Mask Off: An Inside Look at the Lion Heart Story

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

“To be successful, you must be willing to do the things today others won’t do in order to have the things tomorrow others won’t have.”

Les Brown

We had NO idea what we were doing. We were playing it by ear and designing on the fly the whole way through but here we are. I'm Jesenia and my husband Kyle and I own and operate Lion Heart Floors and let me just tell you, this business ownership stuff is not for the weak of heart. In summer of 2018 we had just welcomed or 3rd child; Luna into the world. I was on maternity leave from the corporate world and Kyle was running flooring installation crews all over the Lake County area. Things were good. With Luna in tow; while the older kids were at school I would manage all of the administrative tasks of the business such as bookkeeping, invoices, taxes and the social media while Kyle would manage the jobsites, crews and relationships with our customers. Our business was growing, our family was growing and we were on cloud 9.

We started Lion Heart back in 2016. Kyle had worked as a contractor for his parents flooring showroom for about 12 years at that time. I watched him grow and absorb everything this industry had to show him. He started pushing a broom as an apprentice and watched, learned and put these skills into practice like nothing I'd ever seen before. He was a sponge for the knowledge and he was constantly working to perfect his craft. Kyle started to expand his knowledge and really get into understanding the products, the technicalities, the way the material moved and behaved once it went down. He was a master at his craft. The one thing that he had in him that he didn't have to learn or study was the ability to read people, that inner salesman that just opened his mouth had you handing over the cash. I used to joke with him and say, "Kyle, you could sell ice to an Eskimo". He'd laugh it off. From the time I met him I had always felt it in my gut that this man was destined for greatness. You could just look at him and know that for him, there was no ceiling. That feeling was the catalyst for it all.

I had thought so many times "Why is he working for someone else? We could do this on our own, our own way and shake up the flooring industry" I had the corporate background he had the experience and could sell. Why not? We were young and super ambitious. Every flooring store we had been in was the same: 20 different types of floor on the ground and old, judgmental sales people who would look you up and down and decide if you were the type to be able to "afford" what they had to sell. We had created a business plan for his parents showroom in a Power Point presentation years back to try to collaborate, turn the industry on its side a little. It was rejected. After opening Lion Heart we found the presentation one day and learned we had executed every single item on our list of bullet points to revamp the industry. It felt really good to know that even in our early 20's we were on the right track.

I was driving home one evening on the highway. It was a long drive, the kind where you don't even realize that there isn't any music playing because you're so lost in your thoughts. It hit me. The name for our company. Lion Heart Floors. It completely and totally embodied everything that Kyle is; as a man, as a father, as a human being. Anyone who ever meets Kyle will know immediately what I mean by that statement but for those of you who haven't been so lucky I'll explain. Kyle is the type of man who cares. I can't tell you how many people meet him and just tell their life story because they were immediately made to feel so comforted and calm by his presence. He listens, deeply and attentively and from the heart. He is authentic. One of the most genuine people you'll ever meet. The lion in him, that lion comes out with ferocity when it comes to protecting his family. That lion also leads and guides those around him and creates strength among those he considers his tribe. That was it. The seed was planted, watered and carefully cared for.

I took it upon myself to file all the required documents to make us official. There it was, February 2016 we were Lion Heart Floors LLC. I gently nudged for so many years knowing the greatness that this man had inside of him but in 2016 he needed a push. He was standing on a cliff looking down, wondering how badly it would hurt if he fell to the bottom. I came running, full force, jumped on him and took us both barreling over that cliff. He flew. That day he discovered he had wings. A new man was born. in Summer of 2018 he came running full force at me on my own cliff. He asked me to leave my corporate job of 10 years, to leave behind the only financial security I had known and work for Lion Heart full-time. I flew too, eventually. It took my wings some time to get their rhythm but I flew. It changed me.

By November 2018 we were signing the lease on our brick and mortar store front. I was nervous. I was nauseous. I emptied my savings account and cashed in my 401K to build it out and we signed on the dotted line. No experience owning a store. No experience building out of store for that matter. We figured it out together. We were open for business by January 9th. A week later, we found out we were expecting.

