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PROFILE: Colleen Loveless on entrepreneurship, public speaking


Colleen Loveless

Contributing Writer

Colleen Loveless thinks she is not much of a public speaker. She does say she can tell her and her company’s story, however. And when she does it there are moments of laughter and moments of tears.
If you ask the groups who she has spoken to in the last few months, they will tell you the stories make her a public speaker, and the emotions just reinforce the stories she relates.
Being the CEO of Love-Less Ash/Dustless Technologies, headquartered in Price, she uses stories to guide other women in their business careers and in their lives. That’s because she has lived through a business start up and the ups and downs herself, both in her life and in the business.
Love-Less Ash Company was founded in July 1988. Mike Loveless invented the original Ash Vacuum in 1983 because Colleen had had it with the dust that was associated with their wood stove.
The original ash vacuum was used for five years in their home while friends and family wanted one just like it. Finally, they ventured into the business of manufacturing ash vacuums for resale and did it in a one-car garage. Mike handled all research and development while Colleen handled the business end of things. Mike received his first patent in 1989, his second in 1993, his third in 1997 and his 4th in 1999.
Over the ensuing years many versions of vacuums and other products have been developed and sold to customers around the world. The growth of the company has been based on doing the right thing, being fair to customers and sacrifice. This is the background that Colleen relates to others when she speaks about her company.
The speaking engagements all began when a friend she had known for a long time asked her to speak at a women’s conference in Roosevelt.
“I went to Roosevelt and Dorothy Carter and I went dancing,” said Colleen. “She works for the Duchesne Chamber of Commerce. She called me up a day or two later and said they were having a women’s conference. She said she wanted me to speak at it.”
Colleen hesitated but Dorothy was persistent and Colleen finally said she would. At that point she was scheduled to speak about a month and a half in advance. But something else happened even before that speaking engagement took place.
“I got a call from the World Trade Center in Salt Lake,” she says. “They were putting on a women’s conference in Salt Lake and they wanted me to be on a panel. I agreed to do it. On that panel with me was a woman from Logan who makes sugarless jam and had been only in business seven years. Her international business is actually bigger than her U.S. business. There were also three people on the panel that were there to tell people how to do international business.”
She was surprised because she felt she didn’t have much to say. That was until the questions for the panel started coming in. Then she realized that she could answer a lot of what the audience was asking.
“Then I went to Roosevelt to do that Chamber conference,” she explained. “I spoke about challenges, marketing and being an entrepreneur. I basically gave the company history, and so they got a lot of amusing stories from me. I’ve been in business for 29 years and I have learned a little bit. As I get older I realize how much I have learned.”
She said the Roosevelt experience was one where she realized what she could do. Before she spoke she sat through the program listening to a couple of panels, one with many different business owners on, and another on resources for business.
“I sat there and as I listened I would underline the things that I had planned for my talk and started taking notes realizing that I had stories to tell them that I hadn’t thought of when I was putting it together,” she said.
“A lady was sitting next to her and she said to her “Oh I see you make your talks on the fly too.” She said that by doing that she was able to reinforce what the audience had heard from the others at the conference. She also asked some questions of the audience and one of those was “How many of you work with your spouse?”
“There were quite a few hands raised. I wondered; Does that have something to do with rural Utah?” she questioned.
Recently the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce asked some of the rural Chambers to do a short women’s conference. They asked Carbon’s Chamber to find a speaker and Loveless was asked to speak. She realized she could adapt her talk from Roosevelt and what she learned from the Salt Lake experience to use at that venue which took place on May 20.
During her presentation her emotions range greatly about the business and her husband Mike, who she started the firm with. Mike died in a plane crash in Colorado on his way back to Utah from conducting some business in 2008. Obviously the loss and consequent struggles play into her stories and of course her delivery of the message she tries to give to others.
“What I told the women in Roosevelt was that he was the inspiration for the business,” she said. “He was the inventor, he was the one that pushed it, but he couldn’t do it alone. He was generous and he would have given everything away and we would have gone out of business. I was the business person. My job was to be the naysayer because Mike came up with all these ideas and I had to repeat ‘No that won’t work’ a number of times. But I also I had to make sure he had money to buy what he needed. Then he would go make it.”

Not for everyone

She said that one of the things she has learned is that not all couples can make a business successful together.
“We were in a unique situation,” she said. “We each had our own areas. There were times when we would mix and the boxing gloves would go on. That was usually about pricing. I wanted to make a buck.”
She said that a win is a win, but sometimes it is hard to admit when it wasn’t what you thought it should be.
“One of the fondest things I remember about Mike is that he had all these ideas and when something finally worked I would tell him ‘I just hate it when you’re right,’” she said.
She also talked about the sacrifices one has to make to get a business going and keep it going.
“I didn’t get a paycheck for 10 years,” she said. “Mike was a diesel mechanic and we lived on half his wage and we invested the other half in the business. I also had to go to the college and take courses concerning the use of computers. I had no experience in that and I had to learn it all for the business. It’s taken years and most people won’t make those kinds of sacrifices. We asked ourselves many times over the years if it was worth the time and effort we were putting into it.”
She says it definitely was. But sometimes even the good news is daunting.
“Our company was one of the 100 fastest growing companies in Utah three years in a row,” she said. “Our growth was 1500 percent and when you have that kind of growth you don’t have money. There are times in your business when you are working and working and working and then something comes through and you go ‘Yay!’ Then suddenly you say ‘Oh no’ because of what you will have to do to make that new business you were awarded a success.”
She also tells her audiences that everyone needs to find someone to talk to, someone who can mentor you along the way. Sometimes it is simple things that new business owners don’t understand because every business has it’s own language. There was a lot to learn.
“Mike and I were convinced by one of his boyhood friends who was in business that we needed to go to a trade show early on,” she said. “So we went and his friend went with us to talk to potential customers. His friend was talking to one man and the guy asked him if we sold ‘direct or to dealers’. When they were done talking Mike turned to his friend and said ‘We don’t do drugs. We don’t sell to dealers.’”

Table talk

It has always been hard to separate business from home life as well. But often that is not so bad she says.
“Our dinner table was the constant talk of business,” she related. “Our children heard all the stories. My daughter told me a couple of years ago that one of the things she misses the most is that conversation we used to have around the dinner table.”
For Colleen time also marches on with new challenges and ideas, and a second generation now working with her on the business.
“Spencer (her son who works with the company) looks at things so much differently than I do. I sometimes think ‘I’m the mom. He should do what I say.’ I may disagree with him at times, but I have to think about what happens if he is right.”
She has learned that relaying her message to others has helped her to grow, which will ultimately help the business as well.
“Public speaking has always been so far out of my comfort zone, but at the Roosevelt conference I heard something that made me think. They said that growth begins at the edge of your comfort zone. You have to stay open to change; you don’t necessarily have to change, but you need to be open to it,” she concluded.

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