Pursuing a Passion

. February 29, 2020.
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Findlay’s female entrepreneurs and business leaders are blazing trails, driven by doing what they love!

Neeli Oler

Owner, Dark Horse Restaurant and Olers Bar and Grille

neeliNeeli owns the Dark Horse restaurant that features many “from scratch” family recipes and she and her partner, Chris Keller, recently purchased the Tex-Mex restaurant Olers, which has been family-owned for 40 years. Neeli started working in her family’s restaurant business at age 18 and worked her way up to management and ownership. She double majored in business and marketing at the University of Findlay.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
Working with family for so long, it became a way of life. When I was approached by my Dad to purchase, I couldn’t say no. This is all I knew, and being a small business owner is something that always interested me.

What are the most important traits in an entrepreneur?
A strong work ethic, which is something I definitely learned from working with my Dad. Also, determination and passion, because owning a restaurant in this town is hard due to the overwhelming number of them.

What do you love the most about what you do?
I love the freedom to do what I want and be creative with the food we serve. Having two restaurants that are completely different opens up my creativity in my foody world!

What are your plans for the future?
Olers has the capability to bring new and exciting events to the community. We are planning to bring back the old bar at Olers and create a craft margarita bar.

What do you like best about doing business in Findlay/Hancock County?
I like the small town feel that Findlay still holds no matter how much it is continually growing. The community also pulls together and supports small businesses. I couldn’t be here without the continued support from our regular customers.

Josette Brinkman

Owner, FASTSIGNS of Findlay

JosetteBrinkmanJosette owns FASTSIGNS of Findlay, formerly Signed by Josette, LLC, which provides solutions for business visibility needs, specializing in the signs and graphics industry. She started in the signs industry right out of college, working at various sign shops in Ohio, before launching her own business.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
My father was instrumental in my decision to go out on my own. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and came to me and said: “Kiddo, life is short. I am proof of that. You need to go start that sign shop.” That was all it took!

What are the most important traits in an entrepreneur?
Determination, grit and a whole lot of zeal.

What do you love the most about what you do?
I love every aspect from the number crunching to strategic development, from creating signs to working with customers, and most importantly, determining the future of the business.

What do you like best about doing business in Findlay/Hancock County?
It has a small-town feel with a big-city vibe. There is always something to do!

Patti Rae Brown

Owner, Carriage House Gifts

PattiRaePatti Rae is a seasoned retail entrepreneur who has been serving the Findlay area for more than 50 years with her “love of fashion.” She currently owns and operates Carriage House Gifts that offers a wide selection of women’s apparel and jewelry.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
The opportunity was there.

What are the most important traits in an entrepreneur?
To be successful, you need to be outgoing, hard working and determined.

What do you love the most about what you do?
I love the creativity, the color awareness and the advertising aspects of owning a boutique.

What do you like best about doing business in Findlay/Hancock County?
Findlay is a great community. It’s a large-small town. I just really love it here.

Pat Garlock

President/CEO of AAA Findlay

20200205_090228After a successful 29 year career in banking, Pat Garlock took the helm of AAA Findlay in 2015. AAA Findlay has been part of the Findlay community since 1938 and currently has 16,000 members. In addition to being a world leader in emergency services, AAA offers a wide-range of insurance products, financial services, travel planning (a full service travel agency), travel money cards and abundant discounts and perks.

What inspired you to become a business leader?
I’ve always been very independent and full of dreams. My mom made us believe we could do whatever we set our hearts and minds to. My dad raised my sisters and I to never let our gender be an excuse or stop us from doing any job. He taught us to work on our own cars, plow the fields and mow the lawn. He was way ahead of the women’s movement!

What are the most important traits in a leader?
All leaders are better leaders if they started at the bottom and worked their way up. It’s also important to be organized and on task. And I believe the best leaders and employees are not motivated by money, but by doing the right thing.

What do you love the most about what you do?
AAA is like 5 or 6 businesses wrapped into one. It is hard to get bored around here. I also have an amazing team at AAA, and they make it fun.

What are your future plans?
As long as my passion for the job stays strong, I’ll be here. Also, my family is the most important part of my life, so spending time with them is a priority. Finally, I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa before I am too old. I told my dad back in the 1960s when we lived in Africa that I was going to climb that mountain someday. I want to keep that promise.

What do you like best about doing business in Findlay/Hancock County?
We are big enough to have major corporations and medium-sized businesses here, yet small enough to have a true “hometown spirit.” We have leaders who work hard to make this a great place to live, and you don’t find that everywhere.

