With a degree in interior design, a background in custom home design and construction and no retail business experience, Los Alamos natives Cheryl Sowder and her husband Joe Brophy bought the paint side of Netuschil Paint and Glass from Tom Netuschil in 1979. Netuschil retained the glass portion of the business, and Sowder added flooring and window coverings to her product mix at The Finishing Touch. She soon realized that a background in business would have been preferable, but she “loved the challenge and the opportunity for creative expression that owning a design store would give me.”
At the time, Netuschil was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Board and he recommended that she join the Chamber. “I realized that a small business, alone, has very little influence on building a successful business community, but, by banding together there can be a significant impact on determining the direction a community will take. A chamber of commerce can, and should, provide that. Serving on the board allowed me to develop relationships and work with business leaders to have a positive influence on our community. My business benefitted from the contacts I made—I learned a lot from more experienced business owners.” The Finishing Touch has been a member of the Chamber of Commerce for 35 years.
Sowder attributes her company’s success in Los Alamos to a wonderful sales and installation staff, a focus on excellent customer service, a quick response to problems, and a broad knowledge of the products offered. “We spend a lot of time learning about what we sell; we want to know the answers before our customers ask the questions. Los Alamos customers ask complex and detailed questions. Where else would a salesperson get a question about the chemical composition of paint?” she said. “I just love doing business in Los Alamos. My customers are wonderful. We build relationships over the time it takes to complete a flooring or window covering job; it’s often sad when the project is over. But, we see many of our customers over and over.”
While she acknowledges the special character of the community, she also feels that it is vital for business people to understand the dynamics of its economic environment. She believes the future of retail business in Los Alamos is based in offering services people cannot obtain elsewhere, products are often secondary.
“People have to have a realistic expectation of how to do business in this community,” Sowder said. “Los Alamos is unique and doing business in Los Alamos is a unique experience. I think understanding that is important, no matter what business you plan on developing.”
Sowder is still enjoying what she does, but is considering succession planning for her business. She said she would like to see the business continue after she retires and is thinking about finding someone who would like to take it over. She envisions working side-by-side with that person for several years, training them as they make the transition.