It’s a warm, overcast Saturday morning in early May. A slight breeze cools the air and tickles the leaves of the trees that line the quiet, two-lane road. On one side of the street, a man stands on the pier and casts his rod into the water in hopes of reeling in the day’s catch. On the other side of the street, two women stroll through the Peachtree City Community Garden.
I pull into the Lizard Thicket (“LT,” for short) headquarters parking lot—it’s intentionally hidden in this tree-lined oasis off the beaten path—and head inside to meet Sheri Waynick, owner and founder of the LT boutique franchise. While her neighbors outside are enjoying lazy Saturday fun, Sheri’s all about business: She’s cutting open boxes and shifting through their contents, equally dividing skirts and blouses and scarves and shorts—neatly placing her arrangements under signs that read “East Cobb,” or “Newnan,” or “Columbus.” When I walk into the store and the bell chimes to signal my arrival, Sheri emerges from a sea of cardboard and tissue paper. She smiles wide and gives me a hearty welcome and handshake.
“I hope you’re not working on a Saturday on account of me,” I say, apologetically.
“Oh, no. I work all the time,” she says. “But I love it, so it’s not really like work.”
We walk around to the main room and sit at a long dining room table. Above it hangs a beautiful wrought-iron chandelier that gives off soft, amber light. And behind it hangs a wall-length painting of an oak tree. Sheri is fascinated by trees—captivated, even—and there’s a story about that tree and its significance in her life. She stares, rapt, at the trees just outside the window and as we settle in, she begins to reel me in with her story—story about love, hope, near loss, and the gift of time. A story about staying rooted—and deeply grounded—during life’s highest highs and lowest lows.
A Family of Entrepreneurs
It’s little wonder that Sheri Waynick decided to open a clothing boutique. She comes from a family of entrepreneurs, after all, three of whom—her father, brother, and aunt—owned clothing stores. “My father owned a store in Alabama. He bought it from his brother after he retired from the Air Force,” Sheri recalls. “It was jeans and things, nothing fancy. I would bag clothes for twenty-five cents a day, starting at eight. I am the business woman I am today because of working in my father’s store and learning from such a great, caring man. Both my parents taught me the value of hard work, and to always be thankful for my blessings.”
Sheri’s aunt, Jenny, also owned a mini-department store. But unlike her father’s, Sheri’s aunt’s store catered to women. As a child, Sheri was captivated by the frilly, feminine clothing. “She had bridal gowns, and she had such passion and love for her business. You could see the joy on her face. I wanted to be like her. She would say, ‘You love to sell and you love to be behind the counter, just like me.’ I wanted to be like her and own a store.”
Sheri would do just that—eventually. But as a rebellious teenager, she was determined to do the opposite of what her parents did. Sheri married Bob, her high school sweetheart, and after he enlisted in the Navy, the couple moved to Memphis, Tenn., and then to Virginia Beach, Va. In 1987, Sheri and Bob moved to Meridian, Miss. There, she opened her first store, a boutique that sold fashionable, yet affordable, women’s clothing and accessories. She called it “Lizard Thicket” after a small community outside Hamilton, Ala., where her father was stationed with the Air Force. Soon after opening the Meridian location, Sheri opened another store in Mississippi, in Hattiesburg.
In 1991, Sheri and Bob moved again, this time to Peachtree City. But she was still running the stores in Meridian and Hattiesburg, often working more than 70 hours a week and traveling from Georgia to Mississippi at least once during the same stretch of time. It was a grueling schedule for the wife and mother of two small children, and before long, Sheri decided to close the stores. Two months later, she opened a Lizard Thicket at its Braelinn Village location in Peachtree City. The boutique, with its chic-yet-affordable fashions, was a hit; over the next several years, the business grew. By 1999, sales were through the roof and LT was enjoying its best-ever year in business. Then, in 2000, Sheri got the news no woman—and especially no mother—wants to hear: she had advanced-stage breast cancer. She was just 37 years old.
“I remember being on my hands and knees, saying, ‘God, just let me raise my children. I’ll do something better with my life,’” she says.
Sheri went through cancer treatment, and eventually the disease went into remission. She soon found herself falling right back into her super-busy routine, running her store and raising two young daughters, then ages 10 and 15. But while Sheri had settled back into her routine, it wasn’t with a clear conscience. “I felt very uneasy when I got better, because I had not changed,” Sheri says. She remembered her promise to do more with her life if God would only give her more time. In 2002, she decided to honor that promise. “I took a leap of faith and closed my store. It was sad for me, but I knew God had a plan for me.”
