When Dana Parker-Gilbert entered college, she told her parents that she wanted to pursue her passion to become an interior designer.
They promptly said, “You can do design on the side, but you need a corporate job to make it on your own.”
Parker-Gilbert attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, graduating in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in business. While at UA Little Rock, she worked with the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC), learning valuable skills that she would later put to use when she started her own business in 2019.
“Working for the ASBTDC was like getting a master’s degree in business. You gain such admiration for business owners,” she said. “Most people respect them, but you cannot truly appreciate what it takes to start a business until you are in that seat yourself. A start up business owner has to sell, produce, service, bill, collect, and make it work. It’s truly the hardest thing I have ever done. It makes my previous corporate jobs feel like a vacation.”
Parker-Gilbert spent 30 years climbing the corporate ladder with successful positions at AT&T and Grainger Industrial Supply, while she poured her heart and passion for design into a successful side business called Simply Charming Interiors.
“The whole time I was praying that God would let me find a full-time opportunity to use my true gift and passion,” she said. “In 2019, I was remodeling a house in Quapaw and needed a shutter source as the man I used had passed away unexpectedly. Someone suggested I contact Joyce Holt with Window Works. I met her and hired her to help me complete that job. In conversations, Joyce mentioned that she was looking for the right person to take over the 50-year-old business she had built. Dana’s mother-in-law happened to overhear and said, ‘Joyce, Dana is your girl!’ From there, things moved very quickly.”
Parker-Gilbert first met Holt on a Thursday. By the following Monday, she’d made the decision to put in her two weeks’ notice, cash out her retirement, and buy Holt’s business – creating Simply Charming Window Works & Design. SInce then, she has moved the business to North Little Rock and has expanded the high-quality window treatment business into a full-service design center capable of handling design needs for the entire home.
“Entrepreneurship is truly the American dream,” Parker-Gilbert said. “I originally thought this business was about me realizing my personal dream and using the gift God had given me all these years. However, I quickly realized that it’s not just about me and making beautiful spaces and homes for others. It’s all for this ‘family I’ve built’ who work with me – supporting their livelihoods and allowing them to utilize their gifts as well. As a business owner, the most important thing you can do is to surround yourself with the strongest team you can – who support each other and help build that family. It’s your job to make things happy for them. If you take care of that team, they become a family and they’ll take care of you.”
As happy as she was to finally fulfill her long held dream, Parker-Gilbert faced incredible odds soon after she started. The COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world just a few months later, which brought many small businesses to a grinding halt and shut down established businesses as well. Parker-Gilbert reached out to Nicolas Mayerhoeffer, a business consultant at ASBTDC who had previously helped her prepare for the purchase of her business.
“I believe my faith in me stepping out is what really propelled this business,” she said. “All odds were against anybody making it at that time. Nicolas helped me apply for and get the PPP loans and some grants that I would qualify for to carry us through that time.”
When Parker-Gilbert merged the businesses – Simply Charming Window Works & Design, she had one full-time and one part-time seamstress as employees. Over the past four years, Simply Charming Window Works and Design has grown to 12 employees and expanded from residential to corporate and commercial clients as well.
One of Parker-Gilbert’s associates, Joy Johnson Floyd, business development manager, recently joined the team after experiencing first hand what a great person and designer Parker-Gilbert is. Johnson Floyd moved to Little Rock from Dallas right about the time Parker-Gilbert was starting her business. The pair met when Johnson Floyd was seeking a local creative design solution for a unique challenge with windows in a custom home she was working on in Scott, Arkansas. They kept in touch through the past few years and recently decided to join forces.
“I have worked with designers from all over the country, and I would put the quality of her work up against any other designer I’ve ever worked with,” she said. “In addition, the attention to detail and craftsmanship of her work and the ladies in her workroom is not only impeccable, it’s highly creative. Dana is also one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. She treats her clients like I treat mine – building lifelong relationships. She takes the time to truly listen and see what a client is trying to achieve and works with existing items they love while introducing new things to realize that vision. She advises, but doesn’t push them to a particular aesthetic or design. Therefore, every home and project is not only impeccable and has her special touch – but they all look different. The majority of her business is repeat clients and referrals. Many former corporate clients from AT&T and Grainger are now her design clients. Her business is truly the small business success model.”
Parker-Gilbert advises other women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs to:
“Be tenacious. Be strong. Know what you want. Don’t let anything stop you. Women do have support out there and always be willing to help others. Remember the ASBTDC is there to help you. Surround yourself with people who care. There is no substitute for relationships. There’s no technology, no gadget, or no product that can be as successful as it’s meant to be, without an underlying understanding of human nature, respect, and relationships. And to quote Maya Angelou, ‘I’ve learned that people might forget what you say, people might forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’”