This year’s recipient of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Business of the Year Award is Memphis-native Kim Heathcott. Starting with just one employee, Kim has grown Clarion Security to be the largest female-owned company in town. Clarion Security provides security services for businesses all over the Memphis area, and with close to 600 employees, Kim’s company is one of the largest security firms in the city. When she’s not focusing on her business, this mom of two is actively involved in NAWBO, having served as Program Chair, Treasurer and President with the Memphis chapter, as well as mentoring other female business owners to achieve success. It is our pleasure to introduce you to today’s FACE of Memphis, Kim Heathcott.
Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?
I was born and raised in Memphis by a small and close family. I can remember driving to my grandmother’s house every Sunday after church for lunch, spending the night with grandparents and having many family celebrations with all the family generations laughing and telling stories.
How did you get into the security business?
Opportunities arise from strange places and often materialize from your current circumstances. My husband had been a partner in another security venture, and I learned enough to understand that the Memphis market presented a great opportunity to bring a fresh approach to a typically male-dominated industry.
Tell us about Clarion Security. What is your role at the company?
Clarion Security provides security officers at commercial and municipal locations in the Memphis Mid-South region. We opened the doors seven years ago with one employee and no customers; today we have close to 600 employees and 89 customers. I founded the company from scratch, so I have many roles – I am the 100% owner and CEO, but I’ve worked every position in the company from janitor to scheduler to bookkeeper to operations manager. I’m a licensed unarmed security officer, and I even stood a post or two in the early days! Although I’ve gone on my share of sales calls, I concede best salesman to my husband Larry!
What were the greatest challenges in starting your own business?
Convincing prospective clients and employees that we could provide quality security and a trusted place to work without any references or background in the business. It was building trust and confidence one customer and one employee at a time.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding is hearing how an employee said the right thing or took an action that safeguarded our clients’ people and property. That’s the ultimate goal in my business.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging is how to communicate our company culture and care to employees that are located all over the city with different clients and not in one place.
Any words of advice on providing a safe and secure work environment?
Everyone needs to understand that criminals watch and prey on opportunity, so don’t let them have the opportunity! Don’t leave valuables in a car for even a minute! It takes about 10 seconds for someone to punch a lock open and grab and go. Lock doors, set alarms, use cameras, buy a big dog, hire guards — every way you can shore up security is another layer of protection for you and your business.
Tell us about your involvement with NAWBO and why the organization is important to you.
I sought out the NAWBO Memphis chapter my first year of operation. I needed the camaraderie and network provided by this great national organization. I realized there were so many other woman-owned businesses that could use the knowledge and network that I had found from my years of learning and growing my business. That inspired me to get involved as an officer of the local chapter, so that I could do my part to help and move forward every woman-owned business in Memphis.
Clarion was nationally recognized as the NAWBO National Business of the Year! Congrats! Tell us about that recognition and what it means to you.
It is incredible to be honored as the NAWBO National Business of the Year! I am so appreciative of this honor. It encourages me to continue to blaze further trails and do even more through NAWBO to promote and grow women entrepreneurs in Memphis.
Do you have a go-to piece of advice you share with others now that you are a mentor?
Take advantage of every opportunity that’s in the market. From the multiple SBA resources to local advocacy groups, there is a wealth of knowledge available to you. I soaked up information from business books, mentor groups, advocacy groups and informational luncheons and conferences. It’s all there to take your business to the next level.
Describe your typical day.
I like to be the first one in the office while it’s quiet and the phones aren’t ringing. Most of my day is spent in meetings, luncheon events and trying to conquer my email inbox. Then I head back home to fix a dinner from Home Chef or Blue Apron for the family and watch football or a sitcom to end my evening.
As a mom, you have so much going on! How do you balance and make everything work?
I don’t balance, and a lot of things don’t work anymore! I had to give up things like gardening, home organization and hobbies. I’ll pick these back up one day, but right now I don’t have time for much other than growing my company and making sure my teenagers are happy and healthy.
What do you do to relax?
I sit on my back porch swing with a good book, a glass of red wine and a break from all electronics!
What is the first place you take out-of-towners when they visit you?
The Kitchen at Shelby Farms! It doesn’t get much better than sitting on the porch with the sunset overlooking Hyde Lake eating The Kitchen’s delicious food.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m a recovering perfectionist, so I’ve heaped a lot of stress on myself to do everything right. There are a lot of failures experienced in building a business. The key is to take the lessons from the mistakes and be open to continual improvement.
What is something people might be surprised to know about you?
At one time I was a super brave SCUBA diver going down underwater 120 feet into caves 10 feet wide that only one person could go through at a time. Was I insane?! I would never ever do that again. My daredevil days are over.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Raising my two children — Jack, 19, and Laura, 17 — who are funny, caring and lovely. (That really can happen with teenagers!) Although it’s been a really busy season these past seven years, I believe they have felt my love and devotion to them. My husband and I have worked hard to make sure that’s our #1 goal.
What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without?
Diet Dr. Pepper, the beach view from 30A and Tex-Mex food, preferably in Texas!
Thank you to Micki Martin for today’s beautiful photos of Kim.
Meet more amazing Memphis women in our FACES archives. Click here, and prepare to be inspired!