Company: Coton Colors, Tallahassee, Florida
Biz whiz: Laura Johnson, 49
Works with: Daughters Kyle, 21, Sara Kate, 20, and Mary Parker, 17; Laura's mom and dad, Dee and Bud Blank; Laura's sister, Marcie Parks, 51, and her daughters, Courtney, 26, Taylor, 24, and Logan, 22
Big idea: Colorful, brightly painted ceramics and housewares
Sales: $5 million annually
Inspiration: Seventeen years ago, Laura was at a ceramics studio having her baby daughter Mary Parker's handprints preserved as a keepsake when she saw unfinished clay plates she thought would look great personalized. The admittedly "artsy" mom bought six, painting them in vibrant hues for her daughters and nieces. Family and friends went wild for her handiwork, and Laura was inundated with requests for similar dishes. She already had a home-based business selling hand-painted cotton clothing called Coton Colors, so she decided to incorporate ceramics into the mix.
Teaming up: While Laura, as she puts it, "painted frantically in the garage" during her kids' naps or when they were at preschool, her parents, Dee and Bud, transported pottery for firing and boxed orders. Big sister Marcie accompanied Laura to home parties, her initial method of selling, throughout Florida. Husband Milton built displays and manned the home front while Laura worked. Soon the ceramics were so popular locally that Marcie convinced Laura to move into studio space so she could hire help, produce more, and eventually go national. Laura coaxed Dad into becoming CFO, appointed Mom head of shipping, and used a $25,000 loan for rent and equipment. The first Coton Colors studio opened in early 1997, and the tableware earned rave reviews from buyers nationwide.
Growing strong: As the company expanded, family members assumed new roles. Marcie took over the ornament division, which she still runs. Laura's daughters remember blasting music while packing boxes. Thanks to the joint effort, Coton Colors products are now available at over 3,000 retailers, and the company has two stores of its own—one managed by Dee in Tallahassee, and the other by Marcie in Tampa, with help from her daughters. Kyle designed last year's Christmas line and will join the company full-time after graduating from college with an art and marketing degree this spring. Mary Parker and Sara Kate work in the stores and showrooms on weekends and school breaks. "People often ask me, 'How can you work with your family?'" says Laura. "My answer is, we just really enjoy each other's company."