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Key Idea: Take Control of Your Life

Lorraine Miller is a successful business owner because she was willing to leave a bad boss. Now rather than dreading going to work, she looks forward to being the first person in every day.

Key Question:


In Lorraine's case she quit her job.  There are always choices so don't feel trapped or stay trapped.

Search for more on the topic of startup or start a business.

Think about it

What would you like to be doing that you are not now doing?  What skills or raw talent do you have that you are not now using?

Clip from: Cactus & Tropicals

Salt Lake City: Meet Lorraine Miller;  in 1976 she invested $2,000 to start the business of her dreams. Initially she just sold house plants.  Today Cactus & Tropicals  provides indoor and outdoor landscaping for over 500 customers and her retail store and greenhouse are full of exotic plants and gifts.  

It is a place people just like to go to hang out!

In 1994 she was named Utah's Small Business Person of the Year then went on to become the first woman to win the national award from the US Small Business Administration. In 1997 Lorraine was named by Ernst & Young as one of Salt Lake's outstanding entrepreneurs.  

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Cactus and Tropicals

Lorraine Miller, founder,
Scott and Karin Pynes, owners

2735 South 2000 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84109
801 485 2542

Visit our web site:

Office: 801 485 2542

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1975

Take Control of Your Life

LORRAINE: I had been a history major at the university here. Then I was a VISTA volunteer and did civil-rights work in the late '60s. Came back, didn't want to get a job as a schoolteacher and just got a job as a lab technician up at the medical center here. And I was interested in what we were doing and I kept asking my boss what the blip on the screen meant or what was the purpose of the experiment we were doing for the day, and he always said, `Lorraine, just get your wooly head out of the way and don't ask questions. You'll never understand this.'

So six... nine months went by, and I started feeling very suppressed and felt like if I stayed in that position, I would be kept at a--kind of a level of learning that I would never be able to reach above. So my father was an entrepreneur, and I kind of had seen  what that meant a little bit, and I decided one morning I'm going to open my own business.

HATTIE: And so when you said, `Ah-ha, I'm going to start my own business,' you knew what you were in for.

LORRAINE: Well, I understood nurturing a business because he used to say -- after dinner, he'd say, `Who wants to drive past the shop with me and make sure the doors are locked and the lights are out?' Or on Saturday morning, he'd say, `Who wants to go down to the post office with me and get the mail?' So I understood the taking care of. I didn't understand the long hours and the hard work.

I had about $1,500 in my retirement from my job as a lab technician. I woke up one morning, it was Mother's Day actually and I said, `I think I'll open a plant shop today.' And then this little inner voice said, `If you don't do it right now, you're going to chicken out.' So I jumped in my car and I went and found a space and I rented it.

HATTIE: Well, how did you know where to start? How did you know where to go? How...

LORRAINE: I didn't know anything.

HATTIE: You started from zero.

LORRAINE:I was total innocence. I got up one morning real early, had about $600 left, filled my van up with plants at a wholesaler about 30 miles out of town, went up to the University of Utah and put an ad in the student newspaper for $2.50 that said `Wandering Jews looking for a home.' And couple students came in and said, `I'll buy that philodendron.' So after a few days, my $600 turned into about $900, and I got in my Volkswagen and drove up there again and just kept repeating it, and used to walk around and rub my hands together and say, `If I can sell $20 a day, I'll make it.'

HATTIE: Really?

LORRAINE: Oh, yeah.

HATTIE: 'Cause you had no employees yet. It was...

LORRAINE: No. I had to get up at 5 in the morning to get to this place, pick out my plants, load it up and get back and be open by 9:00
HATTIE: OK. All right. And then you were open until 6 or six-thir...

LORRAINE: I was open till 6, and I lived upstairs 'cause I also needed a place to live, and this little building, I found, had an apartment upstairs. So, if at 9:00 or 10:00 at night, I was looking out my window and saw someone in the neighborhood looking in the window of my shop, I was down the steps with the key in my hand, opened the door and brought them inside. And if they spent $2.50, I was happy.

HATTIE: You made sales after you'd closed.

LORRAINE: Yeah, sure.

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