As owner of the True Colors Tanning salon chain in Jeffersonville, IN, Lisa Brooking keeps her business successful in today’s economy. While this includes making tough decisions, there’s a softer side to Lisa and it’s one her staff knows quite well. Just ask them – many have been on her team for three years or more. So how is she able to balance her entrepreneurial drive with a strong sense of compassion? ist Magazine had to find out…
For all her “Type-A” personality traits and businesswoman bravado, Lisa Brooking cares deeply for others because she’s someone who’s “been there” herself.
If asked about what kind of life she’s led, Lisa Brooking might be quick to say that it was “normal.” But what is normal in a world where everyone’s upbringing and life experiences are unique? In Lisa’s case, she was born into a family that by today’s standards might be considered non-traditional, and the lessons she learned along the way helped her become the one-of-a-kind person she’s known as today – a natural-born entrepreneur with a desire to succeed that’s nearly as strong as her determination to help others do the same. Her philosophy of caring rather than focusing on the bottom line continues to be her guide, and it’s also why many who know her would describe Lisa as a businesswoman with a heart of gold.
“Anyone who knows my mom knows that she’s tough, but that’s helped make me a stronger person. She didn’t just give me my position at the salons, she made me earn it and I appreciate the opportunity she gave me. Outside of work, she’s also my best friend and I can talk to her about anything and know she’ll give great advice. I’m very fortunate to have her in my life!”
Renee Brooking, VP
True Colors Tanning
Lisa Michelle Buchanan was born March 13, 1961 to David and Margaret Buchanan of New Albany, IN. She was their sixth and last child, and the majority of her siblings were significantly older than she. “I was always very close to my dad and he influenced me in so many ways,” said Lisa. “He had polio as a child and that forced him to use a cane his whole life, but he still pulled himself into the heavy crane he operated for a living. He was also a union steward and would drive to the union hall to give many of the guys a ride to their job sites each day, even after he retired.” When Lisa was nine, her father taught her a valuable lesson about kindness and compassion after she started earning money by mowing lawns in the neighborhood. “Many of my customers were retired, and my father told me that those people had worked hard their entire lives and deserved to have their lawns cut for free, so that’s exactly what I started doing,” she recalled. “You could say that was what created both my entrepreneurial and altruistic tendencies.”
Lisa’s siblings always described her as the “lucky one” because their father retired shortly after she was born and she received a lot of his attention. While she was fortunate in that regard, her relationship with her dad was balanced by a distance she felt from her mother. “I didn’t think much about it then because I thought it was normal and my dad was such a big part of my life,” she said, “but when I got older, I realized that my relationship with my mom wasn’t like those that my friends had with their mothers. I wasn’t resentful about it, though, because my mom was 38 when I was born and had already raised five children, so I think she deserved a little me-time.”
During his life, David Buchanan was a huge influence on Lisa, and when he passed away, his absence affected her just as deeply. “My dad died when I was 17, and soon after that I started dating a boy my father wouldn’t have approved of,” she said. “I ended up pregnant and both of our mothers strongly suggested we get married, and we did what they said. Looking back on it, I can see that my choice to date him was a way to avoid my grieving, and that was a poor decision on my part.” While the marriage lasted just six months, Lisa says she wouldn’t do anything differently because the relationship with her ex-husband gave her the greatest gift in the world – her daughter, Jessica Walker.
On Her Own…
Despite being a mother, wife and divorcee before the age of 18, Lisa graduated from New Albany High School in 1979 with no grade lower than a ‘B’. She got an apartment for her and Jessica and began working as a school bus driver while taking business courses at Indiana University Southeast. “I eventually got a job in the toy department of a large retail chain and I showed my skills at customer service and balancing a cash drawer,” she said. “One day, the store manager asked me if I wanted to manage my department, which meant getting a 20-cent raise, and I said ‘yes’. She handed me the keys to the department and said, ‘Let me know if you need anything.’” This tag-you’re-it management style gave Lisa a chance to grow with the company, eventually becoming responsible for traveling the country to help establish more store locations. “Although I left college to pursue a career, I continue to tell myself that I’ll go back one day to finish,” she added.
While working at the retail chain, Lisa made the acquaintance of Alice Brooking, an older woman who worked in her department. Alice had always wanted to fix Lisa up with her son, Rusty, but Lisa thought she was too busy for a boyfriend at the time. That all changed when she finally met Rusty at the company’s holiday party and saw that he was a hardworking person who was doing his best to raise his daughter, Renee. After two months of dating, the couple married in 1986. “We balance each other perfectly,” she said. “While I always seem to be in fourth gear, he’s the one who can back me down and help me stay focused on what I need to do to accomplish my goals. Our families blended together very well, too – each of us had no problem loving, accepting and helping raise each other’s daughters as our own.”
It was one of Lisa’s bosses who, many years ago, inspired her to go into business for herself. Lisa opened her first True Colors Tanning facility in February 2003. Since then, she’s been happy to pay it forward to each employee who passes through her salon’s doors. Whether she sees a bit of herself in her young staff or she just wants to make the world a better place – or both – many have benefited from Lisa’s mentorship. “Tanning salon ownership usually involves high staff turnover, but the young ladies who are able to work their way into a management position with my company all receive medical benefits,” she said. “It was something that I insisted upon as a salon owner, and I’m sure it goes back to the lessons my father taught me. For employees who don’t plan to stay for a long time, I still try to teach them skills that they can use throughout their lives.”
What Life Deals Her
As to her salon chain’s future, Lisa says she remains committed to constant improvement. Not only does this mean remodeling older stores and opening new ones, it also means continued commitment to political involvement within her community and state. “Too many times we’ve had indoor tanning compared to cigarettes and alcohol,” she said. “That is an unfair comparison, and I will keep doing everything I can to represent our industry in a positive light.” Lisa has already done much in that regard, including meeting with three of her state’s senators and one congressman, and representing the tanning industry on various local TV news broadcasts. She’s also involved in One Southern Indiana, her local Chamber of Commerce, and other community organizations.
A study of Lisa’s life shows a person whose successes were the result of hard work and determination. Ironically, she says her personal life is all “in the cards,” literally. “Rusty and I are poker players and each year we compete in the World Series of Poker events in Indiana, Las Vegas and Mississippi,” she said. “It’s so funny because our playing styles reflect our personalities – he likes to stay quiet and read people’s faces while I like to play a more social game, talking to the other players and getting friendly with them. We both have done well in the past and we look forward to doing this in the years to come.”
Today’s culture seems so enamored with success that many believe the ends justify the means. In such a world where profits come before people, it’s comforting to know that there are folks such as Lisa Brooking around to help tip the balance. Is she successful? Absolutely! And she’s also a generous and giving person who helps and encourages others to move forward in life. Perhaps we could all take a page from her book to become a force for good in our own little corners of the world!
A 14-year industry veteran, John "Ribby" Ribner has written hundreds of
articles for IST Magazine and, as Director of Editorial Content, has also
helped guide the publication's evolution. Ribby is a graduate of Central
Michigan University's journalism program and has brought many years of newspaper reporting experience to his position of Head Writer. He is also the author of three novels, "Legacy of the Bear," "Prophecy of the Bear" and "World So Dark."
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