Shenna Gonzalez

Business Owner, Shimmery Belle Boutique

shenna-(1)Shenna is an entrepreneur who launched a women’s clothing boutique with locations in downtown Findlay and Levis Commons, Perrysburg. She prides herself on offering “unique clothing and accessories at a price point everyone will love.” Previously she worked in the recruitment industry for ADP for 12 years developing and managing technology for branding.

What inspired you to start your own business?
It was a lifelong dream of mine to have my own storefront. Through the years, I tossed around many ideas, but finally settled on a clothing boutique. When I travel, my favorite thing to do is visit little boutiques.

What are the most important traits in an entrepreneur?
You have to be able to wear many hats. From finances to inventory management to social media, I often do it all! Also, you have to be open to change and be fluid. If something isn’t working, throw it out the window and go back to the drawing board.

What do you love the most about what you do?
Building relationships and serving the amazing women in this community. We have the ability to touch so many people, and that’s been a bright spot in my business. I also love being able to give back. So many people have supported us, so when we have the funds to do it, we try to make an impact by giving back.

What are your plans for the future?
I’m gearing up for 2020 and working on my branding and social media strategy. I foresee a continued focus on the brick and mortar stores while gearing up for an increase in online sales.

What do you like best about doing business in Findlay/Hancock County?
There has been so much pride and work put into downtown Findlay and I couldn’t be more honored to have a business right in the heart of it. We have a lot of resources and support, and the downtown business owners are always willing to work together. There’s a true sense of community.

Nikki Gillig

Business Owner, Gillig Winery

20200124_170743Nikki owns and operates Gillig Winery, a family-owned winery offering its own handcrafted wines produced and bottled on site. The winery also offers a bistro selection of food to enjoy. Before opening the winery, Nikki worked as a pharmacist.

What inspired you to start your own business?
My husband, Trevor, and I have always had an “entrepreneurial spirit” and we wanted to start a business for a number of years. My passion for wine and us both wanting to produce and sell a product we could be proud of, is what prompted us to open Gillig Winery.

What are the most important traits in an entrepreneur?
Being dedicated, determined, adaptable and resilient.

What do you love the most about what you do?
What I love and what makes me know I am where I’m supposed to be is when one of our guests compliments me on the business we’ve built and lets me know that they are happy we are here. I love that we’ve created a place for people to come and enjoy a relaxing atmosphere, wine, food and each other.

What are your plans for the future?
We have plans to continue to offer excellent customer service, wine and food. We love offering fun events such as wine and food pairings with other local businesses, craft nights and live music. We do have plans to enhance our outdoor area, expand our event space, and potentially offer more catering services.

What do you like best about doing business in Findlay/Hancock County?
The people. Our community has been very supportive of our business. I often tell people that we are only open and doing well because of the support and backing from our community. We wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else!

Pam Hamlin

Director, Millstream Career Center
Business Owner, Trends! on Main

IMG_1313Pam heads the Millstream Career Center that serves high school students from four school districts and provides them with 16 career field options. She’s worked in education since 1994. She also owns Trends! on Main, a local boutique that opened in 2007 and sells jewelry, handbags, scarfs, clothing and formal wear. She and her staff shop all over the country to find the latest fashions to bring back to northwest Ohio.

What inspired you to become an education leader and to start your own business?
I’ve always loved education as my mother worked as a teacher/tutor at St. Michael School where she founded both their Kindergarten readiness and kindergarten programs. She inspired me to work hard and be dedicated to the students in our community. In addition, I’ve always loved retail too, but as a mother of four and educator, nights and weekends were difficult. By owning my own store, I can be the buyer and hire young ladies to work the hours that are not conducive to my schedule. Although it is hard work and sometimes I am a bit overscheduled, I am proud to be a business owner.

What are the most important traits in an entrepreneur/leader?
You have to be organized and willing to do what it takes to get the job done. You have to relinquish control and allow others to share in your ideas. Many times ideas come from those around me and I have to trust them and support them. I see myself more as a guide and facilitator vs. a “boss.” I’m blessed by those I get to share my hopes and dreams with.

What do you love the most about what you do?
Every day is different. I am surrounded by good people who want to work hard to better those around them. It doesn’t get any better than that!

What are your plans for the future?
I plan to retire in 12 years from education at the age of 60 and see where life takes me. My kids and their families will fill my time. On to the next chapter …

What do you like best about doing business in Findlay/Hancock County?
The people–the customers and the friendship I have built with so many people. We love our downtown!