"For the first 20 years, we were in West Virginia. Our first store was on Seventh Avenue across from Rose City in South Charleston, not far from here.
"I had to learn about everything. My father-in-law worked at Union Carbide, and he would come down on his lunch hour and weekends and spell me, and my husband would come down on in evenings and weekends. I had to learn bookkeeping, accounting, taxes, financial statements, merchandising, recruiting, interviewing, advertising.
"I was one of the first females in our industry. It's still totally male-dominated.
"I was 23 and breaking into this new world. I was trying to get vendors to give me credit.
"I would go to the market, and they would ignore me. I would sit there until they finished talking to all their other clients, and then they would talk to me. At some point, they finally started taking me seriously.
"We were opening one store at a time. We put as many stores into West Virginia as we thought we could. It wasn't until 10 years ago that we thought about some real expansion. We did 20 stores in our first 20 years and did 130 in the next 10 years. It stretched every part of the organization.
"After the first 20 years, most of the team felt like we could do this in our sleep. We needed a challenge. When our anniversary came in 2003, we closed the stores, and I took everybody to The Greenbrier, including our warehouse staff. We needed to pause. We needed to celebrate.
"Everybody wants to be challenged and work for a company that's growing. People get energized by growth. They don't want status quo. Most people are driven to excel and to learn.
"In 2008, things started to slow down. In 2009, we only opened one store. Then the real estate market became so good that we started opening up. There were a lot of landlords making special deals and concessions.
"We had double-digit growth through the recession and didn't lay anybody off. It was scary. Chains were going out of business. There were massive layoffs and financial markets were crashing. I think we had a lot of focus and were able to execute and we continued to advertise when most people pulled back.
"There's so much to do all the time. That's part of what I love about retail. It's fast-paced, high energy, always a challenge. You are always having to think.
"I'm really hands-on. I've been gone nine days, got home Sunday and I'm leaving today until Sunday, so it's constant. But I want to be tied into the community, know the advertisers, the people in the chamber, our employees.
"We have over 500 employees. Last year, we had four Christmas parties, so that was a lot of travel. But I like that personal touch. That family environment is very much a part of our culture.
"I'm pretty plugged into the industry. I stay on top of what's going on with components, organic foams, the adjustable bases. I think we'll start to hear a lot more about organic foams.
"People are into their health, what they're eating and how much exercise they get. The third component is sleep. You need a solid eight hours, and most people don't get that. A good mattress will help them go into REM faster.
"At 26, I had the first child, at 30, the second child. Working through all that, trying to balance it, was challenging.
"If I had to go to a market or a conference, my mother or Ken's mother and stepmother would take the girls for a week. I want to be able to do that when my kids have children.
"About 10 years ago, my husband left his law firm to stay home with the kids. He's been a great help. Then he became a pilot. Last year, we did acquisitions in Alabama and Nashville. He flies me all over the place. We have over 150 stores in six states. It's a lot to keep up with.
"I'd like to get an MBA or some advance degree. I love to learn. I mentor for a women's program at UK. I am so excited to be around these young minds. I want to do something to do with college. I've been asked to do a couple of classes.
"In the sixth grade, I was asked to write about the American dream. I had to look it up in the encyclopedia. I'd have to say I have lived that American dream. But it's not over.
"I still want to do something on the international level, maybe a temporary assignment. I would love to figure out that piece. Everybody wants to do a book. I'd like to figure out the topic. Another thing is to help other women entrepreneurs figure out how they can have their dream."
Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.