BABE #64: WHITNEY TOOMER CANNEY,
Co-Owner @ Sailors Siren
Whitney is the absolute coolest. Not only does she hop back and forth from Jacksonville to D.C. on a regular basis (for business, of course), but she's currently about 37 weeks pregnant with her first baby girl (aka the third generation Babe of Sailors Siren.) It has been so motivating for me to see Whitney, and so many awesome women like her, launching and running their businesses with poise, grace and professionalism practically in my own backyard. The coolest part? Her right hand woman at the shop is her mom. Talk about a pair of hustlin' babes. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Whitney! (Jacksonville: if you haven't stopped by Sailors Siren yet, get to it!)
Hometown: Atlantic Beach, FL
Current city: I split my time between my businesses in Washington, DC and Atlantic Beach, FL!
Alma mater: University of North Florida
Degree: B.S. in Public Relations
Hustle: Co-Owner @ Sailors Siren + Founder @ whit.ltc.
Babe you admire and why?
So many! First, Morgan Hutchinson of Buru. I’m about to be a first time mama and really admire that she not only runs a business with two children, but was so accurately able to pinpoint a gap in the market of busy moms who still want normal, stylish clothes that are breastfeeding-friendly and washable. Genius! Next, Amber Lewis of Amber Interiors. Her design aesthetic is ON POINT. I’ve been following her for years and have watched her design business grow to extraordinary heights, I've watched her open her retail store, SHOPPE, and I've watched her create her own custom furniture and wallpaper lines. Plus, the dry and hilarious tone she uses on her blog and social accounts speak to my own overly sarcastic and slightly off sense of humor. Here in Jacksonville, the local beaches community has this amazing, incredible, talented, supportive network of female business owners that are all friends who compare notes, collaborate, and look out for each other. It’s pretty cool to be a part of!
How do you spend your free time?
My husband and I bought a house in DC last year, so mainly decorating or doing DIY projects. We also love eating and drinking (both home and out) and being outside. In Jax, we love just roaming around the city and hanging at the beach and on the boat when at all possible.
Must-have item in your purse?
I’m usually purse-free with just my ID, Amex, phone and baby lips gloss in hand (or pocket.)
Go-to adult beverage?
Bourbon and water.
Favorite beauty item?
In the last few years I’ve become skincare obsessed, largely thanks to Britt at Gypset and Pearl. Whatever she tells me I need, I get. I put so many lotions and serums on a day, it’s nuts. And I pretty much only wear makeup for special occasions - whatever Carrie Wilson tells me to buy. She just branched out and started her own line based out of Riverside. I’d be a real mess without those two Babes.
Biggest pet peeve?
When people say bad grammar is their biggest pet peeve! I graduated from a Duval County public high school with plenty of people who grew up to become doctors and lawyers (who can’t spell or place a proposition for sh*t, myself included.) We are all doing just fine! Thank you, Grammarly and autocorrect.
Tell us about your hustle:
I co-own Sailors Siren, a boutique offering home and gift essentials that celebrate the salty, southern lifestyle. I handle all operations: accounting, inventory and all the really fun behind-the-scenes stuff like taxes, licensing, marketing and community outreach. My mom aka business partner manages the day-to-day sales and upkeep of our shop in addition to curating our look and managing our amazing shop girls. We make all of buying decisions for merchandise together, which can be interesting as we have similar currents in our sea-inspired taste but with very different end result aesthetics. We attribute our curated mix to that similar-but-not taste, as we both have to love everything we carry.
What does your typical workday look like?
No two days are the same, which keeps it interesting, but also sometimes maddening. To work for yourself, you have be able to stay inspired on a daily basis, make sure all the operations and boring day-to-day stuff gets accomplished, and be able to roll with whatever punches are thrown your way.
What is your work environment and shop culture like?
The shop vibe is easy and fun. The dogs are there most days, we always have music going, the lighting is incredible from being so close to the beach, and by mid to late afternoon, a bottle of something (champagne, wine, bourbon or gin,) is usually popped open.
As co-owner and boss lady, what do you look for in your associates?
We’ve been so lucky to have friends and local neighbors who have sought us out wanting to work in the shop. There’s no specific thing we look for, everyone has a different background and story. They are all fun, happy people, though! For our makers and artists, we look for beautiful, quality goods that can’t be picked up just everywhere. Not only do they have to be well-crafted, but we like our artists to be a bit selective themselves in who they sell to.
How do you manage to stay on top of deadlines and handle delegating tasks, etc.?
