How three local women in business pay it forward
ONE OF THE DEFINING STORIES of the 20th century was the gradual immersion of women into the labor pool. In the early 1900s, they were just dipping their toes in. With advances in technology and safety, mass high school education, and World War II — when women showed they could take on jobs that had never before been available to them — many more began to wade in. Then came the decade when our mothers and grandmothers (and cool aunts) used all their might to swim against the tide: the 1960s. Because of them, by 1970, young women were diving in.
Half a century later, women have demonstrated tremendous focus, drive, dedication and gumption in the workforce. Many who have reached the apex of their fields readily serve in positions designed to help others thrive, feeling a strong compulsion to help other women succeed. Locally, businesswomen in Savannah encourage, mentor and support one another in extraordinary, tireless ways. They are here to give back, and perhaps none more so than Allyson Harvin, chair of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce; Jaclyn Schott, executive director of the Savannah Downtown Business Association; and Michelle Rouzer, the president of Buy Local Savannah.
For Harvin, who purchased SERVPRO of Savannah in 2007 with her husband, Blu, helping people literally became her business. “We show up on what is often the worst day in someone’s business or home,” Harving says, noting that SERVPRO cleans up after disasters like fires and storms. “Being able to walk people through the process of, ‘It’s okay, we know what to do’ is very rewarding.”
Soon after becoming a business owner, Harvin saw “a great deal of value” in joining the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, an organization that seeks to create business-friendly environments for commerce. Through her involvement with the Chamber, Harvin has become enmeshed in the Savannah business community and the community at large. Today, she’s the organization’s sitting chairperson, and her communication and leadership with a servant mentality have allowed her to be useful in such a role.
“I look for opportunities to find someone else to pour into, to bring along, to make introductions for, to give opportunities to. Women helping other women is incredibly important.” — Allyson Harvin
“At this level, the women in business in this area have been so generous with their influence, introductions and support,” she says. “I look for opportunities to find someone else to pour into, to bring along, to make introductions for, to give opportunities to. Women helping other women is incredibly important.”
While her ability to truly listen — a carryover from her position at SERVPRO — has helped her help others, Harvin recognizes the challenges small business owners face in playing a larger role in local organizations such as the Chamber. “Small business owners wear a lot of hats,” she says, “but it’s still important to get out into the larger business community and serve, bring your expertise to the table and mentor this next generation of leaders.”
Jaclyn Schott, who has lived and worked in Savannah for 17 years, mostly in the downtown tourism and hospitality industry, would say the same.
“My schooling was in public relations, marketing and communications. So the majority of my time has been spent in the PR space within that industry – until now!” she says.
Schott’s marketing and communications background “was part of why the Savannah Downtown Business Association ultimately hired me to become its executive director. As the sole staff person, communication is so key.” Marketing was also a big piece of that, she says, of “having to be the employee who also markets the organization, both internally and to the business community at large.”
“It’s a joy to be able to serve [the business community] in this capacity and help ensure that there is an organization with one strong, cohesive voice to advocate on behalf of all industries and issues that affect downtown Savannah.” — Jaclyn Schott
The mission of the Savannah DBA is to advocate for a more prosperous downtown business community. Schott’s job includes “anything from day-to-day operations to the strategic planning and guidance of the direction for the organization.” Planning networking events, planning for the board of directors and executive committee meetings, running those meetings and working alongside the board to develop programs and initiatives that fit within the DBA’s mission are all in a day’s work.
Although the position keeps her on her toes, Schott sees it as a privilege to work with many of the contacts she’s known for so long. It’s a joy, she says, “to be able to serve them in this capacity and help ensure that there is an organization with one strong, cohesive voice to advocate on behalf of all industries and issues that affect downtown Savannah.”
One of Schott’s favorite things about her job is being able to walk around downtown, pop into a small business and talk with the owner directly.
“I meet so many women especially,” she says. “I don’t have data to back it up, but I feel like there has been an influx of women-owned businesses, specifically downtown, and it’s been great to see. It’s been exciting for me, and I think it’s exciting for us as women to see that.”
Michelle Rouzer, the president of Buy Local Savannah, is an example of one of those women. She opened 40 Volume Salon in 2008 and by last year, “we were busting at the seams in our old location.” The new midtown salon now houses 55 employees. Rouzer and her husband, Charlie, also kept their original space on Waters Avenue and turned it into an old-school barbershop, AV8 Barbers.
“Being a hairstylist, you just become that person who can never meet a stranger,” Rouzer says, laughing. “I’m a lover of people, and I was already the person connecting my clients with local businesses.” Although she no longer cuts hair, that warm personality and affinity for connecting people led to her involvement and leadership roles in Buy Local, which was founded in 1999 by a core group of local business owners.
“Over the last 23 years, it’s grown into an incredible organization, with roughly 150 members currently. It’s a networking group, but it’s truly become the biggest, most supportive family you could ever ask for,” Rouzer says. “We want to be the resource for any need you could possibly have in Savannah, because the more we work together and support each other — support local — the better we all can be.”
“It’s so important for women in business to stick together. My weaknesses are someone else’s strengths, and someone else’s weaknesses are my strengths.” — Michelle Rouzer
As president, Rouzer’s job is to lead the team of board members and support the organization as a whole. “My vision for 2022 is engagement: To really be there to engage with our members and encourage them to work and collaborate together, and to support each other at things like events and openings now that we’re able to be face-to-face again.”
Rouzer has helped to guide other women along the way with know-how and connections, “whether it’s been an employee wanting to branch off on their own or someone wanting to open a business in Savannah.” Her background in real estate (she and her husband also own Rouzer Property Consultants) has also been instrumental in this area.
“It’s so important for women in business to stick together. My weaknesses are someone else’s strengths, and someone else’s weaknesses are my strengths,” she says. She sums it up in a way that’s proven true for women in the workforce since the 1960s: “When we combine forces, we can create a real impact.”