Okay. No problem. We have an infant who is still nursing and I'm pregnant. No big deal. We got this. We pushed along. We fell apart a lot too. Mainly me. Things were okay. We joined the Chamber of Commerce and that turned out to be our saving grace for the truckload that was about to hit us next. May 28th, I was 25 weeks pregnant. We had just had a relaxing Memorial day weekend out in Sarasota. We go to bed. I wake up at 3am. My water broke. "But I'm only 25 weeks pregnant, there's no way". "This is bad isn't it". "Are you sure". "Should we go to the hospital". "Okay, load up the kids". My water broke. It was 2 days before our Grand Opening. I now lived at the hospital until the baby was born. Kyle was now solo with 2 kids, a baby and a business to run.

I ended up living at Winnie Palmer for 5 weeks until I was 30 weeks pregnant. I now joke that I was living in quarantine before everyone. That's what it felt like. Isolation and not being allowed to be mobile will really take a toll on you mentally. We were celebrating Luna's 1st birthday at the hospital when I started to feel off. Nothing in particular was wrong I just didn't feel okay. Within about an hour I was shaking and had a fever. Emergency C-section. Kendrick was born on Luna's birthday at 11:57pm. Irish Twins. Our dance with NICU began. Kendrick was in NICU for 89 days. Blood transfusions, tests, around the clock pumping. It felt like an eternity. There is no feeling like having a baby and leaving the hospital without a baby in your arms. It was a blow to the chest I will never forget. This was a very emotional time for me as I'm sure it was for Kyle. He did a much better job at hiding it. We made it through. We persevered.

Kendrick ended up with what's known as Hydrocephalus. Its an accumulation of fluid on the brain. His little head was so swollen that it started to change the shape of his face. At 3 months old they performed brain surgery. It didn't work. In December 2019 he had another procedure to install a shunt which worked beautifully. We brought him home and started getting back to our "normal" lives. Whatever that meant at this point.

Enter 2020...I'll wait. I know we all still have PTSD from the mention of 2020, masks, lockdown and quarantine. We really had to get creative and adjust with what was going on in order for us to stay in business. We offered virtual shopping experiences, We limited the store to appointment only to ensure ample cleaning time in between visitors. I've never used so many Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer in my life. We made it. We persevered and pushed through yet again. I'll admit, our hands did go up in the air a few times asking "what else ya got"? Can you blame us. At this point we just wanted a minute to bring our heads above water.

January 2021. Our perfectly healthy now 1 and a half year old Kendrick, normally active and rambunctious has a significant change in demeanor. We immediately take him to the hospital. We were told the warning signs of a shunt malfunction and he was displaying quite a few. We're sent home with a diagnosis of 2 viruses. Kendrick didn't get better, in fact he became more lethargic and stopped eating and drinking completely. We took him back to the ER and learned that his shunt had detached and he needed surgery. He went in for an emergency procedure and in 10 days was back in the ER again as it had failed. The shunt system was removed entirely and replaced. Another dance with the hospital. Another test of our strength and perseverance. Kendrick is doing incredible now.

What have we learned through these experiences? A few things actually;

  1. When it comes to the health of your children, everything else that you thought was important melts away and you find yourself hugging each of them a little tighter at night.

  2. It really does take a village. Without the support from our Chamber of Commerce I don't know where we would be. Kendrick came home to a full stocked nursery because of these amazing people and our business was able to see through to the other side of it.

  3. Quitting is not an option when you turn around and see those little eyes looking at you to lead by example. You don't quit just because things get hard, you step up to the plate and that is when you shine brightest.

We started our family business with a hell of a story but we are still here. We are still kicking. We will execute on everything we had planned for this business and leave behind a legacy our children can be proud to take over one day. For those of you toying with the thought of business ownership, do it! There is risk. There will be many days where you don't know how you can go on. You will find parts of yourself you didn't know were in there and you will learn how to conquer those demons who tried to make you doubt yourself. It will be so worth it!

Did you overcome, persevere or find your "why" in a not so linear way? Please share it. I'd love to hear your story.

#business #mindset #struggle #overcome #family