I’m a list-maker and paper calendar person, which I 100% got from my mom. I’ve never been shy about delegating or tasking people. You could say that I may be described by others as bossy.
Do you have any tips, tricks, or life hacks for women who travel a lot for work like you do?
No... but if anyone has any tips, tricks or life hacks for me, I’ll take them! To keep such an exhausting pace, you have to love what you do, focus on the end goal, and believe in what you're doing enough to keep at it day after day. It’s no one's job but yours to keep going when you own and run a business.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
I’m getting ready to be a mom, so I can report back on that one soon, but I can’t really say I’ve ever been impacted or aware that being female had any positive or negative affects on me either way. I was raised by an incredibly strong woman who ran our household, and while this may be naive, I just never thought being a girl made me lesser in any way. I’m not really someone who loved “Lean In.” I’ve always had the opposite problem professionally where I needed to be told to sit down and shut up, which did me quite well in the corporate world, actually.
How has running a business together affected your relationship with your Mom?
Some days we’re super in sync and have a ball, and others it’s like a bad episode of the Kardashians where Kris and Khloe are battling it out. The thing about our family as a whole is that no matter what, we’re family. No matter what happens, you get over it, and leave business at the shop.
How has opening a small business in Jacksonville affected your connection with the community?
I have met the best, most passionate, smartest, creative people who are out there every day doing what they love. It’s the coolest thing! Being from the area and having the historical perspective of how far Jax has come to support the local movement is fantastic to watch and participate in. I’m so proud of this city and can’t wait to see what the next few years brings.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
That owning a shop is just about buying things and reselling them. It’s definitely the best part, but such a small piece of the pie.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
Small business in general is competing against the 'big box' more than you know. Because we watch the home decor and gift industry so intensely (the same way someone in fashion would know what’s coming a season or two ahead of time,) it’s crazy to see corporate retailers knock off items that they can sell for a fraction of the price. I get it - I shop at Target for certain items, too. But convincing people of the fact that quality, crafted pieces which will last forever are worth more than fleeting, impulse buys, and the entire "quality over quantity" issue, is our greatest struggle.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
Pride in ownership. It brings such immense joy to have a stranger tell me how much they love the store or how they found something so cool to them while shopping. We’re putting our lives into this day after day, so the unsuspecting or surprise acknowledgement can do wonders for my inspiration and drive.
The (few and far between) unfriendly and overly competitive business owners and state regulations. There is room for all of us to succeed, so let's work together! And why must everything be so difficult, Florida?
What would you say is your biggest strength in your current role?
Having my crazy previous corporate experience. If you can go that long and far doing something you sort of like for someone else, you can absolutely do it for yourself if you love it.
What are some businesses/business owners that you draw inspiration from?
You can’t beat Hotel Palms in Atlantic Beach. They restored this old motor court hotel into a modern gem while keeping its local beach integrity. Neat Jax is forever reminding us to stay organized! The editor and publisher of Flamingo Magazine, Jamie Rich and Christina Cush, are a constant reminder to look out for each other. We’re always sending each other texts and emails with “look what I found” and “you could use this” and “check this out for the shop/magazine”. I also love Cara at Blue Jay Jax. The girl is unstoppable. We’re so excited for her to open the listening room and see her hard work and perseverance pay off.
What advice would you give to a Babe trying to start her own business in your industry?
Get as many people's stories, advice and perspectives as you can, but then pave your own way.
What motivates and inspires you?
You’ve got to take inspiration from everything - the good and the bad. The joy of us is we’re not cookie cutter. We are a layered, multifaceted, ever-evolving, changing our minds, crazy, mother-daughter team who take our two perspectives on the world and the gifts we would want to give and items we’d put in our houses and combine them.
What does success look like to you?
Maintaining the desire to keep doing it. We have big plans, but those plans have to include wanting to do it and loving it still.
What helps you wind down/how do you manage stress?
Action cures anxiety for me, so carving out the appropriate amount of time and priorities helps me manage stress levels. I also love to end the day with a good meal and glass of wine. And then usually some couch time.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Do what makes you happy. Roll with the punches. Take risks. It all sounds cliche, but you’ve just got to do what works for you in life.
In partnership with: Sailors Siren (duh!)
Because we're such fans of this local small biz (and now you should be, too) we've partnered up to give you Babes a BWH-exclusive discount toward anything in their online shop! Check it out and use offer code "BABES" for 15% off your entire purchase.
*We are not monetizing from this partnership. We just really love and believe in Sailors Siren a whole lot, and want you to have the opportunity to as well!