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Work Genes

Work Genes

by Sue Strachan

The job of being a mother is for a lifetime, and for some, it’s not only personal, it’s business.

In honor of Mother’s Day (May 10), Inside New Orleans takes a look at three successful mom and children partnerships and how they thrive and succeed: Penny D. Francis and Casi Francis St. Julian of Eclectic Home; Reagan Charleston Thomas and Lauren Tucker of Reagan Charleston Jewelry; and Ginger Rushing and Erik Germany of Gulf Coast Lanterns.

Unifying the mom entrepreneurs is the desire to offer a unique service, while creating a lasting legacy for their children and grandchildren to carry on. “Creating experiences and constantly looking to provide unique and custom products not found anywhere else is key to longevity,” says Penny D. Francis, founder and owner of Eclectic Home.

 

Penny D. Francis and Casi Francis St. Julian

Penny D. Francis had problems finding finishing touches that she liked for her design projects, so in 2000 she took matters into her own hands, opening Eclectic Home. The store was, and still is, located on Oak Street before it experienced its post-Katrina blossoming, taking a risk that interior designers, architects, and design aficionados would make their way to her store.

And they did. Through the years, the store expanded and is now 7,000 square-feet of retail space. She runs it with her daughter, Casi St. Julian, who joined in 2012, after receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts in interior design from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

In addition to the store, the duo has a design consulting firm for residential and commercial projects throughout the U.S., and have launched exclusive product lines for wall coverings and upholstery, available to retail and design customers, including: the After Dark wallpaper series, designed by St. Julian, which debuted spring 2019 and is now represented around the country; EH Vintage, a collection of vintage furnishings and accessories from around the globe; and launching this spring, the upholstery line, EH Custom.

Casi Francis St. Julian and Penny Francis. (photo: Hannah Pickle)

What are the pluses – and minuses – of working together? 

Penny: Working with family certainly has it challenges. I would say that the positive certainly outweigh the negative aspects. The early years we were struggling with identifying our roles and how to run a business as professionals, with roles and responsibilities to the business and not be mom and daughter. Our work is all consuming and part of being an entrepreneur. It is necessary for me to turn work off and to continue be a mom to Casi. Finding a balance between work and family is a constant struggle. I don’t try for perfection. Some days and weeks are better than others with juggling the responsibility of both, and I am ok with that. Having a legacy is important and I am so very fortunate that Casi and I can work and grow together. My other daughter, Camryn, is a freshman at SCAD, studying architecture.  She’s incredibly talented and to one day have her join us would be just perfect. Having both the girls build and sustain the business will be my greatest success as a mom and entrepreneur.

Casi: Being the only child for 13 years, you can imagine the bond between my mother and myself. I am naturally very emotional, yet I always wanted to impress her and my dad (Octave J. Francis III). If there are issues at work or if things don’t go as planned, I never want to “disappoint” her. That word “disappoint” is one that hurts me to the core! I take so much pride in what I do and create, so it’s sometimes hard to not take things personally which is something we both are still working on. The minus of us working together is us separating work from family. Sometimes you have to learn how to turn it off, grab a drink, and not talk about installations of any sort! The plus side is I get to work with someone that I love more than anything. If I worked with anyone else, I know my work ethic wouldn’t be where it is now, and I wouldn’t have been exposed to the things that most designers dream of. We are very blessed, and every year gets better. Crazier, but better.

 

What are your earliest memories of the business?

Casi: Our first location on Oak Street was a much smaller showroom with more accents and accessories. We didn’t carry as much furniture as we do now, so it is cool to see how we’ve evolved. I loved watching my mom meet with clients and customers during summer, as well as sifting through new fabric books and catalogues to see what the latest trends were and placing new inventory, styling it around the showroom. I am still extremely particular about the showroom and how it’s styled. Another defining moment was when my mom took me to my first market at about 15 years old. I knew design or retail was something I could do. Now I’m working beside her doing both! Who knew?!

 

What do you bring to the business?

Casi: I think I bring a more playful approach to design. I have an eye for the more unexpected which balances out with my Mom’s aesthetic a lot. I love that she gives me creative independence 90 percent of the time, which allows me to express myself while still reflecting what the clients want. I always try to come up with ideas to draw in the younger buyer or design client.

 

What is the quality of your mom you love the most?

I love that my mom is the most hardworking person I know. She’s selfless and determined to always make everyone happy. It’s mind-boggling how she tends to get as much done as she does or wants to accomplish and yet, gets it all done. I love that she doesn’t take herself too seriously and laughs at herself 90 percent of the time. Not to mention, she’s gorgeous and has the best style. The woman does not age!

Reagan Charleston Thomas and Lauren Tucker. (photo: Reina Tucker)

Reagan Charleston Thomas and Lauren Tucker

Reagan Charleston is a mix of brains and creativity: not only is she a real estate attorney at Champion Title, where she works with her husband, Reece Thomas, in 2013, she founded Reagan Charleston Jewelry, which offers handcrafted sterling-silver jewelry that is inspired by heritage and architecture. Her mom, Lauren Tucker, and sister, Reina Tucker, who is metalsmith and runs the store, work with Reagan, who is also planning to expand into housewares and clothing. Reagan also made a name for herself appearing on two seasons of Southern Charm New Orleans. No word on season three just yet.

 

What are the pluses – and minuses – of working together? 

