Meet Jess Belfry
April 13, 2022
We recently connected with Jess Belfry and have shared our conversation below.
Jess, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Do you take vacations? Why or why not?
Vacations are a chance to reclaim your personal self when life gets overwhelming and hectic. Too often small business owners lose their sense of self because they become so engulfed in what it takes to own and run a business. I used to feel guilty taking a vacation and leaving my employees to carry the heavy load, however what I found is that if I lose my sense of self and succumb to the day to day ‘swamp’ that is so easy to get bogged down in, I am so much less effective in my role. My anxiety was at an all time high in March 2020 when the pandemic shut down our world. I had 3 vacations planned that year, all of which were out of the country. By the end of April, I found myself in a deep depression. I wasn’t cut out for the home-school mom life. I was used to being on the go for 10-12 hours per day, feeding off of the personal interaction with colleagues and clients to fuel my energy. However, being shut off from those in-person connections, my body literally froze up. I developed plantars fasciitis, which if you’ve never had, it’s like a piece of concrete wraps around your foot freezing the muscles and ligaments around your arch, heel, ankle and even your calf making walking the most excruciating pain you could imagine.
By May 2020 my depression had infected our entire household. I experienced the weight gain that will forever go down as the “COVID-20” and I was opening my first bottle of wine sometimes by 11am. I will never forget the frustration and sadness of having to peel my youngest son off the living room floor, wrapped in his comforter begging him to just get through the day.
At the end of May, I had had enough. I had completely lost myself, and in such short time! My husband was back to work at full capacity. My oldest son was back to college-life and weekend work. I embraced the zoom-life for basic human interaction and my work is mostly automated so I packed up my youngest son and we took a road trip. We had no agenda, no itinerary, we just drove based on where the weather looked to be the nicest. 30 days, 28 states and nearly 10,000 miles, we traversed the US and experienced first hand how each state was dealing with the pandemic. I had the opportunity to talk with small business owners in each town we visited learning about the resiliency that lies within all entrepreneurs. We got to experience the National Park system nearly all to ourselves. My son and I began to find ourselves again.
In May 2021, my son and I decided to finish our US Tour, visiting 15 states in 17 days. On this trip, we experienced the new found optimism and grit that small business owners have. The country was no longer operating at a snail’s pace. You could see the sense of pride people had by persevering through such a difficult time. The COVID-20 was shedding and my plantars fasciitis was thankfully a thing of the past.
Jess, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I have been a small business owner for about 10 years. I began in the beauty industry where I owned a small retail shop specializing in naturally-based haircare and skincare. Two years after building that business from the ground up, I was given an opportunity to buy a salon closer to where I ultimately imagined myself, downtown Savannah. The asking price was well into the hundreds of thousands.. I had $5,000 cash and did not want to go into debt so I negotiated down to what I could afford and won the bid. I decided to rebrand, so I changed the name, introduced new services, became the first certified sustainable salon in Savannah, GA and built an incredible team. I had always wanted to own a wedding venue, so I talked to my team about the possibility of a sale so that I could shift gears. My youngest stylist (20 years old) had the hunger and drive that was so similar to me and it was a dream of hers to own a salon. I self financed the sale to her and acted as a mentor to her for the first year. Today, her salon is thriving. The deal of the wedding venue fell through and in the meantime I had an opportunity to buy a storage facility. When my husband asked me if I was interested, I knew that storage facilities were excellent residual income and a good retirement investment, but I had no clue what it entailed. Fast forward 4 years, I have successfully redesigned the business model to be entirely automated and virtual and experience 20%+ growth in revenues annually.
Being an owner/operator of a business that is mostly hands-off has afforded me time to do the work that I am most proud of: Philanthropy.
In 2019, I created an award-winning annual fundraiser called Savannah Carnaval. The event benefits non-profit SD Gunner Fund and has been the leading revenue generator for the organization. In year 1, we raised $10k; in year 2, we raised $23k, and last year we raised $105k! Being able to utilize the skills I have gathered through building brands and running my own businesses and putting it to use for the benefit of others makes my heart so happy.
