Three women entrepreneurs say business ownership means controlling your own destiny

Kari Alvaro in front of her Easton bakery, Sweet Girlz. PHOTO/ PROVIDED –

Nov. 19 is Women’s Entrepreneurship Day and the Lehigh Valley certainly has no shortage of women entrepreneurs.

To recognize the day, LVB spoke with three local women about why they decided to start and run their now successful businesses.

The three women shared a common theme – disappointment in working for others, with two starting their businesses after losing jobs and one missing out on a promotion at work. But, all three say that what may have started with harsh blows turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to them, and they’re grateful for the careers they were able to give themselves.

Kari Alvaro was laid off from what had been her dream job on her 30th birthday in 2010. She was devastated and called it one of the worst days of her life. For nearly a year she tried to find a new dream job while working part-time as a baker out of her home. At the urging of friends and customers she decided to give up the job search and start her own full-time bakery in Easton, Sweet Girlz. 

She said she felt she was at a low point and had nothing to lose. 

“I figured what was the worst that could happen? It doesn’t work? So, I opened a few days before Christmas in 2011 almost a year to the day from my last day on my old job,” she said. 

Tracey Werner faced a similar situation. She was let go from a senior marketing and public relations job in 2009. When she started her job search, she found mostly entry-level positions and nothing that would recognize her years of experience. 

It was a scary time, she said. 

“I had never been out of work before, but there just were not a lot of jobs available for my skill set,” she said. 

Tracey Werner of Blabbermouth Communications. –

She realized that the first 10 years of her career were spent working for small marketing and public relations firms. She knew how to run a small agency, so she started her own, Blabbermouth Communications, which she now runs from her Bethlehem home. 

Donna Hosfeld was working for Erie Insurance in Allentown and hoping for a big promotion. When she didn’t get it, she was extremely disappointed, thinking she had definitely been the best person for the job. But her disappointment changed when she was called into her supervisors’ office, who explained why she didn’t get the promotion. 

It turns out that management thought she was too much of a “people person” for a job that was mostly number crunching and they had other ideas for her. They suggested she be a candidate to open her own insurance office. 

It was an honor to be considered, but also a challenge. 

“I had oodles and oodles to learn about insurance,” she said.  

But she went through the program and got her own office in 1998, which now sells Erie and other insurance products out of her office in Alburtis, Hosfeld Insurance, which is better known by the moniker, the Insurance Chix. 

‘Never say never’ 

All three women said opening their own businesses meant learning and adapting to see what worked and what didn’t. 

Alvaro originally planned to concentrate on cookies and cake pops. “I said I didn’t want to do cupcakes and I didn’t want to do wedding cakes.” Because of demand, however, cupcakes and wedding cakes quickly became the bulk of her business. 

“I’ve adopted the mantra of never say never,” she said. 

Donna Hosfeld, owner of Insurance Chix. –

Likewise, Hosfeld changed her business focus to meet her clients’ needs. She had started out with the intention of being an Erie Insurance office, but added different insurance carriers when she felt they offered products that might better serve certain individuals. She said the bulk of her business is still with Erie, but it’s good to have options. 

She also learned that for some people insurance can be intimidating and boring. She decided to take those people skills and create an environment based on the moto “We make insurance fun.” She adopted baby chicks as a mascot for her all-female staff, bought a tie-dye colored car and created tie-dye theme for her office with giveaways and promotions. 

“If we can make them laugh and make them feel comfortable buying insurance it’s a win,” she said.  

For Werner, it was about learning to say “no.” When she started Blabbermouth, she was relying on her networking skills to build the business. She took on every opportunity she could, even if jobs were too small to make money on and frequently accepted requests to speak on the topic of social media, marketing and public relations. 

But as her business grew and she built a solid base of regular clients she said she found that was all taking away from her better paying work. 

She whittled down her workload to her most reliable clients, such as the City of Easton and the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail and concentrated on her core skills, social media management and marketing. 

She still puts out her fair share of press releases and does marketing for certain events, such as Easton’s Garlic Fest, but she now runs her office more efficiently so she can provide the best service to her clients. 

Being the go-to person
Of course, being your own boss means you are the go-to person all the time. When work needs to get done, you’re the one to do it. 

Alvaro knows that. She’s adjusted her schedule a number of times to try and keep work from becoming overwhelming. She even tried to shut down during the early days of the pandemic, but that only lasted three days.  

When she realized that as a food establishment, she could remain open, she recalled her staff, but cut her days of operation from six days a week to four, assuming business would be slow during the shutdown. She was wrong. Demand was stronger than ever so she compromised and is now open five days a week — Wednesday through Sunday. 

Even now, she and her staff of 10 full- and part-time workers keep busy the whole week. 

Werner was never a 9-to-5 person, but being her own boss meant putting in the extra hours. 

She routinely finds herself still on her laptop at 9 p.m. after working a full day and has to remind herself to stop and rest. Ten-hour days are a regular occurrence for her. 

There are advantages, too; by setting her own schedule she can do things in the middle of the day if she wants.   

Hosfeld is busier than ever. She’s usually in the office six days a week. She lost staff to the pandemic when her office had to close. She’s now down to herself and one employee, but is looking to hire.  