Reagan: Many people have to make time for their family because work is so demanding. But, because work is demanding, I have been able to spend more quality time with my mom.

It’s a beautiful thing to get to work alongside of my mom. Now that I have my daughter, it’s three generations working together in my jewelry studio. And, that’s just how I was raised, watching my mother and grandmother craft copper sculptures and forge metal in their studios.

 

What are your earliest memories of working with your mother?

Reagan: Watching her cut giant swaths of copper that my grandfather would solder, which my grandmother, grandfather, and mother would then shape and paint to create large sculptures and fountains. I still remember the sparks flying from their torches as they shaped and soldered their pieces.  It was such a creative environment. My earliest “babysitters” were the artists working under their tutelage in their art studios, who would practice their skills by making me tiny treasures and gifts.

 

What is your first memory of Reagan’s business?

Lauren: When Reagan decided to expand her jewelry business and asked me to be a part of her operation, I remember marveling at how things amazingly had come full circle in my own life.

I grew up working with my parents in our family art business, Coghlan Gallery in the French Quarter, but had eventually focused more on raising my family.

Now with an empty nest, Reagan’s jewelry business was a fabulous opportunity to get back into a creative business, reminiscent of our family roots.

 

What do you bring to the business?

Lauren: With a background in visual art, I have always worked in some type of creative capacity. Where I first worked with large-scale metalworks, I recently undertook a study in jewelry metalsmithing to hone my skills and learn new techniques that are used in the execution of Reagan’s original designs.

Reagan: I bring a fresh perspective. I didn’t just want to create art, I wanted to create wearable art inspired by the very things that inspired the two generations before me—nature and architecture.

 

What is the quality in your child that you admire the most?

Lauren: Reagan is so accomplished that she has too many admirable qualities to list!

There are her obvious successes with her education and law degree, her many talents that have afforded her opportunities in business and media, but as her mom, I would say that her dedication to her family and precious daughter are most paramount.

I treasure the time that she, Reina and I spend working in both the store and studio. Now having my granddaughter Reecie with us, makes work a joyous occupation!

 

What is the quality in your mom that you admire the most?

Reagan: As a person, my mom is the most patient and lovely woman in the entire world. Her kindness and positive outlook are inspiring. My mom supports our every endeavor and always offers advice and support.

As an artist, my mom can pick up a new trade or skill so easily and effortlessly. I wish I had that finesse.

Erik Germany, Ginger Rushing and Cory Germany  (photo: Trent Spann)

Ginger Rushing, Erik Germany and Cory Germany 

Ginger Rushing has been in the lighting business for 40 years. Starting as part-time employee at a local lighting company, she worked her way up to a national company, then moving to Lighting Inc. before striking out on her own in 2007 with Gulf Coast Lanterns.

Her son, Erik Germany, who owns Pro Pool and Spa Services, suggested that she open a showroom, and in 2017, he joined her as a partner when they opened it on N. Columbia Street in Covington. The store showcases and sells gas and electric outdoor copper lanterns also available online at gulfcoastlanterns.com and gascopperlanterns.com. Ginger’s grandson, Cory Germany, also works in the showroom processing online orders.

But the family always helps each other out: “We do some of everything,” says Ginger.

 

What are the pluses – and minuses – of working together?

Ginger: I know I can count on them [Erik and Cory] to show our customers the same respect and consideration that I always have, which is a key element to our success: Always treat the customer the same way you would want to be treated.

 

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What is your first memory of your business?

Ginger: Learning how to build a business online, working 18 hours a day and wondering if I had lost my mind.

Getting up every day and telling myself, ‘Yes I can do this!’

 

What is your first memory working at the business?

Erik: Meeting Ginger (mom) at 401 N Columbia St. to see if we liked the space for our new showroom. We loved it so we wrote the realtor a deposit check on the spot. It’s real now.

 

What do you bring to the business?

Ginger: I began working part-time with lighting in 1980 for a local lighting showroom. That job lasted for ten years and helped propel me into a position with a national company that allowed me to support my son and myself when I became a widow.

So, I would have to say that my experience is what I bring to the table and my respect for my customers. Also, very important to my success are long relationships with my vendors, primarily The Coppersmith. Relationships and trust are everything in this business.

The old saying is that in the lighting business we only get an opportunity to sell to the end user once every seven years, so I learned early on that great customer relations is everything, both with my own customers and with my vendors.

Even though we do about 80 percent of our business online, we offer those customers the same one-on-one service that we share with our showroom customers.

 

What do you bring to the table to the business?

Erik: An overall positive attitude, determination to succeed, and an understanding of customer service is the key to acquiring and maintaining long-lasting business relationships.

 

What is the quality in your son that you admire the most?

Ginger: I would have to say loyalty, work ethic and dedication to be the best husband and father he can possibly be. With three small active girls at home, his life is filled to overflowing. Erik and his wife support each other in their careers, and he likes and respects women (and hope I can take some credit for that).

It’s that quality that makes it easier for me, as his mom, to pass on what I’ve learned in these 40 years. He also has a very good eye for detail, which helps keep our paperwork straight!

 

What is the quality in your mom that you admire the most?

Erik: There are many and in regard to the business, it is her perseverance. The fact that she built websites from the ground up, manages them daily, and is always working on new strategies for growing.

I had no idea what all was involved, and I’m impressed daily with her knowledge of lighting and lanterns.

 

(Note: Answers have been edited from original interviews.)

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