Lakesha Cole was named the 2014 AFI Military Spouse of the Year in a ceremony in Washington, DC in May, 2014
In many ways, Lakesha Cole is the typical military spouse. A mother and wife, Cole has spent the last five years like many other military spouses: focused on a passion while juggling her family responsibilities.
But it's the way she's done it that sets her apart. Recently, Cole and her husband, Gunnery Sgt. Deonte Cole, and their children completed a Permanent Change of Station from Okinawa, Japan, to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
And along with their kids and personal effects, the Coles also took their successful business inside the Okinawa Exchange with them.
This was the second time Cole packed up her company, She Swank Too, and hauled it overseas. Two years after debuting their company aboard Camp Pendleton, California, the Cole's took on a PCS to Okinawa, embarking on a mission to open the first brick and mortar She Swank Too there.
Cole spoke with We Are the Mighty about her experience just trying to get a meeting with the retail manager in Okinawa.
"He was reluctant to do business with me," she recalled, after waiting for six months to secure a meeting with the manager. He argued that military spouses didn't believe "the rules apply to them," citing spouses who formerly ran businesses in the retail space with poor business practices.
Cole says she presented her business plan, complete with financial reports, customer data and testimonials, and samples, to the manager. They agreed to a 30 day trial run of a brick and mortar She Swank Too. Three years later, the store accompanied the Coles on their PCS.
When asked what steps an entrepreneur should take during a PCS, Cole was quick to answer, "Stay active and… communicate with your customers." Customer interaction is one of the focal points of the company. "We tapped into the hearts and homes of our customers," Cole said.
The motivation behind the company was simple. "We debuted our first children's collection … to introduce entrepreneurship to our daughter," Cole recalled.
Cole's husband is equally involved in the business. "The least recognized role in a business is … that person's spouse," Cole said. Cole's husband is not only an active participant in the company, but a financial investor as well.
Cole isn't just a business owner. In addition to She Swank Too, Cole is a military spouse retail coach, the founder, CEO and owner of Milspousepreneur, and an active advocate for military affiliated entrepreneurship in hopes of reversing high milspouse unemployment.
"My focus remains in using this business as a vehicle to give back," Cole said