She said she’d rather work harder than hire the wrong person, because being one of the fun-loving Insurance Chix takes the right kind of person. “I keep reminding myself that it won’t be forever,” she said. 

All of the hard work over the years has been worth it. All three women say they are happy with their business’ success and proud of how much they accomplished on their own. 

“I can now say, looking back, that I was devastated when I lost my job, but now I thank God every day that it all happened. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if it wasn’t for running this business,” said Sweet Girlz’s Alvaro. 

Blabbermouth’s Werner is proud of what she has accomplished with her agency over the last 12 years. She has grown and likes having a business where she can do the work she likes and that she’s best at. “I like that I get to pick and choose the clients I work with. It’s got to be a good fit. The buck stops with me,” she said. 

Insurance Chix’s Hosfeld is also happy as an entrepreneur and running her own office. 

“I like the creativity and the variety of tasks,” she said. “It’s as fun for me now as it was in 1998. It’s something different every day and it never gets boring.”  

Alvaro summed up what being an entrepreneur means. 

“Being your own boss and being in business there are certainly ups and downs, but I’m in control of my own destiny,” she said. 

Pennsylvania home prices drop, but remain up over last year

After peaking in June, home prices in Pennsylvania dropped in October, but are still higher than they were one year ago. 

The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors is reporting that median home prices in the state dropped slightly to $192,582. That number, however, is still about 10% higher than the median home price in October 2020 when the median price was about $175,000. 

“Home prices remain strong despite a small dip the last two months,” said PAR President Christopher Raad. “The median price hit the highest in June at just over $203,000 this year and has leveled off since then.” 

He noted that the median home price in the Lehigh Valley is even higher. For October the median price was around $260,0000 in the region. 

Statewide demand remains strong, and inventory remains tight, Raad said. 

Listings fell about 5% in October compared to September but are down 22% from last year at the same time. 

The current inventory rate is 3.31 months. 

“That is unheard of,” Raad said, noting that traditionally 6 months on market is considered average. 

While listings have traditionally dropped at the end of the year because of the holidays and bad weather, Raad said in recent years listings have remained steady throughout the year so the decrease in listings is based on overall current trends in real estate and not a seasonal drop. 

He expects more inventory to come on the market in coming months based on new housing construction that is in the pipeline both in the Lehigh Valley and across the state. 

He noted there have been delays in new housing construction because of the labor and materials shortages. 

Overall, he said, the market remains strong. 

“Home sales remained steady over the past several months as well, but are down about 15% compared to last year, although the high market sales last year were a residual effect of the pandemic shutdown,” he said. 


A Conversation With: Anne Baum, Lehigh Valley market president, Capital Blue Cross

LVB: Health care insurers had to adapt quickly to changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. What changes have become permanent? 

Baum: I am incredibly proud of the resilience of our amazing employees at Capital Blue Cross. They were able to quickly adapt and pivot to work at home and didn’t skip a beat, serving our members just as well as they did in the office. We had to learn how to work together virtually, and because we were able to do so, working virtually is now going to be a staple of our business going forward. Our ability to collaborate at any time, from anywhere, has made us a better company. 

LVB: Your company and other health insurers have begun opening “wellness centers.” What is their purpose and do they mark a change in the way insurers are thinking about providing care? 

Baum: For many years, the only connection that most people had to their insurance company was their ID card, or a voice over the phone if they needed help or service. Our Capital Blue Cross Connect health and wellness centers change that dynamic by creating a place where members and prospective members meet face to face with us. Our goal was to provide personal, in-person service to help people better understand their coverage and access to healthcare. 

Not only have we been able to deliver health insurance information to both our members and the general public, but we’ve expanded to include wellness services, health coaching, fitness, and more. Because of this success, we have continued to open new locations throughout our service area. Our newest center is at our newly renovated Lehigh Valley Headquarters on Hamilton Street in Allentown. 

LVB: What are some of the other trends in health care insurance right now? 

Baum: As employers emerge from the pandemic and face the challenge of finding and keeping employees, we are seeing many of them use health insurance and other ancillary benefits – dental, vision, life, accidental death and dismemberment, and short-term disability – as a recruitment tool. Many employers are offering open enrollment electronically. And our team has worked to provide resources to meet these needs. 

The pandemic has rapidly increased demand for mental wellness services, and the use of our Capital Blue Cross Virtual Care platform for access to much-needed behavioral health providers has increased dramatically. 

Employers are also trying to determine how best to navigate the vaccine-mandate issue for their workforce, and our team provides them with reporting and data to help them make decisions about the safe return to the workplace. 

LVB: What changes do you see in the industry down the road? 

Baum: At Capital Blue Cross, we are focused on delivering the best possible member experience, and that means providing members with the information and systems necessary to help them easily access healthcare services. It also means that we are committed to offering a broad range of products and services to meet our customers’ varied needs. As employers work to stabilize their workforce and face competition for hiring, health benefits will continue to play an important role. We are committed to supporting their efforts to deliver excellence to their employees. Insurers, including Capital Blue Cross, also are building closer relationships with provider and health systems in order to deliver the highest quality and easiest access to care.