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Starting a Business Has Helped Her Reach Others Battling Cancer


After Suzanne Locklear found out that she had breast cancer for the second time, she worked through the terror of diagnosis and rigor of treatment in an unusual way: She started a salad dressing company.

To Locklear, this was the perfect blending of life and work. Her mission has been to turn out a tasty salad dressing while promoting healthy eating and cancer awareness.

The company, Suzanne's Sensationals, also gave Locklear a way to support her three children while being with them.

"I knew I wanted to reach women, but I didn't know how," said Locklear, who started her company in 1993 in the kitchen of her Boise, Idaho, home.

"I want people to know that cancer is not a death sentence," Locklear said. "Cancer made me a lot bolder and braver because I figured, 'What do I have to lose?' "

Nutrition was an important part of Locklear's cancer recovery plan, and her cooking experiments led to the development of two salad dressings, a red-wine vinaigrette and a low-fat honey mustard. Locklear initially bottled the dressing herself with the help of friends and family, and set about selling the dressing by mail order and in specialty stores.

In 1993, her first year in business, Locklear sold 200 12-bottle cases of salad dressing. Last year, that number jumped to nearly 2,000 on word of mouth alone.

Getting into major grocery stores in 1995 was a big breakthrough for the company. So is moving out of Locklear's house--that happens next week. Locklear will open an office on the outskirts of Boise and will be joined by two new employees.

The dressings, which now are bottled in California, are carried in nearly 400 stores in seven states. In Southern California, the dressings can be found at Albertson's supermarkets and at the Wild Oats health food store in Laguna Beach. A second large chain in Southern California is considering stocking the products, Locklear said.

The 42-year-old Locklear, who has been cancer-free for six years, uses her company as a vehicle to teach women about cancer. Her company maintains a site on the World Wide Web ( ~cottage/suz/suzanne.htm) that touts the dressing but also discusses cancer statistics and facts, emphasizes the importance of early detection, posts tips from women about breast cancer treatments and provides links to other sites and sources of information.

On top of that, a portion of each salad dressing sale--$1 a case--goes to breast cancer research and prevention efforts. Locklear estimates that the company has donated several thousand dollars in cash and products during its nearly four years in business.

"This was a way to mesh all of the things that I wanted to do," Locklear said. "We are bringing about a lot of awareness. It's a combination of business and philosophy where each pushes the other."

Locklear managed all this while rearing three children, two of whom are teenagers still living at home.

Part of the impetus for starting the company was to find a way to earn a living while still being accessible to her children, Locklear said. As the company's Web site puts it, following surgery, and radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Locklear "lost her job, her husband and her hair."

Locklear said she has managed by making her children an integral part of the business. They often travel with her, help her pass out samples in stores and test recipes.

"I look for small things that they can do to assist me, and I pay them for it," Locklear said. "That way they feel they are included."

But running a business out of your home office doesn't always mean that you're striking a good balance, Locklear said.

"It's a struggle. I got out of balance once, and my kids let me know it," Locklear said.

"They were screaming, 'We never see you. Even though you're here in the house, you're buried in the office.' "

Locklear said she now limits her evening business hours and makes sure she takes time off for school activities and sports events.

"When you own your own business," she said, "you get to choose which 12 to 14 hours to work."


Has your company developed an interesting way to help employees balance work life and family life? Write to Balancing Act, Los Angeles Times, Business News, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Or send e-mail to

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