved that I knew what I was talking about. I learned what I needed to know and kept up on the current techniques and trends and got a thicker skin. However, sometimes it's still aggravating.
Q: What other jobs have you held before Main Street Flooring? How did those help you today?
A: I was the principal secretary at Central High School and assistant manager at Sofro Fabrics in Cape Girardeau that closed in May 1995. When I was at Central, I was single and had a roommate whose boyfriend was there more than I was. So I found a part-time job. Because I had grown up sewing it made perfect sense to take the job at the fabric store. When I worked at the high school, there was a fight and my desk was shoved across the office and that was enough. I was at the fabric store 12 years until it closed. I went to Phillips Carpet and Interiors as a part-time job for two weeks before it became full time.
Q: What prompted you to purchase the business and what changes have you made?
A: I was too lazy to find another job. The store was going to close. We talked to John Thompson at First Midwest Bank, and he had confidence I could continue to run it. He felt things would take care of itself, and it all worked.