When Kerrie Peterson, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, was young, fixing and using tools were just a regular part of her life. But little did this former actress know when she made a move to Hightstown, NJ, from Texas, she would make a career out of it. Kerrie fixed up friends’ houses, and when they urged her to get her license and make her repair work a bonafide business, Mrs. Fixxit—home repair without the “dude attitude”—was born. In between tackling painting, carpentry, and renovating spaces, she also started Hightstown Theatre in the Park, an acting program for kids. We sat down with this mom of five about why a female-owned home repair business is relatable to moms, the ways COVID has changed her business and theater group, and why her hometown of Hightstown will always be her favorite spot in NJ.
Tell us a little about Mrs. Fixxit, your background, and how you started it.
Mrs. Fixxit performs services and repairs, including drywall, carpentry, flooring, painting, remodeling, and interior/exterior improvements. My background is in acting, and when we lived in Dallas, I did industrial film training films, corporate films, and home school curriculum films. It was super unglamorous stuff, but it paid the bills and kept me busy. Then we moved to New Jersey, and it was such a different market. At that point, I also had all five of my kids, so I stopped pursuing acting jobs. But I still wanted to do something, and I had always been handy in fixing things. I started helping out friends with small improvements around the house and then moved on to more significant projects like fixing a deck and building a shed. My friends were happy with the work and kept telling me to do this for a living. I thought nobody would take me seriously, but then I looked into getting my home improvement contractor license. From then on, I started taking jobs.
Was it hard to gain clients when you first launched Mrs. Fixxit?
I started Mrs. Fixxit in 2008. In the beginning, I would go around the neighborhood and hand-deliver postcards because stamps were too expensive at that point in my life. It was slow for the first two years— I would get 100 postcards out and get one call. But by the third year, I was in business, and people were calling. The word had spread, and it’s been busy ever since.
How did you pick up your skills?
I grew up in rural Texas and just always knew how to fix and build things. The way I grew up was, you don’t throw anything away—you fixed everything. I learned from my mom, who was the one in our household with the tools. I thought everybody did this growing up and was surprised when I realized it’s not usually the case. When I started, I didn’t need to invest a lot because I had the necessary equipment already.
What sets Mrs. Fixxit apart from other contracting businesses?
I believe it’s because we’re approachable and relatable—Consumer Reports Studies have found that women represent 44% of the “do-it-yourself-ers” (or DIY-ers), and 51% of homeowners who hire professionals for home improvement projects are, in fact, women. We are the only female-owned, operated, and licensed contracting business located in the regional area, and I think it makes a difference. We emphasize communication and listening to the needs of the customer—people like working with us. I like to say we have home repair without the dude attitude.
How has Covid-19 affected your business?
The first thing I did was put our safety protocols on our website for our customers to see—wearing masks, washing our hands, and letting us know if there’s anything they don’t feel comfortable with. The shutdown stuff was awful. It was cold and rainy outside preventing us from working outdoors, and we weren’t doing any inside work. But as soon as it started opening up, we got slammed. Being at home for a few months motivated people to renovate and improve their homes.
You also founded Theatre in the Park for kids. Tell us more about that.
It started with a stage—the Eagle Scouts built a gazebo in Association Park, giving me an idea. I knew there was a need for accessible, affordable summer youth theatre, and this venue seemed to bring it all together. We’re now in our eighth year, and Theatre in the Park is just such a wonderful experience. We always say, “everything’s different in the park”—it’s where kids aren’t afraid to take chances and go out of their comfort zones. They build confidence and believe in themselves unlike anywhere else. Amazingly, during COVID, we created even more opportunities, going beyond our typical summer camp. We had our full 2020 summer programs and a live performance entirely online. We also responded to our students’ needs to create online workshops, improv classes, and performance experiences they never would have had otherwise. We are continuing with two virtual programs right now and can’t wait to be back in the park together this summer.
What is your favorite spot in New Jersey?
Hightstown because it’s just a wonderful place to live and raise a family. There aren’t many places like this in the world anymore. It sounds really corny, but it’s true. It’s just small-town America: Your kids can walk to the library, the parks are beautiful, and you know everyone. The downtown is really special too. A highlight is Stockton Street, which is listed on the National Register of Historic places and has many beautiful buildings over 100 years old.
What advice would you give to NJMOMpreneurs just starting?
The single, best piece of advice I have to say is to have a business plan. Even if you’re new to this, you can go online and get a template for one. It helps you plot out everything—what you know need to know to start your business, your competition, and details—and makes the entire process easier. I’ve written so many now, and trust me—it’s crucial for success.