An old adage says business and family don’t mix well. Don’t tell that to Lauren Albright. At just 27 years old, she is a key player in her family’s successful business, Creative Tile Imports in Allentown.
Lauren’s father, Albert, and grandfather, Albert, Sr., started Creative Tile as a small family business in 1999. Today, Creative Tile has a busy 5,000-square-foot showroom and customers from around the country.
And Lauren, whose grandfather passed away in 2004, joined the company in 2013 and is now part owner of this family legacy, along with her mother Jane and father. Her sister, Olivia, is also part of the business.
Despite the challenges that come with working alongside her parents and sibling, Lauren wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love it,” she says, “I really do.”
Her job is demanding; there are design consults, international orders to be placed and staff to manage. But, what few Creative Tile customers know is that Lauren also faces the demands of a chronic, life-long illness called Cystic Fibrosis.
An inherited disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system, the disease affects the cells that produce mucus, sweat, and digestive fluids, leaving them prone to infection. She was diagnosed with CF as an infant. But Lauren has survived and thrived in the face of what can sometimes be a terminal diagnosis.
LVB wanted to find out more about this hard-working young woman, and how she successfully juggles the many needs of her health, her career and her tight family life.
Here’s how she does it.
You weren’t always interested in becoming part of the family business. Tell us what you did before coming on board at Creative Tile?
I went to culinary school after high school. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, I started a food truck with my sister, Olivia. It was a pie truck, called “Sweet and Savory Pies.”
We both had to work other jobs in addition to the food truck to get by. I started working with my family. My sister was working at WFMZ-TV. The food truck hours were so crazy, and we both found that we were finding real fulfillment in our other jobs. So we decided to let go of the food truck and I made the family business my focus.
If you had told me as a teenager that I would be working here full time one day, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I love it.
As a young woman in a somewhat male dominated tile industry, have you experienced any sexism?
I have experienced some doubt in my abilities by certain contractors. They may have been doing this for 60 years and can be reluctant to believe that the “girls” know what they are doing. They will call and ask for one of the men. I assure them that we girls know the answers, we really do.
What do you find most challenging and conversely, most rewarding, about managing the family business?
Just the day-to-day work is challenging. We are always trying to get bigger and expand, and I’m always trying to keep our staff motivated to keep growing. We have a fantastic staff so they don’t need a lot of motivation. We do things like have company get togethers to keep the staff’s morale high.
Half of the staff is related to each other, and the others, well, we like to say they are family, too. We want to make sure that everyone is enjoying their job, that they are challenged and happy.
Most rewarding? For me, bringing in new business is an accomplishment and exciting. I love sales.
What is it like to work with your family; to be together all the time?
For me, it’s great. Family can always be a challenge but I think it’s challenging to work with any people regardless. But you know these people so well, you’ve already been working with them for so long, it works. It can be emotional, however. You can feel personally offended by things that you might not from someone you are not related to. We can butt heads from time to time but my mom tends to be a good conflict resolver.
When you aren’t working, do you try and spend time away from your family to get a little needed space?
No, we actually spend a lot of time together outside of the business, too. We have family dinner every Sunday. We work out together two or three times a week. Family is what we do.
In addition to work, Cystic Fibrosis is a part of your life, too. What do you need to do daily to manage your health?
I have to do two treatments every day, at least: two nebulizer breathing treatments, and then I have to wear this thing called “the vest,” which shakes you for 20 minutes (to loosen the mucus). It’s definitely an added thing to my day. I probably spend an hour and a half on treatments every day.
I used to skip treatments sometimes in high school, but I’ve become better at it and more responsible with it as I’ve gotten older. I realize how important it is to my health. I work out, in part because it helps you cough. Anything that helps you cough is encouraged.
Have your methods of treatment changed over the years?
Definitely. I need to be better about treatments now. As you get older, your lungs get more scarred from infections from over the years. But now I’m part of an experimental treatment for a drug that was just sent for FDA approval. It’s been incredible. It’s raising people’s lung function.
People are living a lot longer today. They are making a lot of strides. The CF foundation is really good at finding effective medications.
Is CF something that is passed down from your parents?
Yes, it is genetic. One in 30 Caucasians is a carrier. My sister is a carrier. I have it. My parents are both carriers. Your parents both have to be carriers for you to get it.
My sister’s husband is not a carrier, so her kids do not have it.
I will pass on the gene, and my husband is a carrier, but with a more-mild gene, that doesn’t always develop CF.
It’s a complicated and rare disease, so no one can give you an exact answer on if your child will develop it.
Are customers at work aware that you have CF?
No, I don’t really mention it. However I have been on I.V.s before, and have had to do them here. You can’t really hide that.
Outside of your hour and a half treatment, is having CF on your mind during the day?
Yes, I used to work even longer crazier hours here, and then one year I got double pneumonia and didn’t even know. I thought I just had a cold. I realized I needed to work regular hours, fit in exercise, treatments and rest times.
I feel like I made a life adjustment when I got double pneumonia. I have to deal with this. It’s always on your mind. Even every time I eat, it’s on my mind because I have to take pills to digest my food.
Do the majority of people with CF also work full time?
Lots of people with CF are working full time, but it’s individual. It depends on your genetics and which infections you have had. Some people are getting double lung transplants in their 20s.
Every year the life expectancy goes up. When I was born, the life expectancy was in your 20s, now it’s close to 40. There are people living into their 90s. It depends on your case.
I have moderate CF. It worsens as you get older, but because I’m on this drug, I’ve had significant improvement. Very noticeable improvement.
This drug is to be taken every day, twice a day, and is pretty revolutionary.
Do you think most people with chronic illnesses are afraid to mention it when they apply for jobs? Afraid it might effect if they get hired or not?
It is something CF people worry about a lot. You might not mention it if you were looking to get hired, but at the same time, you can get infections easier, so you would eventually have to tell your employer.
Insurance is a concern as well with CF. I believe in universal health care. If you don’t have insurance coverage with CF, I don’t know what you would do. I’m sure my drugs cost $15,000 a month if not more.
Are you concerned about what might happen with your health 10 years down the road- with work, with family?
The plan is for me to take over the business, but there is always the question of “How will my health be?”
But 10 years ago I never would have thought I would be on this life changing new drug. What else will come out that is life changing? It’s an unpredictable disease. It’s hard.
How do you maintain the balance between being an ambitious professional and maintaining your health?
It’s hard and I’m still learning. I constantly push myself too much, and I notice it and get myself back on track. Health has to be your first focus. You have to be healthy in order to come to work.
Do you ever feel like: “Why is this happening to me?” How do you get through that?
Of course, especially when I get sick. You have to get over it. There is nowhere to go with it. It won’t help you. And at the same time, CF has definitely shaped who I am. I have matured faster. I have had to take on responsibility at a young age.
My disease was mine to handle myself. I’m not overwhelmed as much by other things. I’ve learned to manage and take on challenging things more easily than others might. For example, I take the responsibility of being given the opportunity to work in this family business very seriously. I never want to be a noose around its neck.
And it’s exciting to feel passionate about your work. In general, it’s a great feeling to be so invested in something.
Do you have any advice for other young women starting out in business who may be facing their own hidden challenges?
The biggest key is to believe in yourself. If you are doubting yourself, it shows. You have as much value as any one. You are capable. Feel confident in what you are doing. That’s how you succeed.