Ohio business review

The Inspiring Journey of Susan Lapham, Multi-Business Owner: Don’t Be Afraid to Try

The Inspiring Journey of Susan Lapham, Multi-Business Owner: Don’t Be Afraid to Try

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BARNESVILLE — Susan D. Lapham firmly believes that people shouldn’t be afraid to try.

Whether it involves exploring new ventures, trying crazy ideas, or striving for independence, the owner of three thriving businesses understands that progress often stems from embracing challenges.

Raised on a farm just outside Barnesville, Susan embarked on her journey after graduating from high school by enrolling at The Ohio State University to study communications and public relations. However, the chilly winters of Ohio eventually led her to relocate to Houston, Texas, where she landed a position at the prominent real estate development company, The Johnson Corp. It was during this time that Susan earned her real estate license, honed her skills in graphic design at the Art Institute of Houston, and furthered her artistic pursuits by attending classes at the Glassell School of Art.

In 1985, fueled by her entrepreneurial spirit and creative vision, Susan took a bold step and established her own company, Avenues, specializing in advertising, graphic design, and event management. Based in Houston, her company quickly gained recognition for its innovative approach and commitment to excellence. It was also in Houston where Susan crossed paths with Wayne Lapham, a native Houstonian and accomplished financier, whom she later married. Their partnership has flourished for four decades, marked by shared values and mutual support.

In the late 1990s, when her mother was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Susan Lapham found herself frequently traveling back to the Ohio Valley from Houston. Despite the distance, Susan managed to conduct a significant amount of business using her cell phone, laptop, and the internet. This experience prompted her to invest in land near the family farm and build a second home for herself and her husband, Wayne, in the countryside. Spending more time in Ohio allowed Susan to reconnect with local contacts and forge new friendships.

The expansion of Susan’s business ventures in Belmont County began in 2013 with the acquisition of the Hallmark House building and business in Barnesville. Under her ownership, the focus shifted to offering a diverse range of products, including gifts, home decor, accessories, custom floral arrangements, skincare, and Hallmark cards. The aim was to provide a convenient shopping destination for unique items, eliminating the need for residents to travel to the Ohio Valley Mall in St. Clairsville.

In 2015, Susan ventured further by purchasing another building and business, the Clubhouse Tavern, located just a block away from the gift shop. Initially known as “The Dirty Bar,” the establishment underwent extensive renovations and staffing changes, shedding its former reputation. Today, it has transformed into a welcoming neighborhood bar akin to the iconic “Cheers,” offering a wide selection of cocktails, beers (including drafts), and a limited menu.

Throughout the 11 years of owning Avenues of Barnesville, Susan has adapted her offerings to meet evolving customer demands. Similarly, the tavern has evolved over time, with additions such as a biergarten and continuous upgrades. Recently, a seasonal outdoor grill was introduced to complement the biergarten, serving burgers and other fare. Recognizing the allure of live music, an outdoor stage was also added to enhance the entertainment experience for patrons.

Lapham acknowledges that a key factor in her achievements has been the understanding that she could operate a business without needing to be physically present all the time.

“My aha moment came when I realized I could work remotely with one business while being hands-on with my two local businesses,” she said.

Last September, Lapham received recognition with a proclamation from then-Barnesville Mayor Dale Bunting for her contributions to the community. She firmly believes in the principle of paying it forward and giving back to the community that supports her businesses.

As an active member of several local organizations, including the Barnesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Barnesville Area Education Foundation, Barnesville Community Foundation, and the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival Committee, Lapham is deeply involved in community initiatives. She initiated the tradition of hanging downtown flower baskets in Barnesville and continues to work with the local chamber of commerce to solicit donations, with over 50 baskets now sponsored by local businesses and residents. Additionally, Lapham spearheaded and organized the inaugural Chili Cook-off last year, raising over $5,000 for the Barnesville State Theater project.

Her advice to young women embarking on a similar journey in her field is straightforward: 

“Don’t hesitate to start your own business. You’ll encounter mistakes along the way, but they will serve as valuable learning experiences. Be innovative, as the path you embark on may lead you to unexpected places. From being an executive secretary for the CEO of a large real estate development company to establishing my own marketing business in Houston, Texas, to owning and operating two retail establishments in Barnesville, my journey is a testament to the power of perseverance and creativity.”

Furthermore, Lapham learned a crucial lesson early in her career that continues to shape her approach to work today.

“Don’t stretch yourself too thin,” she said. “Rely on your co-workers and staff to carry out and implement the standards you believe in.”

As someone who splits her time between the Ohio Valley and a bustling metropolis in Texas, Lapham sees immense potential in the local region for women seeking to enhance their lives.

“I see many opportunities for women-owned businesses in the Ohio Valley, which fosters businesses that are very male-dominated from farming to coal mining to oil and gas,” she said. “It is necessary for a woman to formulate a plan of action and sell your services to your customers.” She also sees change as a bright spot for the region.

“The Ohio Valley is changing with more people staying in the area versus going to the big cities. The prevalent industries in the Ohio Valley are bringing in more varied people from other parts of the country. With that being said, there is more opportunity to address the demands of this market.”

Finally, she has a motto that she lives by: “Always think outside the box. Remember, the craziest ideas can result in something far different and great once the idea has been massaged and honed.”

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