Dianne Grossman, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, has always taken challenges head-on. Ten years ago, when she read an article stating women make more than 80% of flooring decisions, yet men sell 80% of flooring, she had the vision to open a female-branded flooring company and be her own boss. So with a love of design and beautiful carpets (and the hope to make the process fun), Dianne took the challenge and opened The Carpet Girl in Springfield 10 years ago, offering design services in her showroom or a client’s home. Yet in 2017, an unthinkable challenge happened—after months of relentless bullying in school and online, her youngest daughter,12-year-old Mallory, ended her own life. While living life without Mallory was unbearable, Dianne knew she had to speak up to make a change and ensure that no one should suffer like Mallory again. Today, she spreads the message and speaks openly about bullying and suicide through her foundation, Mallory’s Army, helping to empower kids to embrace kindness, educate parents, be a teaching tool for schools and put an end to bullying. We spoke to Dianne (also mom to Kristen, 31, Ryan 29, and Carlee 19) about how being her own boss is what she always dreamed of, how she believes social media has played a role in the skyrocketing suicide rate of children, and the Jersey shore town her family calls their go-to.
Tell us a little about your career background. How have your prior work experiences come into play in starting The Carpet Girl?
I’m not sure I was ever looking for a particular career in terms of revenue or passion for a specific thing, but all of the positions I’ve held have been conducive to creating the lifestyle I wanted. I’ve had various jobs, always in sales or leadership roles, and I always chose them to complement the work and life balance I desired at the time. For example, when I was a travel agent, it was during a point in my life where I wanted to see the world, and doing so allowed me to travel. And some of my other jobs, such as being a recruiter and the director of a childcare center, worked well for me at the time because my children were young, and these were great ways for me to be at home for them and still earn a living at the same time. I think it’s important to note your career can give you the lifestyle you want.
What was the “aha” moment that made you take the leap to entrepreneurship?
Basically, I didn’t want to have to answer to anyone. Most women with children who work for someone else will face the predicament of getting a call from school when their child is sick, so they need to inform their supervisor. Even if they get the go-ahead to leave for the day to be there for their child, the employer gets annoyed. I hated having to choose between my job and my children. I wanted to choose my hours and responsibilities and hold myself accountable to myself and my family.
How has the pandemic affected The Carpet Girl?
When we reopened, we had to make certain infrastructure changes. I had to figure out who my customer is because not everybody is a customer. As a business owner, you need to be okay with that, especially during a pandemic. We could no longer offer “shop at home” services for safety reasons, potentially exposing our clients and us to COVID-19. And another thing we did away with was our free estimates, since they’re often for shoppers, not buyers, and avoiding extra, unnecessary exposure is more important for us and our clients’ safety right now.
What do you wish you had known about being an entrepreneur before launching your business?
The two things every business needs are time on your side and the money to invest in your business. Without these, you don’t have a sustainable business. No matter how great your business is, it still takes time to build a following, reputation, experience, and capital and revenue to invest and reinvest in your business.
What do you hope Carlee learns from watching your run your business and your foundation?
In general, women have a very uncomfortable relationship with money and business. We are the strongest force in our economy. For the most part, we decide where we live, which schools our children attend, what clothes they wear and what our family eats. We are the most robust retail entity, yet we don’t leverage that the way we should. I want Carlee and all girls and women to recognize their power. And I’d also like them to know that their gender doesn’t run the business—their brain does.
Tell us about how you started Mallory’s Army.
My daughter, Mallory, was bullied, both in school and online, starting in the 5th grade and through 6th grade. It was typical relational bullying, aka “mean-girl syndrome,” which is probably the most dangerous form of bullying. After 9 months of it, she ended her own life—she was just 12. I started the foundation because the day after Mallory passed away, my friend said I had to speak about it and encouraged me to do so. I decided to talk openly about this uncomfortable topic of suicide among children because nothing will change if we don’t acknowledge it and talk about it. Over the past 15 years, there’s been a 200% increase in the suicide rate for children between 10 and 14. And a large part of this can be attributed to bullying behavior, which is now a gang-like behavior thanks to social media—it’s not just the 2 or 3 people that belittle and humiliate you, but those 2 or 3 plus their 900 followers. Mallory’s Army strives to combat bullying and bring awareness to an epidemic stealing our children and their childhood. We spread the word about how powerful and damaging words can be through school presentations, TV appearances, meetings with different groups and organizations, and we also have a presence at many sporting events.
What is one thing that everyone can do to help end bullying?
First and foremost, you need to lead by example and be the kind of person you want your children to be. If they witness you doing something, you have no business telling them to do the opposite. For example, if you want them to get off their phones, you can’t be on yours all the time. It’s also important to be involved in education—show up at the school library talks and presentations, and know the board members at your local school. It’s a great way to educate yourself and your children on topics they might not come across independently. And finally, realize that our children’s childhoods are in danger. Don’t let an iPad babysit your child, and don’t over-schedule your children. They need time to play outside, explore, and just be kids.
How do you reset after a particularly challenging day?
I do practice what I preach when it comes to unplugging. We keep a camper in Saugerties in upstate New York, where we spend almost every weekend. Though it might seem a little closer to glamping (we have showers and air conditioning), we do swim in a creek, throw rocks, and stay away from all technology. After a weekend away, I’m so relaxed!
What are some of your favorite things to do in NJ with your family?
Riviera Maya Rockaway is the perfect place to sit outside and have a margarita after a long day at work. And, when we do go to the shore, Ocean Grove is our go-to. We enjoy the beach, get a scoop of ice cream and walk around looking at all the lovely historic homes. And, because I’m so active in public, I like to keep my downtime on the quiet side, so one of my favorite things to do is spending time cooking with my daughter and maybe trying out some recipes together.
What words of wisdom do you have for other NJMOMpreneurs?
Take the chance and just do it, and don’t be afraid to fail. You never know what obstacles you’ll be faced with, so give it all you’ve got and go for it. When I’ve made mistakes, I don’t beat myself up about them. Instead, I look at them as opportunities that brought me to where I am today.