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Running a business

Gabrielle Shelton is letting her work speak for itself

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the stories of the amazing women in small business that are conquering male-dominated industries and working to #breakthebias.

Name: Gabrielle Shelton

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Business: Shelton Studios Inc

What does your business do? 

Shelton Studios Inc is a custom metal fabrication studio. We offer welding, machining, and finishing for an array of custom architectural metal projects. Shelton Studios specializes in stairs, doors, and custom hardware. 

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started? 

I started a business after spending years working in other welding shops and construction. I realized that I enjoyed the entire process of metal fabrication—from client meetings and project development, to the material order, welding, finishing, and installation. The only way I could be a part of all the different roles was to start my own business. 

Also, as a sculptor, I needed a studio to make my art, and the only way to afford a studio was to run a business out of it. 

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year? 

The biggest lesson I learned the first year was that I needed help. At first, I hired my other metalworking friends to help with gig work but quickly realized I needed to have actual employees and clear job descriptions. 

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner?

The most surprising thing about becoming a business owner is that even though I am always on call, and there is no real start or end time to each day, I can use that to be flexible with my responsibilities as a mother. I may have to leave work early for a school event but I can go back in after dinner to finish up a project. 

What is an aspect of running a business that you needed to learn more about when you started? How did you learn about it? 

I think the hardest thing for me about running a business was learning how to manage employees. I learned how to manage both my expectations and theirs through trial and error. As a woman employing mostly men in a male-dominated industry, there has always been a dynamic that was new for a lot of my employees. 

How does running your own business make you feel? 

Running a business is both exhausting and exhilarating. I have grown a lot as a person due to my experiences as a business owner and I think the journey has made me a better metal worker, communicator, and project manager. 

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome as a business owner? 

As a small business owner, the biggest challenges have always been delegating my own time and creating boundaries with both my customers and employees. When you are involved in all parts of the business it’s very easy to get pulled in a lot of directions which can impede productivity.

What are your proudest moments? 

My proudest moments are always when we make something that we have never made before and overcome engineering challenges to complete a difficult project. 

What are the next big plans you have for your business? 

My current plan for my business is to put more energy into a few product lines that I have been developing for the last few years. 

What are three things that you feel have contributed to your success as a business owner?

I think a few things that have contributed to my success are, my work ethic, my amazing crew, my supportive family, and my curiosity to try new things. 

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I am constantly faced with doubt and treated as a spectacle—at least until they see the work.

What challenges do you feel are unique to female small business owners? 

I think the biggest challenge as a female business owner in the construction industry is that I am constantly faced with doubt and treated as a spectacle—at least until they see the work. There are questions asked to women in the field that I know are never asked to men. There are power struggles with male employees that mostly do not exist with male bosses. 

What is it like working in an industry that some might see as traditionally male-dominated? Have you come up against any bias? 

I have come up against every kind of bias and harassment in my industry but I am also aware that I am the one walking into a traditionally male industry. I have always felt that other than any criminal acts, it is best for me to focus on the job, and not my gender or anyone else’s reaction to it. The more women that are seen on job sites, the more it gets normalized. 

Is there anything you want other women to know about working in your industry? 

The most common piece of advice that I give to other women is to focus on the work, not the personalities. Other people's doubt and curiosity are annoying and unfair and distracting, but it’s about them—not you. Focus on your skill and your craft and let the respect and acceptance come through your work. 

What advice would you give to other women starting their own business?

My advice to other women starting their own business plan would be to have a business plan. I really just jumped in with no plan and figured everything out as I went but I think it would be easier to have a plan. 

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going? 

On a tough day, I just think perspective is really helpful. I’m not saving lives, I’m making high-end metalwork—everything is going to be OK. 

How can female business owners support one another and their community?

I honestly feel like the other female business owners I know in the industry are already extremely supportive. 

What’s your “power song” and why? 

“I Against I” by Bad Brains

To learn more about Shelton Studios and to support the business, visit their website or check out their work on Instagram.

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