Exit United Realty Professionals owners Dawn Thompson, left, and LaQua Loyd opened their business at 611 W. Nine Mile Road in Ferndale after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They also own United Property  Management.

Exit United Realty Professionals owners Dawn Thompson, left, and LaQua Loyd opened their business at 611 W. Nine Mile Road in Ferndale after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They also own United Property Management.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Women open up businesses after pandemic hits

By: Maria Allard | Metro | Published November 10, 2021

 As co-owner of Biggby Coffee, at 1057  E. Long Lake Road in Troy, Liz Karg enjoys working  with people.

As co-owner of Biggby Coffee, at 1057 E. Long Lake Road in Troy, Liz Karg enjoys working with people.

Photo by Deb Jacques


METRO DETROIT — “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Alexandria Joubert heard that question several times as she made plans to open her own business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In August of 2020, the entrepreneur signed a lease on a storefront. On March 31, 2021, she officially opened The Hills Nutrition at 27861 Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills. The juice bar has quickly become known for its healthy shakes, energizing teas, protein coffee and good vibes.

Joubert is among dozens of local women who didn’t let the pandemic stop them as they pursued their dreams of opening and operating their own business.

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2015, Joubert worked in pharmaceutical sales, where she developed her sales and marketing skills. She then became a teacher.

When the pandemic hit and schools closed, Joubert instructed her students virtually and found herself getting outside as much as possible. It was during one such break when the educator observed the curbside action at a juice bar in Ferndale. The visit proved she needed a career change.

When The Hills Nutrition opened last summer, customers could go inside, and the staff also offered carryout and curbside service. Joubert is the owner, and her mom and brother, Jennifer and Jacob Joubert, work with her, along with Jacob’s best friend and a cousin.

To get the business off the ground, Joubert did what many startup company owners do: She applied for a bank loan. However, she was denied after being told, “We’re not giving loans to anyone opening a restaurant during a pandemic.” So she dug into her “personal money” to make her dream a reality.

“It takes three to five years (for a business) to take off,” she said. “Our goal is to get more customers.” Making sure the customers are satisfied with the product is a priority.

So what does it take to start your own company?

“You have to have grit, be very determined and hard working,” said Joubert, who stressed that The Hills Nutrition is a Black-owned business. “You can’t give up easily. You have to be a strong and responsible leader. Understand your field. Always try to learn. Always try to grow.”

What she enjoys most is getting to know the patrons.

“I’ve met so many people who have become regular customers,” she said. “I’ve been able to make so many connections with people.”

LaQua Loyd and Dawn Thompson didn’t let the pandemic stop them from opening not one, but two businesses. The business partners opened up United Property Management in January of 2021. Their second company, Exit United Realty Professionals, at 611 W. Nine Mile Road in Ferndale, was founded in July 2021 and officially opened for business in August.

“They’re separate entities, but they work hand-in-hand,” Loyd said. “We work with a lot of homeowners that want to sell their property.”

The pair, who first met in 2008, also find renters for homes, short-term rentals and commercial properties.

“We help owners lease properties out. We do all the screenings,” said Loyd, who has been in real estate for more than 20 years. “We work with homeowners putting their houses on the market. We work with a lot of first-time buyers. We see people get into houses they can afford.”  

The professional women did not receive a lot of support from others when getting their companies started.

“People tried to talk both of us out of it and said, ‘You’re going to lose money. Business is so unstable now.’ We didn’t feel that way. We just went ahead and moved forward. It’s really about helping people, for us,” Loyd said. “We feel like we’re helping the economy. This is our passion. We’re really happy we didn’t listen to a lot of the naysayers. I’m really glad I never gave up on it.”

For entrepreneurs looking to start up their own businesses, Loyd has some advice.

“If it’s something they are passionate about, my mother used to say, ‘Your gift will already make room for you to see it come into play,’” Loyd said.

One obstacle they faced was not being able to get any outside financial help.

“We applied for many of the loans coming out. We were a legitimate company, and we could not get a loan,” Loyd said. “Our property management was doing well at the time. We were surprised that we weren’t getting any loans.”

So they used their personal savings.

“We had saved up money,” Loyd said.

They were able to secure an office, and now they have 10 agents working with them at Exit United Realty Professionals.

“It just worked out,” Loyd said. “Things are really good.”

Just four months ago, Liz Karg and her father-in-law, Sandy Green, opened up Biggby Coffee at 1057 E. Long Lake Road in Troy, in the Long Lake Plaza. Karg decided to go for it after she was laid off, lost her job and then began working two jobs.

“I was working two jobs, trying to make ends meet,” Karg said. “It was very, very defeating.”

But there was a bright spot. She was working in retail again and realized how much she missed it.

“I really enjoy working with people and getting to know them, even if it’s a 30-second interval,” Karg said.

She also felt concerned about job security, so she began looking at her options. Green had a history with Biggby. He worked for the franchise in its real estate and site development sector, helping new owners find store locations.

“When I started working at Biggby, I trained in Madison Heights,” Karg said. “It was uplifting. People were grateful and happy.”

Biggby Coffee has remained open for business since Karg took ownership.

“When we opened, the vaccine had been available,” the Biggby Coffee owner said. “We have not had to close down.”

One aspect of being a good business owner for Karg is to care about the employees. Another priority is being accessible.

“I wanted to be an owner that was present and available,” she said.

Karg puts in anywhere from 60 to 80 hours per week, including working on the floor serving customers with her staff. Finding employees hasn’t been easy.

“We are short-staffed, but not by much. It would be wonderful to have more people involved,” she said. “A huge challenge was just finding employees. There was so much fear because of COVID.”

And she works hard. Some of the behind-the-scenes responsibilities for Karg include promotion, accounting, marketing, scheduling and ordering supplies.

“There are just a lot of little things,” she said.

Now that she co-owns the coffee shop with Green, “it has been a good experience so far,” she said. “My family has been supportive. My husband has been supportive.”