CONNIE FRY / FOUNDER OF cfk creative / ST. LOUIS, MO
Meet Connie. As she moved through life and encountered a number of obstacles and growth journeys, she's managed to maintain her giving spirit, entrepreneurial fire, passion for horses, and love of being a mother. Today, Connie is a founder of multiple businesses, one of which, cfk creative, focuses on providing honest and authentic creative services for senior living communities. In her spare time, Connie's just launched a horse treats business and volunteers with the Alzheimer's Association, so basically she does it all. And yes, at 60 years old, she's still blooming.
TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF.
Connie: I was born in Appleton, Wisconsin and lived there until I was six when my dad got transferred with General Electric corporate and we moved to Connecticut. My dad said I that I could have a horse anytime that I wanted but I had to pay for it. The first horse that I got was with money I won at the Saratoga Springs harness track. So here’s this little girl giving my dad money to bet on the horses! [laughing] I won enough money that night that my dad couldn’t say no, so that started my whole love of horses.
I have ridden since I was seven years old and rode that backyard horse for years, both bareback and with a halter. I took that horse to fun shows and started becoming passionate about competing. I ended up in the Top Ten in the nation for the AQHA Youth Western Pleasure competition with my quarter horse mare, Sugar Bar Sunday. I rode many horses in the course of my lifetime. I rode Nathaniel aka Nate in my USEF [United States Equestrian Federation] Zone for Adult Amateur. And finally my current horse, Fanci, a Hanoverian mare, and I are finally becoming a team and I trust her greatly. I have been blessed with many great horses. I turned sixty last year so my love of horses has been going on since about five to six years old.
My dad got transferred to Saint Louis where I still live and, of course, he had to take me and the horse [laughing] because the horse had to go where I was going to go. So in a way, I think of Saint Louis as where I grew up because I have been here for so long. I went to college in Saint Louis primarily because I was showing quarter horses nationally and I wanted to stay close to home because horses had become a very intricate part of my life. After undergraduate, I ended up going to graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis for my Master’s in Social Work.
THAT’S INCREDIBLE! I WENT TO WASH U FOR MY UNDERGRAD…
C: So in the early eighties I went to Washington University in St. Louis to get my Master’s in Social Work and half way through, I met my husband who is now my ex-husband. He said, “Connie you know you're not a social worker you really shouldn’t be doing that.” So I quit, got married, stayed married for a couple of years, had a baby, and ended up getting divorced. [The divorce] set the stage for me to go out on my own. In between my college years and the time that I got divorced, I had done a multitude of jobs. I worked in retail for Casual Corner, which really dates me, [laughing] and then I worked for Gap and Banana Republic. I did the retail work to clear my head while I was running my side businesses. Having these other jobs was very therapeutic. I had multitudes of things that I did; I had no idea what I wanted to do.
HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU FELT LIKE YOU HAD NO IDEA?
C: It was like probably my early twenties until about twenty or twenty-five. And then, by pure happenstance, I ended up meeting a couple that worked for a creative agency that produced business dealings and special events for big corporations. They hired me for my first job outside of retail to do outside sales. That started the ball rolling into the creative field. And I've been in the creative field now for the last thirty-five years.
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU WERE PLANTING SEEDS TO BUILD UP YOUR KNOWLEDGE, WHICH BRINGS US TO YOUR PRESENT, WHERE YOU’VE STARTED A LOT NOW ON YOUR OWN.
C: Yeah exactly! That's exactly how it happened! I got all the experience and exposure and got to work on some absolutely phenomenal projects but after a lot of design work, it was not working out as I thought it would. So at the time, I was putting an addition onto my house that was crashing and burning and I sat myself down to let myself know that was not ever going to happen to me again.
I had a little girl. I was divorced. I sat myself down and was like, ‘You know, I'm never going to have to answer to somebody else again except myself.’ That was when my daughter was so young, she was probably in grade school, and that’s also when I started a consulting business, cfk creative, to do brand consulting. The “CF” is for Connie Fry and the “K” is for my daughter, Katelen. Soon after starting my business, I was approached by a creative agency and against my gut feeling, I said I would do consulting work for them full time. Always trust your gut. That is rule number one. The good thing is that during my time working for that agency, I was exposed to senior living community marketing which is all that we’ve done at cfk creative now and for the last fifteen years. I grew to love working with older people and making their lives better, so that as they aged, it would still be better for them. At that particular moment in time, my marketing background met with my social background and the two have been married ever since.
I LOVE THE STORY OF HOW YOU’VE STARTED YOUR OWN BUSINESS! TO GO BACK, YOU MENTIONED HOW YOUR DIVORCE TRIGGERED YOU TO GO OFF AND DISCOVER YOUR PASSIONS. CAN YOU EXPLAIN MORE ABOUT THIS?
C: You're absolutely right! The marriage didn’t work out. I think it was one of those things I felt like, ‘Oh, I am twenty-six and I should be married. Everybody else is getting married at that age, so I should be married too.’ And there wasn't a whole lot of thought put into it, you know? Believe me, I loved the man, dearly. He is a father. We took care of my daughter—my daughter's thirty now—but you know it really propelled me to the point that I got to be responsible for myself. I learned that I couldn’t depend on other people because they're going to come and go, but I'm not going to come and go.
