Women in Business Q&A: Karralea List, Christmas Decor, The Decor Group

After years and years working for a hotel casino firm, Karralea List decided it was time to make a change and get back control of her life. After pondering her next career move while cutting the lawn, it came to her - a lawn care business. Having no experience in the lawn care industry, Karralea knew she would need to roll up her sleeves and get down to business if this was going to be successful. As the sole owner, she recruited her husband as her first employee. Two years after launching the lawn care business, the duo added on the Christmas Decor franchise and business boomed. They were able to retain employees and build a more extensive customer base serving a variety of needs. Having been married for 16 years, the best friends and partners in crime are having a ball seeing year-over-year growth, quickly approaching their one million in sales mark.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was the only female child in a house with four children. I learned very early if I did not stand tall with my brothers that I was going to be walked over. I became a very strong willed and determined person who learned to stand her own ground at a young age. Developing those attributes early on prepared me to become a leader later in life for running my own company. I harness my determination towards designing the best and most innovative holiday displays for my clients.

How did your previous employment experience aid your position at Christmas Decor?
In my role as a manager in the hotel/casino industry, I learned to manage people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. I helped develop them into integral parts of the organization. I also learned management philosophies and application techniques in how to manage my business and plan for the future, always looking forward.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
The key to maintaining a work/life balance when you own your own business is to hire and train highly qualified team members who care about our organization as much as you do. When one surrounds themselves with a dependable team, you have the ability to work "on" your business rather than "in" it dealing with the day-to-day activities. Also, I am very fortunate to be able to have my husband work along my side which enables us to spend more time together and focus our efforts on one common career goal rather than individual careers.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Christmas Decor?
By far the highlight of my career is that people think of me when they think of holiday lighting and display. It is not unusual to hear someone call me the "Christmas Light Lady." It is a great feeling knowing that I am part of bringing joy to many people's lives during the most special time of year. As in any industry, the biggest challenge is keeping up with technology and changing trends. We take this very seriously and spend quite a large amount of resources on researching and training with the latest technologies so we can bring the best if not biggest displays to the area.

What has been the secret to your business success at Christmas Decor?
The secret to my success has been treating my customers as I would want to be treated. We provide a quality product, but more importantly, we provide quality installation and maintenance. We appreciate our customers inviting us into their homes or businesses during holiday season and we want to provide them with best customer experience they have ever received. We want each customer to feel like they have received the "Ritz Carlton" treatment.

What advice can you offer women wanting to pursue business ownership?
Owning your own business as a woman is very rewarding but a lot of hard work and long hours. Pursue an industry which you are passionate and are willing to make part of your life. You need to enjoy what you are doing or your business will not be successful. The words "no" and "can't" cannot exist in your vocabulary. You need to be flexible and think outside the box and remember the utmost most important people are your clients. Treat them right because without them, you would not exist. Surround yourself with a support system such as women's business groups that are part of chambers and other professional organizations who you can go to for advice. Pursue Women and Small Business Enterprise Certifications both at the state and national levels.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Issues for women in the workplace are not as relevant as they were a number of years ago. There will be issues in each different industry, but if you are determined, you will easily maneuver around those issues. All obstacles can be overcome with determination and an attitude that anything can be accomplished; it is just a matter of how it will be accomplished.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Becoming active in my local chamber women's initiative group has been one of the best investments I have ever made. I have met many strong and successful women who encourage me to stay focused and driven.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many leaders who I admire that it is hard to narrow it down to just a few. I admire those who not only are successful in their business but give back to their communities. Small businesses would not exist without the support of their local communities.

What are your hopes for the future of Christmas Decor?
The future for Christmas Decor as a part of The Decor Group of Northern KY will be to be the Region's Premier interior and exterior holiday decorator. Our goal is to have our name be synonymous with the holiday season. When someone thinks holiday décor, they think of us. Our highest compliment would be to have the general public reputation of being a company who sincerely cares about our customers. All of our customers become part of our family and we treat them as family doing what we can to make their holidays the best they can be.