Ashley Longshore, 42
Artist and Entrepreneur
Ashley Longshore is as unapologetic as they come. Known for her raw artistic talent and a penchant for the ridiculous, this fearless innovator has built a name for herself on social media and in the art world. “We can be our own worst enemy,” says Longshore, who counts amongst her client base (and close friends) the likes of Salma Hayek and Blake Lively. “You have to have self love and be your own best friend when you are in business because it’s hard man, it’s hard out there.” The painter’s greatest achievement has been to inspire other people to to be brave enough to be creative and to put themselves out there.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I feel like you don’t necessarily choose a career path. A career path chooses you if you allow yourself to have plenty of experiences when you are younger. That is why education is so important. Maybe I wouldn’t have known that I was a great oceanographer if I didn’t take oceanography. Maybe I wouldn’t have known that I was a good astronome. I had such a great liberal arts education and I always learned so much. I was always so expressive that fortunately one day I found myself painting and I realized I had found exactly what I wanted to do in my life. My greatest achievement thus far has been to inspire other people to be brave enough to be creative and to put themselves out there. No matter what stage we are in success, it’s really so important to have people that you look up to inspire you. And as much as I try to give myself a pep talk every day, I’m really hoping that I have put that energy out in the world and I have given people the ability to know that they can really accomplish anything.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Uh yes. I was told that I couldn’t do things because I was a girl or a southern girl or my daddy wasn’t as wealthy as a Rockefeller. I think we have to acknowledge the fact that these aren’t always things that people are saying, these are also things we are telling ourselves. We can be our own worst enemy.
This is why I preach so much that you really must have lots of self love and be your own best friend when you are in business because it’s hard man, it’s hard out there.
"My greatest achievement thus far has been to inspire other people to be brave enough to be creative and to put themselves out there."
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
I mean, the biggest limitation has been the structure of the art industry. I mean, me as an artist I always thought it was so ridiculous to work with galleries, to give off 50 percent of your sale. The business model just seems so antiquated. But also being a woman in the art world has been a limitation.
I constantly feel like a woman’s take on life isn’t valued as much as a man’s take. I don’t know if it’s because women are naturally more expressive and more analytical so when a man is able to do that, it is worth more. That’s been a really hard thing being a woman in the art industry. Will I be as successful as Jeff Koons? Will I be able to have a multi-million dollar company and have the capital to create any of my wildest imaginations, which I think is any artist’s dream? I think as you become more successful, you realize that you are just a human on this planet.
It’s not about male or female. It’s about being a person with a vision and putting yourself out there. And again, that constant pep talk of put down the grilled cheese sandwich. Girl you are a bad ass, you have everything you need. I love me some me kind of situation.
4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
First of all, everybody says you can’t do it. People always talk about why things are so hard or so difficult. But really, for me in my own life, it’s not why you can’t do it, it’s why you can do it. Something else that can really fuel your fire is being broke and not being able to support yourself. The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel. If somebody would have written me a check, or if I had married some rich guy that was like “oh go open a gallery,” well that’s fun and great, but not the same as making it for yourself. When this is your future, past, and present, there is a real sense of urgency to make sure that you are kind to yourself while working as hard as you possibly can. The same goes for mean girls who said I would never amount to anything. It’s funny when they say living well is the best revenge. Not that anything is really about revenge, but it is absolutely sweet when you start to have success and you are grateful and have a lot of self-love. It is incredible.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Well first of all, you can’t think about preconceived notions and society’s limitations. You have to understand that if you are going to be an entrepreneur and be successful, you really have to be your own universe. You have to be your own entity. You have to absolutely believe in yourself. You have to believe in the endless possibilities of being successful, of knowing that you can do it. You have to be a racehorse with blinders on. You have got to mind your own business, keep your nose to the grindstone and hustle hard than you have ever imagined. And that’s really how you do it.
"You have to understand that if you are going to be an entrepreneur and be successful, you really have to be your own universe. You have to be your own entity."
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.