Tournament Wives: Laura Johns
How a former high school violinist and self-described “quiet little nerd” became a successful small business owner, married a Georgia Big Stick and became a mom–all before the age of 22.
This is the third in a series on the women who are married to Georgia’s Big Sticks. We are interested in what it’s like to have a husband who is fishing sometimes as much as he is working–and particularly on tournament weekends. These ladies give us an ‘inside look’ of what it’s like to married to a great tournament fishermen. We also learn about their interests–where they work and what they do for enjoyment (besides attending tournament weigh-ins).
This week we focus on Laura Johns, wife of Georgia Big Stick Clay Johns.
by Dave Altman, Editor, georgiabigsticks.com
Laura Johns, a self-described “gym rat”, is very big on fitness. But the Dekalb County native, who also doubles as a tournament wife for Georgia Big Stick Clay Johns, has a lot more going on than kick-boxing and health foods. She’s the founder of one of the South’s largest consignment shows, Tykes, Tots & Teens, which has grown from a part-time job to put her daughter in nice clothes to a full-time job involving four big shows a year, two at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers and two at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry. Most importantly, she’s “Mom” to 11-year-old Eris, who, like her entrepreneurial parents, is a busy young lady (Junior Black Belt, violin, chess, tumbling and drums, just for starters).
We caught up with Laura after one of her consignment shows in Conyers, where she sometimes finds herself working a 24-hour day getting ready for the thousands of customers and
the more than one thousand participants that make up the shows. This is not your neighborhood garage sale–it’s a big time show featuring quality consignment items ranging from kids clothing to toys to books to strollers & other high-end items.
We spoke with Laura about her childhood, her balancing act being mom, business owner and wife of a Big Stick–and what it’s been like to be a ‘tournament wife’ after 14 years of marriage to Clay.
GBS: So, tell us about your growing up?
Laura: I grew up in Dekalb County, in Stone Mountain. I had two older brothers–they were like two more Dads–since they were older than I was. I sort of grew up a quiet little nerd. I played violin in high school.
GBS: Now we can add ‘violin’ to your list of accomplishments including entrepreneur, martial arts belt holder, foodie chef, gym monkey, etc. Does that make you a kind of Renaissance woman?
Laura: Well, I’d like to be, but I’m not. I’m not sure where that came from. I’ve always thought my daughter was the one who could be described that way.
GBS: What was that Facebook post you had the other day–having a glass of port about 3 p.m. Heck, I’m drinking Cokes at 3 p.m. You must have had a rough day!
Laura: The truth is that was a really, really bad day. I told my girlfriend that I hadn’t drank a glass of wine in about six months and I really felt it (laughing).
GBS: So did you work as a teenager?
Laura: I started working at a toy store at age 16. It’s probably where my entrepreneurial and business skills came from. Then I worked in a jewelry business until I was about 20 or 21. I started my consignment show business when I was twenty. [Laura is the founder of Tykes, Tots & Teens, the state’s largest consignment show. You can learn more about it here].
GBS: What was the inspiration for the consignment business?
Laura: Well, I grew up on consignment sales. We were financially restricted growing up and had one car and we’d drop my Dad off at work in the mornings and we lived close to my school. Mom really made the wise use of all the pennies we had. She dressed me very well–I still was in expensive name brands but she was smart and bought them used. I got married right out of high school. I was 18 and Clay was 19. When I got pregnant (two years after we were married) I thought gosh, we can’t really afford a kid–we were so young ourselves.
GBS: Wow, you guys did get started young!
Laura: Yes, I was pregnant on my 21st birthday. So I thought, well, this is a way for us to provide for our daughter, let’s start a consignment sale. We started out very small, with just 17 participants and I made $100 profit in my first event, but the business was really just started to provide for Eris. I was not really thinking about helping the community–it was more about just survival mode for our family–but then it grew. It started out part-time, then it grew into full-time and then it turned into a full-time job for Clay, too. So it’s definitely helped thousands of women who were in my position 10-11 years ago.
GBS: So it must have helped out financially.
Laura: Yes, the good thing is that you are bringing in more money for your family. The toughest part is finding good help, so if you’re growing, you’d better have the means to grow and be able to keep up with demand. Hiring people, training people and being able to keep people are all necessary for a successful business. In my case, many of my customers are also my workers. It’s a fine line–you can’t make them angry or you’ll be in bad shape (laughing).
GBS: That’s very cool. How did you meet Clay?
Laura: (laughing) Oh, it’s a funny story. I actually met him on-line. While I was in high school I would look up random people just for fun on AOL. So I saw this name “clabionSK8” (and I really liked skating) so I messaged him. I never had any intention of meeting with him but we hit it off and eventually met many months later. That was at a Walmart with some friends–in a strategic location. So we talked on-line for about six months and another six months on the phone before we actually met. Then we dated for three months and then we got engaged.
GBS: Another on-line dating success! Do you mind if I use that?
Laura: (laughing) Oh no, it’s okay.
GBS: So how long do the shows run?
Laura: Well, we’re at the horse park (in Conyers) for three weeks at a time, twice a year and in Perry twice a year for two weeks at a time. We have about 20% of our participants who volunteer their time in order to get to shop early (before the show officially opens) and also to keep a higher percentage of their sales. The model is that everyone who sells keeps 70% of their sales–they price their own items–it’s all done via computer with bar codes. It’s nothing like a garage sale. Depending on how much they work, they can keep an even higher percentage of their sales. We have different levels of workers. We have some that will work 20 hours, some 16 and 12, 8 and four hour workers. It’s all very organized–but it requires a lot of work.
GBS: I remember you and Clay at a Thursday tournament at Sugar Creek one day about two years ago and I think you both had not slept in like 24 hours (this must have been during your consignment show setup). You were sitting in Clay’s truck with your hoodie up and he was trying to stay awake and run a tournament at the same time.