Mustard Seed Faith
But just what that “plan” was, Sheri wasn’t sure. She began looking for signs about what she was supposed to do next, and she thought she’d found it one day during a chance meeting with a woman who worked with the American Cancer Society (ACS). The woman was organizing a health fair at a local church on behalf of the organization. Sheri remembers, “I told her I’d love to help with the health fair. I just needed to volunteer. I thought that was my direction, but they weren’t hiring,” she says. Soon thereafter, Sheri met another woman who worked for the ACS. When the woman told Sheri her partner had resigned and her job hadn’t been posted, Sherri jumped at the opportunity. She interviewed and got the job. “It all felt right. I knew it was the place I wanted to be,” she says.
As a senior manager for the ACS’ Southside division, Sheri was responsible for development initiatives in a five-county area. During her three-year tenure, she worked long hours. Lots of long hours. “How many hours a week are there? That’s how much I worked. I thought, ‘I’m going to die of the disease I’m trying to cure.’ I was taking a lot of time away from my family. I became obsessed with helping and serving others,” she says. But even in the midst of her hectic schedule, Sheri noticed a common theme: Many of the volunteers had even busier schedules than she did. “Before, when people asked me to give them my time, I’d say, ‘I’ll give you money, I’ll give you gift cards, but I can’t give you my time.’ My time was precious to me. But I realized the majority of volunteers tend to be the busiest people. That was my lesson in life.”
Time, Talent, Treasure
Sheri took that lesson and applied it to her business. In 2006, she reopened Lizard Thicket’s Peachtree City location, only this time, she had a new focus: paying it forward. Not only did Sheri volunteer her time to charitable causes, but she also mandated that all employees (and future franchisees) had to be involved in community service in order to work for LT. “I saw so many women who had children lose the battle [to cancer]. Why did I get to live? I don’t know, but every day, you thank God and try to do something good with your life,” she reflects. Lizard Thicket employees volunteer both individually and with their respective stores. Some of the organizations the company supports locally include Wounded Warrior, Wellspring, and Christian City.
Sheri says that not only does giving back feed her company’s spirit, but it’s created other benefits, as well. “The more we give—time, money—the better we’re doing. It’s amazing to me how blessed we’ve been. It’s amazing.”
Indeed, it is. At press time, LT has eight stores—seven in Georgia (Peachtree City, Newnan, Carrollton, Columbus, East Cobb, Emory Point, and Norcross), and one in Arizona. A ninth store will open in Nashville, Tenn. in August and a tenth will open in October. Sheri’s goal is to open three to four franchises each year. The company employs approximately 125 people, and in 2013 is projected to gross $9 million in sales. But for Sheri, financial growth isn’t the biggest benefit of running her business; helping other women to achieve their dreams and give back to their communities is. “There’s no greater blessing than watching them be successful. We share in each other’s triumphs, we weep together. We’re such a family,” she says.
And speaking of family, as it was with her parents, aunt and brother, Sheri’s business is also a family affair. Her husband, Bob, handles deliveries for LT. Her daughters, Jessica and Jackie, run the company’s marketing and operations functions.
In the midst of the company’s robust growth and success, Sheri has carved out the one thing she never seemed to have enough of—time—for her family. Two days each week, Sheri takes time away from the office to spend time with her two young granddaughters, both toddlers. “They’re the blessing I never thought I’d see. I’m at the park, I’m feeding ducks. You see the world through their eyes. They’re the greatest gift of my life.”
She also mentors her franchisees in credit, savings and goal setting, among other things. “I tell the ladies to write their goals on a sticky note and place it on a mirror. Then, do one thing each day to get you closer to that goal,” Sheri says. That generosity and concern aren’t lost on her franchisees. In fact, it’s contagious. Carly Isaacson owns the LT franchise in Peachtree City. She says, “What continues to amaze me is that she really cares about us. You can tell her something in passing, and she’ll remember it down the line. Every time I talk to her, it’s the same thing—excitement and passion.”
That excitement and passion were even more evident in 2012, when the LT team adopted their signature logo—the tree. Jessica Mucha, Sheri’s older daughter and LT’s director of operations, says that as a child, she never understood her mother’s fascination with trees. Only after her bout with cancer did she appreciate her mother’s resilience and ability to remain grounded—even during a difficult, painful time. “She never missed one of my soccer games. I don’t remember her lying on the couch and being sick. She said, ‘I have breast cancer and I’m going to beat it.’ The tree would become LT’s symbol. I completely get it.”
Ashley Bedosky, who owns the LT franchises in Newnan, Carrollton and Columbus, also sees the significance and symbolism of the company’s logo. “The tree is rooted in hope. It’s very resilient. Now, every time I see a tree, that’s what it symbolizes to me: We’re here to stay.”
Sheri, who has a tattoo of the LT tree on her back, puts it this way: “As we grow, our roots will grow deeper. We’ll never forget who we are. We won’t compromise our morals to gain anything. These franchisees and customers are investing in me. I hold that very close to my heart. I’m gonna take care of them.”