So that was a turning point. I had to take care of myself. It was, of course, a lot of motivation to have a child, take care of her, and also be a role model--that's kind of where the divorce propelled me to the next level. This made me think more about how you can't really depend on everybody in your life. There is a small circle of people that you can, but for the most part you can’t.
GREAT ANSWER. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PASSION WORKING WITH THE SENIOR LIVING COMMUNITY AND ENSURING THAT THEY ARE ADEQUATELY REPRESENTED. WHAT’S GOING WELL AND WHAT DO YOU SEEK TO IMPROVE?
C: When I got into senior living community marketing, I went to a lot of conferences for people that worked in the industry. These conferences basically talked about the industry—what new ideas were coming in, the best ways to market to adult children, the statistics and research going on out there about how people are aging, what’s happening with the aging population that they're living with their adult children which can be a strain.
With the senior living community marketing I didn't see a whole lot of truthfulness and honesty going on in the marketing. It was very convoluted—it was like, ‘Well here we have a senior living community. You come here, you can age, and we have all of these amenities…we have a beauty salon, we have this, we have this…’ I felt that the truth wasn't being told. At cfk creative, we don’t sugar coat anything. It is what it is. What I wanted to do with the company was create a place where developers and owners of communities could call and get creative work that was honest and also provided return on investment.
LET’S TALK MORE ABOUT THE VOLUNTEER WORK THAT YOU DO, ON TOP OF RUNNING A BUSINESS, WITH THE ALZHEIMERS’ ASSOCIATION. WHAT HAS THIS WORK TAUGHT YOU?
C: It was in 2001 when my dad went into the hospital and it changed his whole life. It spiralled down until he passed away in 2003. It was one of those, ‘Don't ever go into a hospital unless you need one’ situation. After my dad passed away, people said that I needed to do something that I could do more frequently. I still was doing the consulting work, but I needed something a little more regular and that’s when I found the Alzheimer's Association. They said I would be really good on the Speaker’s Bureau so I started there and talked at church, in the community, and corporate groups about what Alzheimer's was. At that particular time, there wasn't as much information as we have now.
The Association asked if I would be a Help Line Specialist which is working on the twenty-four seven help line where care givers, family members, loved ones, and those in the early stages of Alzheimer's or other diseases with dementia as a symptom could call in, get questions answered, and receive materials. I went through the training and I've been doing it ever since. Monday mornings are spent at the Alzheimer's Association. I talk to care givers. I talk to loved ones. I talk to husbands who take care of their wives or wives who take care of their husbands, and I usually cry with the callers on the phone because of what they're going through. I am usually crying when I leave the agency, but I feel like I’ve helped somebody because we have a wealth of information to share with them. So Alzheimer's and memory loss within the aging community actually became my passions. I never knew these would become passions of mine…never in a million years.
If somebody told me back in my twenties that I was going to be working with older people, be really involved with Alzheimer's research, and participating in a research project on Alzheimer's, I would have told them that they were out of their mind. I would have actually looked at them and said, “You’ve got three heads!” There was no way! That was not something I thought I would be doing.
WHAT IS ONE OF THE GREATEST LESSONS YOU’VE LEARNED FROM WORKING WITH ALZHEIMER’S PATIENTS?
C: That there are real people out there with real emotions. There are a lot of challenges and difficulties and we all need to lean on each other. You’re always going to need to talk to somebody and there's always somebody out there. What I have taken away more from my volunteer work is a lot of empathy. There are a lot of people who have it a lot worse than you do. Volunteer work is something I think everybody should do. I think volunteer work really balances you out.
BEAUTIFUL! SO HOW WILL YOU BLOOM IN THE NEXT YEAR?
C: I started a horse treats company, Pony Pizza Company, that makes horse treats in the shape of pizzas. For three years, I marketed the brand and launched it. I didn’t make any money, but got exposure. I did a little research before I went ahead and started making the pizzas. I went to Wash U looking for funding and was one of the top twelve in a start-up competition called the Skandalaris Center Cup! Eventually, I had somebody approach me to fund the company, if I agreed to run it. I turned it down because I didn’t want to run it, I wanted to focus on cfk creative, my love and my passion. So I said no to the money but got picked up by a treat company here in town that offered me a deal two years ago. On March 7th,2018 we launched the company under the name, Treat Planet Equine, at the Hits Horse Show in Ocala, Florida with 4 products in the line. I feel that as time goes on, the way I want to continue to bloom is to double the size of cfk creative and make Treat Planet Equine a huge success!
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WOMEN WHO WANT TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESSES?
C: You’ve got to do your homework, you've got to do something you love, and you’ve got to surround yourself with people who know things that you don't know. I've tried a bunch of different things…sometimes you fail and sometimes you don't. All my failures have come back to build a solid foundation for where I am now because now I know where to go, what to do, who to call on, who not to call on.
LASTLY, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED FOR?
C: Aww, you're gonna make me cry! I would like to be remembered for making life better for our elders in the United States. I would like to be remembered for stepping in and going into a research project for Alzheimer's that helped to find a cure or something preventative. I want to be remembered as a good mom. Being a single mom was so challenging and I wanted to do the best that I could. The key was to never stop loving them.