Delaware State College apparently gave Rosa F. Smith, Class of 1976, a good eye for a business opportunity.
In 1983 she discovered the market viability of selling Greek-related items to sororities, fraternities and social organizations, and started her own business that focused on those product lines.
Chauntel Smith ’02 and ’05, left, and Rosa Smith ’76
Her passion for the business became a part of her husband Cary and her daughter Chauntel —herself twice a DSU graduate — leading them not only to business success, but also to be recognized by Ebony magazine in its October 2013 online edition as “The Coolest Black Family in America, No. 28: The Smiths.”
One could say that two critical parts of the path to being the “Coolest” began in 1973 with Rosa’s marriage to Cary, as well as the fact that she was majoring in Business Education at DSC. Following her graduation, she followed her Air Force-enlisted husband to Okinawa, Japan, where she taught for three years as a Department of Defense teacher before she returned to Dover to live, teach and serve as an administrator in several school districts.
After a 30-plus-year education career, she retired in 2008. But by that time, the Smiths were well on their way to being the “Coolest.”
The third critical part of the family, daughter Chauntel, was born in 1980.
Shortly after Rosa pledged with Alpha Kappa Alpha, she attended a sorority conference in Hershey, Pa., and she was astonished to see the success a vendor of Greek products was having in making sales.
“I saw people standing in line, paying money for an AKA umbrella that the vendor had run out of,” Rosa recalled. “He was going to have to ship them the umbrella.”
She went home and told her husband that she wanted to use their tax refund to start a Greek products business. “He told me if I lost the money, I would have to put it back in the bank,” Rosa said.
She started the business in 1984; in July of that first year she made a believer out of her husband when she set up a vendor table at a Greek picnic. “Out of an investment of $1,000 I made between $4,000-$5,000,” she said.
As she was building up her business and selling her products at Greek events, her daughter was with her.
“When she was 4, she slept under the table, and then when she got a little older I showed her how to bag the products and how to restock the table,” Rosa said. “She did everything that a little kid could do; and as she got older, she did more.”
Meanwhile Cary retired as a senior master sergeant in 1991 and became fully involved with the business.
“He took it to a whole different level,” Rosa said. “He did more networking and found more job venues for us.”
After graduating from Dover High School in 1998, Chauntel followed her mother’s footsteps and enrolled at DSU. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education in 2002 and a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction in 2005. She also taught for seven years in the Smyrna and the Lake Forest school districts in Delaware.
Meanwhile, the family established another business — Transportation Unlimited, which provides transportation for homeless and displaced children to school — in 2006.
In 2009, Chauntel left the teaching profession to focus full-time on the family business. By 2012, the family elevated Chauntel as the president/CEO of both businesses. “We work for her now,” Rosa said.
While it was a family decision, it was not an easy transition.
“It was a struggle for Rosa to relinquish control,” Chauntel said as she looked straight at her mother, who affirmed that statement by nodding.
The struggles notwithstanding, like her father before her, Chauntel has taken the business to a new level. She introduced new software to sharpen the accounting practices and used social media to assist in the marketing of their products. The youngest in the family businesses also convinced her parents of the benefit of separately incorporating each business.
Today, Rosa’s Greek Boutique boasts of serving more than 20,000. The family notes that since Chauntel took over the leadership of the business, sales have increased by 40 percent.
Whereas at one time the family had a physical store in downtown Dover, all sales are now done solely online or by selling the products at Greek events or other venues. Sometimes the family is split up between several simultaneous events in different states.
While working together as a family can give rise to some challenging dynamics, the Smiths make it work.
“We have always had a strong family,” Chauntel said.
Rosa’s Greek Boutique website can be found at www.rosasgreekboutique.com .
-- Story by Carlos Holmes