Meet Darla King, founder, and CEO of King Business Interiors, family-owned commercial office furniture, and flooring company located in Columbus, Ohio. Darla has run her business for the past 20+ years and has grown her company to over 80 employees. Aside from the operations of KBI, Darla enjoys giving back to the community. One way she does so is by running Connecting the Dots, a program started by King Business Interiors to repurpose office furniture and give nonprofits office equipment that would not have been repurposed otherwise. Darla was previously a NAWBO Columbus President and continues to be active in the community through being a NAWBO Columbus member.
Q: In your own words, what is it that you do?
A: I help people love where they work. I help enhance their environment so that they have productive workplaces and employees. Space can make such a big difference – the right furniture in the right space.
Q: Why do you do what you do?
A: It’s changed over the years. At first, it was to have control over my own income and be in sales, and then it got into much more of account management which was great, and now with all of the employees we have, I’ve given them the opportunity to have different accounts and maintain the management of the account. I’m a little more involved in nonprofits and charities now. Probably 50% of my time is working on our program called Connecting the Dots, which is a program where if somebody was looking to get rid of furniture and would throw it away, we would pick it up and we would donate it to nonprofits and charities. It’s our way of giving back to the community, our way of connecting the dots.
Q: What barriers did you have as a woman in business internally, such as self-doubt?
A: More than anything it’s lonely when you’re on your own. That’s the beauty of NAWBO roundtables because we all can openly discuss things going on in our business that nobody else in the company knows about. You take a risk, and you think, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I passionate enough about it to stick with it?” There’s a lot of doubt. You just don’t know if you’re going the right way or the wrong way. There’s no book, right? There’s no way to say ‘Here’s how it goes and this is what you do.’
Q: What barriers did you have as a woman in business externally, such as stereotypes, lack of funding, or discrimination?
A: I didn’t have much discrimination, but I’m not typical. We never had any barriers that said: “You can’t have that job because you don’t have enough funding.” Maybe I’ve had a little buffer with my husband being in the business as our CFO.
Q: What advice would you give to other business owners who struggled with what you did/are struggling with?
A: Join a peer group. I’ve been a part of Vistage, EO, and now NAWBO. It’s a different group when it’s men and women or women only. It’s a good way for women to vent and discuss and feel supported.
Q: Who inspires you?
A: My dad inspires me, and my husband is always positive and inspires me. Women? Obviously, Oprah is a really big one. She’s done it and she’s down to Earth and she’s got a lot to offer.
Q: How did you initially hear about NAWBO Columbus?
A: I was a member years ago and then I rejoined. The board had the initiative to get bigger companies back in NAWBO and they invited a group of us and said: “Tell us what we don’t know to get bigger players back in here.” Jeanette Armbrust, owner of Skyline Exhibits, and I came on the board and then took leadership positions to reroute NAWBO. At our retreat that year we said “Why do you think so small? Every business that’s a women-owned business should be in NAWBO.” It needs to be much more of an association of women business owners that are bonded together and supporting each other. The closest thing to that for me was the roundtables. The mentorships are huge. Walking in a room with 100 women and not knowing anyone is scary. Women will go if they’re going to meet someone or pick someone up on the way. That buddy system or mentoring system gives people comfort. When I was on the board, we wanted the board to greet people at the entrance and shake their hands and say hello, and make sure they know that we wanted them there. We made a huge effort to make people feel like there’s somebody waiting there for you.
Q: How has your membership with NAWBO helped in your journey as a business owner?
A: There’s a lot of support with NAWBO. Being on the board gave me an entirely new view of NAWBO. The more people we can get on the board and on committees, the more value they’re going to get out of NAWBO. Everybody has their own interests from government policy to membership because they want to meet people, but there’s always a spot for people. When they started having a new member session after luncheons, talking about NAWBO membership, that was wonderful. It helped people to say “Okay, I’m going to go in there and see what it’s all about.”
Q: How is it running a family-owned business?
A: I don’t know anything different because we’re 20 years in. It’s our way, how we do things. We’re a first-generation family-owned business, so we look at other family-owned businesses. There are a lot of people to go to. We are so integrated with work and home and life, but we try to respect each other and each other’s work and work styles.
Q: Is there a quote that registers with you or that you live by?
A: I read a book a long time ago called The Secret, and it goes back to ancient times. The secret is that you put something out into the universe, something you want, and the universe wants you to have it. There’s an abundance of needs, but people forget to ask. Sometimes, I’ll put out a message. It’s positive thinking for me. I focus on what I want and where I’m going. It’s been around forever. Also, people don’t ask for the same things. Putting your goals and ideas out there has always been important to me, and The Secret summed it up. Just ask for it, write it down, get a visual of it and who you’re going to be, and then set your mind to it.
Quotes from Darla:
“No matter what you do, you’ve got to be happy. Money can’t make you happy, but doing things for others is what I found to be really enjoyable and rewarding. Giving to others through Connecting The Dots makes me happy.”
“Young women are saying ‘I know what I can do and I used to work for a company that didn’t appreciate what I am capable of doing,’ and that’s when I think the NAWBO voice needs to come out and say ‘how can I support this person, what can I do?’ Because somebody’s gotta own it – every company, somebody owns. Who is it? It might as well be you.”
“Whenever I see a kid who puts out a Kool-Aid stand or a lemonade stand I think ‘now that’s an entrepreneur. (S)he’s going to do something in the world,’ because they think best-case-scenario. They think every car is stopping, that their lemonade is the best. That attitude, they’re putting themselves out there.”