MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Mae Smith owns the Memphis area's top African-American owned wholesale beauty supply chain. She also owns a Nashville store and a Memphis salon.
She started her business out of the trunk of her car while working a full-time job as a single mother of three boys.
Smith began building her empire some 20 years ago, and today it is thriving with her "Essentials" brand now in uncharted territory.
One of Smith's mantras: Do one thing every day that makes you happy.
"I just put all I had into it and just went after it," Smith said.
Smith knew she had sons to care for, so she combined her duties as mom and businesswoman.
"I would take them to school and work all day and pick them up, and either they would come with me to the business or go home and do homework," she said. "I worked at night too, because I was a single parent."
Smith's parents taught her the value of hard work. Her dad always held two jobs to support the family of 12.
"My dad was a very, very hard worker. My mom was a homemaker," Smith explained.
She said her parents taught her to put everything on the line to achieve her dreams.
"All the money I invested was made from being a manager at FedEx, so I would take my paycheck and buy products," she added.
Smith and a co-worker used their off hours to make moves and they started without a storefront.
"We loaded our cars and hit the streets and started selling beauty supplies, and then opened up a store," she said.
She credits mentors with opening doors to her success.
"I met a lady. Her name was Miss Molly B. Matthews," Smith said. "She owned the first black beauty supply in Memphis. She sat me down at her kitchen table and told me what to do and how to do it. How to go into the salons and look to see what they're using, and that's what I should invest my money in."
Smith eventually went all out, dropping her full-time job at FedEx.
"If you want a great business, you've got to--in a sense--lose yourself in it. I think the thing that really helped me the most is the passion," she said.
However, there were growing pains. At one point, her costs were higher than her profits.
Smith was ready to throw in the towel, when she turned to another mentor.
"So he began to ask questions like, 'What's your square footage?' And he was telling me I was paying 'mall rent,' but I was in this little building. He told me I had to make every square foot of that building work for me," Smith said.
Smith said God has been the centerpiece to her empire.
"I prayed about it," Smith said. "That's when I came up with the idea of a salon. The salon is what really saved me and kept me in business, but I was willing to do and give it everything I had."
Her Memphis business not only thrived, it expanded to Bartlett and Nashville where she sells everything at one-stop shops that salons, barber shops, and beauty schools need.
Smith now has 17 employees and will pass on her empire to her sons.
When asked about the attributes that make her a success, she replied, "I've always been motivated. I've always been persistent. People have a tendency to take jobs or work jobs for years they really don't like. Satisfy the inner spirit."
Smith said if you keep God in your heart, stay committed, remain open to new information, and put your ego out the window, you can make your dreams happen.
She says humility and going after what you really want in life go a long way, and is what God wants for you.