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Factory Worker Overcomes Challenges on Road to Business Ownership

January 16, 2013 - If success is the result of overcoming obstacles, then obstacles themselves are an important part of achieving goals.

It might have been hard to convince Chiquitha Williams of this, however, as she watched her third car in as many months—the first two repossessed and wrecked—catch fire in the parking lot of Southeastern Technical College, leading to her dismissal from the school.

The owner of the Almost Paradise salon in Glenwood doesn’t begrudge the school that decision, understanding the absences caused by her transportation issues were “understood but unexcused,” and regards it as one of the many challenges necessary to get to where she is now.

In 1999, after five years of swollen hands from factory work assembling lawnmowers, Williams, then living in McRae, decided to pursue her passion and enrolled in the Cosmetology program at Southeastern Technical Institute in Vidalia.

“It was a struggle to complete the program because my husband and I had very little money and we were still newlyweds with a new family,” said Williams. “So, we were trying to get our bills to the point where I would be able to quit work and go to school.”

As it happened, her husband was able to get a better paying job, Williams was able to quit at the factory, and financial aid helped her to get started in Vidalia. But after three quarters of work, complications had piled up and things finally came to head with a burning car in a parking lot.

“I was distraught, but still determined,” said Williams. “I did not want to wait six months for the course to start over so I could get back in where I left off, so I left from the school on that same day with tears in my eyes and drove to Dublin to see if I could finish up at a private school.”

Williams was forced to borrow money to attend the private school, but finished the courses in two months and passed the state licensure exam on her first attempt, receiving her license on May 2001. Obstacles still lay ahead of Williams, however.

Her first salon job came with a difficult relationship with the owner. After six months, Williams left the business and, in 2002, started her own in McRae. But a year later, family issues arose and Williams had to move back to her hometown of Glenwood.

“I've wanted to quit so many times,” said Williams. “Each moment that I feel that feeling of defeat, I am encouraged by someone telling me what a good job I'm doing.”

There is little exaggeration there. After moving to Glenwood and at the point of searching for a new career, Williams awoke one morning to find a line of cars outside her door. Her former clients had been looking for her. This is where Almost Paradise, and Williams’s success, began in earnest.

Williams set up shop and began promoting her business. In 2005, Williams moved her business to a larger location and began carefully charting out her business plan after a fortuitous trip to Atlanta.

“I was at a hair show, and I walked past one of the classes offered and the title of that class was, ‘Are You Doing Business or Are You Just Doing Hair?’” said Williams. “That gave me a different outlook on things from that moment.”

Using what she had learned in her Southeastern Tech classes, Williams plotted out several “phases” for her business, identifying the milestones she wanted to reach in years to come. This brought things into sharper focus for Williams, and she pursued her goals with renewed drive.

Williams earned a Cosmetology Instructor license from Macon’s American Professional Institute in January 2008. In summer 2009, she returned to Southeastern Tech to enroll in the school’s Marketing program. During this term, she was inducted into the National Technical Honor Society, became a member of the school’s Student Council, and graduated in January 2011.

It’s been nearly a year since Williams moved Almost Paradise—now in “phase 3”—to an even larger location and expanded it to a full-service salon, and now she is scouting for promising prospects for her growing business.

Williams is a long way from a bad day in STC’s parking lot, but all her challenges still serve her today. They have done nothing to slow her stride, and if anything, they drive her to do more.

“I believe that if you are destined to accomplish a goal, then it does not matter what negative force comes in your path or tries to hinder you,” said Williams. “If you can press through it, then you will achieve it. I was just trying to accomplish the things that were put on my heart to do. I have accomplished all this and yet feel like I’m only half way there.”

Photo: Chiquitha Williams (right) supervises a student worker at her salon, Almost Paradise, in Glenwood.