Knowing that I possess a unique background, and loving the feeling of being of service to others, in 2020, I decided to become a certified mentor for the non-profit organization, SCORE. SCORE is the nation’s largest provider of mentoring services for small business owners, at no cost to the client. In 2021, I was appointed Chapter Chair of the Savannah chapter. I am only the 2nd woman to ever hold that position. I currently lead a team of 54 mentors who help other small business owners start, grow, and sometimes exit their businesses. When a small business owner achieves their first goal that we set, my heart sings. I’m often just as excited if not more excited for those moments.
There is no better feeling than being able to give back to a community that has supported me so deeply.
What do you think helped you build your reputation within your market?
My reputation was built on persevering through challenges. In every success that I have achieved, the most remarkable growth came immediately following a point that I thought was rock bottom. Seven months after buying the storage business, it got broken into and over $150,000 worth of goods were stolen. Clients left in a mass exodus and the local sheriff department turned their eye offering no assistance. Even with good security camera footage, I was left feeling helpless. 11 months later, the business got broken into again and over $250,000 worth of goods were stolen. Again, the local sheriff department offered no assistance, but this time I had experience on my side. I elicited help from our clients and community. Three days after the break-in, a client had notified me that he thought he saw our goods splayed out on an open bed trailer heading south on I-95 towards Florida. I immediately got in my car to find the trailer and in the meantime I called the detective that was assigned to our case. He was at ‘lunch’, so I sped down the interstate calling 911 after each county line telling the dispatcher what was going on. We finally caught up to the trailer and a state trooper called the detective to run the serial numbers of the stolen goods. The detective hadn’t even listed the items as stolen and said he didn’t have the serial numbers. I knew this was a lie, so although they let the trailer with the goods continue on, I didn’t quit. I immediately called a friend who worked in law enforcement at a higher level and filled him in. At that point, I had an idea who had broken into our facility after talking with people in the community who had ties to the suspect.
Two weeks later there was a raid made on the home of the suspects. They were arrested on stolen weapons charges. I had always known that if you needed something to happen, you would have to take ownership of the end goal and just make it happen. This situation really drove this belief home.
Today, we are regarded as one of the premier storage facilities in the area. Our clients have returned and we have a waitlist that will take 3+ years to exhaust. People often tell me ‘Don’t Mess with Jess’, which I get a good chuckle from, but really it’s just me realizing that as much as someone might try to take you or your business down, if you dig in your heels even deeper you’ll not only survive, you’ll thrive.
How’d you meet your business partner?
My business partner is also my life partner. When I met my husband one of the things that I found most appealing was that he owned his own business. He had a partner and they were building homes. Six months into our courtship, the business partnership had gone bad and it left my husband $75,000 in debt and with a house that was partially unfinished and way more than a mortgage than he could afford. We were in our mid-twenties at the time, so $75,000 and a looming mortgage was pretty scary. The advice he was given was to claim bankruptcy and just be thankful that he was so young because in 8-10 years it would be a thing of the past. My husband was fearful that I would leave him because of the failed business partnership and subsequent debt, but he had the forsight to know that bankruptcy would ultimately be the death sentence of our relationship because of the eagerness I possessed to jump into adulthood. It was at this point that we fully committed to a life together. We discovered each other’s strengths and learned how to lean on each other when needed. We eventually finished the house and sold it at a breakeven point. At that same time, my extended family had a house become available. It was more of a shack really, but it was something we could potentially fix up and sell to recover the $75,000 debt that was still hanging over us. After begging and pleading with several banks, we found a lender in my husband’s small hometown that was willing to take a gamble on us. He financed our house. After 2 years, we flipped that house, recovering our full debt and further realizing that we not only make great life partners, but great business partners as well.
Fast forward to today, we have built and sold 2 businesses from the ground up, we purchased 2 existing businesses (of which I own and operate one and he owns and operates the other) and we continue to flip houses. As I write this, we are working on our 20th home purchase which we plan to have as an income property for our kids.
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thebelfrybiscuit
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessica.belfry
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessica-belfry-462b0b17/
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