While some people know from their first waking moment that they’re going to be entrepreneurs, others probably didn’t give it a thought until destiny gave them a push.
Kim Heathcott is one such late bloomer. She had a career in finance, living in Texas for 10 years and then moving back to Memphis, her hometown, still in the banking trade. She was contemplating retiring and staying home with her children, but her husband, Larry, told her one day, “I think you could start a company.”
Heathcott told him she’d think about it. “I tell people I’m a reluctant entrepreneur,” she says, “because that was not a dream of mine in high school.” But she did her due diligence and decided to give it a whirl.
“My husband had a little bit of exposure in the security business,” she says, “and when I looked at it, I saw that Memphis is a great security town. From the logistics distribution industry that’s here, there were market dynamics that I thought were appealing. There were opportunities and it was not a business that a lot of new entrants had come in. So I thought maybe we could come in there.”
Even if the conditions were favorable, Heathcott knew she still needed to call on mentors and advisors, and where better to look than the Society of Entrepreneurs? “About four or five months into my business, I joined one of the Insight Groups and learned so much from the wisdom of some of the members of the Society,” she says. “I didn’t know what I was doing, but a couple of their ideas stuck with me. Memphis is wonderful from a resource standpoint, and I’ve gotten a lot of help from this entrepreneurial ecosystem that’s out there.”
She cites Mike Bruns of Comtrak Logistics as one influence, “because he invested so much in his people, and he had somewhat of a similar type of business model,” she says. “Even after I left the Insights Group I’d call him and ask for advice. He was very people-driven, employee-driven, and that made a difference in his company and really resonated with me right from the beginning.”
Heathcott says the most important advice, also from an SOE member, came when Clarion was still very small, with three customers and a handful of employees. “We sat around the dining table with Rudi Scheidt and he said something that has stuck with me. He said, ‘When you’ve grown and you’re 10 or 15 times as big, the key is to keep the quality of your customer service as excellent as it is now, with these customers and employees.’ Boy, was that great advice. I’m still working on that one.”
She’s been attentive to her business while also becoming involved in helping other women entrepreneurs. In 2013, Heathcott was named president of the Memphis Chapter of the National Association of Woman Business Owners and has devised programs to help businesswomen and increase the local chapter’s membership. The national organization named her Business Owner of the Year 2017, and the magazine Inc. recognized Clarion in its list of 5,000 fastest-growing businesses for three consecutive years.
Heathcott has come to realize a few truths that she shares with other entrepreneurs. “I’m what you would call a recovering perfectionist,” she says. “You’re just not going to know all the answers. You’ll make decisions that are good and bad and sometimes you get so clutched up over whether it’s the right thing to do — and it may not be. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You know you’ll have failures in addition to success and make the best decisions you can, learn from them, and keep moving forward.”
Inside Memphis Business: How do you get the best employees?
Kim Heathcott: Building relationships, first of all. It takes the right person to come in and come join a startup when you don’t have the experience. We brought in really great people that were really sold on the cause. My management team, my employees, and I have all grown together.
IMB: You’ve said you talk the talk and walk the walk. What does that mean?
KH: One of the first things I did was to get licensed as a guard because I really wanted to go through the whole process and learning. To be a registered agent in the state of Tennessee, I had all these textbooks and had to pass an exam. Then I wanted to be the scheduler, I wanted to be the operations manager. I’ve hired and unfortunately I’ve fired. I have answered phones, saved money, been the janitor and the bookkeeper. Until I get hands-on, it’s hard for me to really understand it.
IMB: How do you sell a client?
KH: The key is showing your knowledge and your passion and delivering on your product. Everybody’s website says the same thing, and everybody’s promotion says you can all do the same things. So, what really is it that makes you separate? A lot of it is that personal passion to really drive excellence at each client, and they’re all very different.
IMB: As head of a security firm, you must lead an exciting life.
KH: I’m a conservative, kind of boring type of person. I like to read and play the piano and garden. At one time in my life, I was a scuba diver who went down 100 feet into caves and came up on a tiger shark and didn’t run for my life. I’ll stick to my gardening and my reading from now on.