A ``barracuda with lip gloss.'' She wears the mantle good naturedly. Almost proudly. Almost.
Just don't ever call Juanita Purcell that to her face, that is, if you value yours.
``One of my special employees''-a man, of course-``a very good friend and manager calls me that. Only he's allowed,'' she said, her voice crinkling in a laugh.
``I think it's just hilarious.''
And from the sound of it, totally untrue.
Boss. Owner. Mother figure. Friend. Confessor.
At one juncture or another, they all seem to describe the roles conferred upon Mrs. Purcell, 59.
She's been in the trenches for 32 years alongside hubby Robert G. Purcell, 60, as co-owner of the retail/commercial Purcell Tire & Rubber Co. Inc., based in Potosi, Mo., and its Western States Tire division in Phoenix.
From the point in 1964 when the couple, encouraged by Mr. Purcell's dad, moved from Nashville, Tenn., to Desoto, Mo., to buy a small, available tire shop, they jumped feet first into a business venture together. He had worked for Goodyear and General Tire; she was teaching a business course in high school.
``Bob and I started off mostly in the off-road portion. He travelled all the time, I worked inside,'' Mrs. Purcell recalled.
``So when men called about OTR tires and wanted to talk with a salesman, I said, `You've got to talk to me-I'm all you've got!' That's the way it started.
``I found out I kind of liked the tire business.''
Quickly, she also discovered she most enjoyed-still does-the daily give and take with customers and vendors.
And while her husband hit the road, drumming up business with mine operators and trucking companies, she became fluent, and darn good at handling the day-to-day of the dealership.
``I'm not really a representative sample of a woman in the industry,'' she protested during a phone interview, ``since I didn't have the same problems many have had.''
The ``barracuda'' joke aside, she's found that employees often
tend to come to her with their concerns. ``They all talk to me, usually if there's any problems, anything they need,'' she said. ``Our employees are very good, and I try to be very good to them.
``Sometimes they don't always agree with me. But one of the nicest compliments I've ever had is, `You may not always like what she says, but she's fair.' ''
Mrs. Purcell believes employees sometimes feel it's ``easier to talk with a woman,'' and basks in the awareness that she's treated ``like one of the guys.''
Customers and employees alike don't consider her ``the owner's wife,'' but rather an owner, and are ``never afraid of me-we talk tires, business, trucks,'' she said. ``I don't even think of the male- female thing. Everybody's just a business person.''
Under the couple's steady guidance, the dealership has grown much from its Desoto, Mo., days. Today, with some 50 locations, it specializes in all phases of off-road and truck tire retreading, and also handles new passenger, OTR, truck, light truck and farm lines.
``We're in an expansion mode this year,'' Mrs. Purcell said. The company anticipates adding seven to 10 retail locations in Phoenix alone over the next couple years, and is eyeing other locales in the Midwest and West.
It is a business, however, she believes could use more women, especially in retail stores. ``If they like people, they can meet (them.) Tires or services are not the hardest things to sell.''
The Purcell's biggest obstacle to hiring women has been the scarcity of applicants, she acknowledged.
Bob Purcell said ``the fact that one or another of us can talk business almost 24 hours a day has made running our business together easy.''
``We have a board of directors meeting every morning on the way to work,'' he mused. ``If Juanita wasn't involved in the business, I'm positive she wouldn't understand the time it takes, a lot of the effort and concentration.
``A lot of money flows through a business today, and very little of it sticks. She knows that end of it, and realizes it has to be there to pay the bills.''
In retrospect, he said he ``can't
think of anything I would change.''
Actually, there is one thing.
In the early years the Purcells-who have two daughters and four grandchildren-shared child-rearing responsibilities, except when Bob was travelling.
``I feel we haven't given our children the amount of time we should have early on because the business was so demanding,'' he said. ``I would change that slightly.''
Although a couple who co-own a business can never get too far away from it, Mr. Purcell suggested: ``You have to prioritize. Family, church, then business. We've learned to do that.
``And Juanita sure has brought a special perspective to the business. It really would have been different without her.''
Yes, even Mrs. Purcell admitted it's been a ``fun'' ride, though she kidded that ``there should be a law against'' couples working together.
But seriously, her advice, maybe offered only half in jest: ``Get two stores so one can run one and one run the other, because you have two strong people, often with two different ideas, and something has to give.
``Sometimes when we don't agree, and there is no resolution, I just do it my way or he does it his, then we jump in and try to make it work.''
Spending too much time together could be harmful, both acknowledged, though ``you always have something in common to talk about,'' Mrs. Purcell said. ``I've seen husbands and wives who have nothing to talk about-that's just as bad as only talking about business problems.''
Calling his wife a ``very bright person'' whose business acumen didn't at all surprise him, Mr. Purcell then paid her perhaps the ultimate compliment: In her hands the company operates just as well, whether he's there or on the road.
The tire business, Mrs. Purcell said, ``has been our life-and it has been a good one.''