Laura: I can’t believe you remember that! That was one of those times where I knew we were working on ‘no sleep’. I always worry about him being on the road–because he always is–and I wanted to be an extra set of eyes and make sure he stayed awake. When you saw me during those days, that’s what that was about.
GBS: What do you think about Clay’s choice to become a professional fishermen? Does it make things difficult for you?
Laura: It’s a love-hate relationship that I’ve learned to love more than I hate. The first five or six years he just fished, I just hated it. It cost money and it was taking time away from the family. Plus, he was still working in the car business 60-70 hours per week, so he was fishing a lot of night tournaments and I never saw him. Then one day he came home and said I’m going to start a tournament trail, that was pretty exciting, because it could become like a business now–
GBS: Were you already running your consignment business by then?
Laura: Yes, he was not involved in it. It was very small at that time. In fact, I was working for Delta Airlines at the time–doing the midnight shift and I was using all my vacation time to run the consignment sales. Clay had started the tournament trail [C&R Outdoors] and was still working in the car business.
We had four jobs between us and we just never saw each other. So, as the business started growing, I started to go with him, and it was a little break going to some of those tournaments on the weekends (even though the day would start at 2 a.m. and we were still sleep-deprived (laughing). Of course, Clay’s Dad, Russell, would help out in the early days and the three of us would go and that would be fun. But, as our daughter got older, it became more difficult for me to go with him. And my work pulled me away. Now that he’s at the level he is now–almost a true professional level–
GBS: Yes, I’d say he is certainly at that level…
Laura: …I really like it. It’s almost bragging rights. My husband is a professional fisherman. His office is in a bass boat. Not many wives can say that! I think it’s very cool. But the weekends can get long when he is gone
and that’s when I really have to rely on my support group like my parents to take care of my daughter four times a year–and my dog, too (laughing).
GBS: Do you like to fish?
Laura: Yes, but my fishing experience has evolved. When I first started to fish, Clay would show me how to fish and it was all cute and cuddly and I enjoyed it. Then, after we got married, it got tedious (laughing). But then I thought, I want to learn this. I want to learn how to back the boat down the ramp. But Clay was really busy at that time and it was just quicker for him to tie my bait on. But I just wanted to know what to say when he said ‘what do you want to fish with’? I thought I’d get all these books and learn about it. I was doing it to support him and to try to be a ‘cool’ wife, but I gave up pretty quickly because, well, he wasn’t really a good teacher (laughing). So I would say, just tie-on whatever. Now, I fish when I want to fish. I will go when I want to and fish when I want to. And I will put the pole down when I want to put the pole down and then I’ve got my bathing suit and my suntan lotion and I just put myself on the back of the boat and relax.
GBS: My wife is much the same way. She enjoys it when they are biting, but otherwise she’s got a book to read or a crochet project handy. I know she’d rather be doing anything other than fishing, especially in the summer!
Laura: I know, I know. However, I think the biggest thing that happened was when I learned to fish with a baitcaster. He had me on a spinning rod for a long time but when I picked up that baitcaster I was a natural! If you get me in ‘tournament mode’ I don’t give up–we fish hard all day and I don’t contribute much but it brings out the competitive side of me.
GBS: Let’s talk about your dedication to fitness. Where did that come from? Did you play sports in high school along with the violin?
Laura: No, I had asmtha as a child and I was terrible at sports. I wasn’t on any teams. Health is very big thing to me. I really am a gym rat. I take kick boxing and I got a yellow belt in Hapkido [a form of Korean martial arts]. My Dad is 72-years-old and he’s one of those guys that still does pull ups and push-ups and bike rides 15-18 miles a day and he is incredible. So fitness is very important to me. I want to be like my Dad when I am 72-years-old.
GBS: And your daughter is involved in many activities–
Laura: She started karate in first grade and got her junior black belt. I sort of live vicariously through my daughter on martial arts. I wish I had taken it as a child. Now she’s taking a break, recovering from an injury. She does tumbling. She takes drum lessons and she did take violin. She was in the chess club at a private school that she just loves.
GBS: What was it like helping Clay with his tournament trail? Any horror stories to tell?
Laura: Well, there was one tournament that Clay put on where it was freezing cold and snow was in the forecast. Of course, we don’t cancel but you never know who would show up. I think there was only one or two boats–maybe on Lake Jackson. He fished that day. It was so cold I stayed in the truck. And it was snowing like crazy when we left the lake. When we got home we actually had to shovel the driveway. We never got the boat into the garage!
GBS: And what was it like going with Clay to the All American tournament up in Kentucky?
Laura: I loved it. It was the week of our 14th wedding anniversary. He said he would drive home during the tournament or I could just go with him, so I jumped at the chance. We had a great time. We got caught in a thunderstorm and I was pretty sure I was going to die running down the lake and Clay thought I was hilarious for thinking that (laughing). But we had fun–and I hope my being there for him and talking out his plan contributed to his success.
GBS: Have you met many of the other Tournament Wives?
Laura: I’ve met Julie Carter, Kip’s wife. But I am very shy person most of the time. I can go into my business ‘mode’ easily, but when comes it to meeting people socially, it’s more difficult. I would like to meet other tournament wives and talk about the things we have in common. I don’t have a lot of outside friends–in fact, Clay is my best friend.
GBS: What do you hope to do long term with your consignment business and Clay’s career?
Laura: Our long term goal is to become the nation’s largest consignment show. That may be ten years or so down the road, but our business is growing. As for Clay, I want him to go all the way. I want to be sitting in the audience at The Cup and see him hold up that trophy and be there for him at all his big tournaments.
GBS: Thanks for your time, Laura.
Laura: You’re welcome, Dave.