MINT HILL – Fabi Preslar overcame tremendous odds in her youth to build a publishing company and personal brand that recently earned her induction into the North Carolina Women Business Owners Hall of Fame.
But a breast cancer diagnosis in April forced her to put work aside and focus on getting better.
“I’ve claimed a healing sabbatical,” Fabi said before beginning four weeks of radiation treatment on July 26.
When Fabi found a lump in her breast in December, she chalked it up to fibrocystic breast changes and decided to keep an eye on it for a couple of months.
“Then life just took off and was super busy for the holidays,” Fabi said. “We had turnover at the first of the year. Then my entire staff had the flu every other week.”
Since Fabi received the diagnosis in April, she willingly jumped on what she described as the “cancer conveyor belt.” This meant prying herself away from her company, SPARK Publications.
“I really stepped out of it for about eight weeks through all the different tests, scans, surgery and complications of that surgery and recovery,” Fabi said. “It was this long eight-week period in which I was just hands-off completely.”
Fabi said the time away gave her a chance to see how successful her business truly has become. Her team of SPARKlers, including husband Larry and daughter Sofi, stepped up and took care of clients in her absence.
Recently, Fabi began working a couple of days a week because there are aspects with her job, particularly operations and business development, that she’s not yet replaceable.
“I realized there were a lot of other things I didn’t need to do in the company, so I just let those things go,” she said.
Prior to radiation, she expected to only check in on work from her laptop a couple of times a week.
Letting go of work hasn’t been as difficult as one would expect for someone whose been working since the age of 13.
As Fabi was about to start her senior year of high school, her parents had to close the family restaurant in Columbia, S.C. They eventually lost their home and wound up staying with a family near Winston-Salem.
Fabi decided to leave home after graduating from high school and pursue a career in graphic design. Fabi’s mother dropped her off in Charlotte. At 17, Fabi worked three jobs to put herself through classes at Central Piedmont Community College.
Fabi felt like she had to pay her dues to follow her dreams. She developed a strong work ethic that powered her through a successful career.
Fabi launched SPARK Publications in 1998 to spend more time with her family. The company publishes magazines, books, catalogs and digital products for clients.
Over time, she was turning down more work than she was able to take in. Once Sofi became a senior at Butler High School, Fabi began focusing more on the business, growing it beyond the home and hiring employees.
Eventually, it became a family business. Larry left the magazine division at The Charlotte Observer to become SPARK’s creative director, allowing Fabi to take on more of the operations as president.
She still taps into her creativity by helping clients realize their vision, as well as through writing books.
She’s written two books: “On Heaven’s Couch” and ”Fabulous F Words of Business Ownership.”
“On Heaven’s Couch” reflects on conversations she had with her lifelong mentor who had gotten ill. Amid launching her business, Fabi would drive to Winston-Salem every Monday to spend time with her friend.
“I thought I was serving her but at the same time, I was actually learning about love, service, compassion and friendship,” Fabi said. “After she passed, it was just a hole in my life. I decided to share some of the lessons about being a young woman growing up. I would just sit on her couch and we would just have these amazing conversations.”
“Fabulous F Words of Business Ownership” expounds on words like family, foundations, failure and fear – words that fuel a small business.
SPARK Publications has won more than 150 design and industry awards over the years, including Charlotte Business Journal’s First-Generation Family Business of the Year in 2018. The Charlotte chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners recognized Fabi in 2017 as Business Woman of the Year.
Fabi didn’t feel she stood a chance when she learned of her nomination for the North Carolina Women Business Owners Hall of Fame. The group recognizes leaders who contribute to women’s entrepreneurial development.
She was inducted in May, joining the likes of Pepsi-Cola’s Dale Halton and First Trust Bank’s Elizabeth Nisbet Miller.
While hall of fame inductions are usually reserved for people at the end of their careers, Fabi doesn’t see an end in sight.
“I’m sure that’s probably why I needed cancer in my life to be able to hit those brakes,” Fabi said. “It’s not within my makeup to say that I’m done. There’s always that next thing.
“My biggest fear is not living up to my full potential. I’ve been pushing hard since I was young. I am getting a new mentality of wanting to be more collaborative and allowing more things to happen.”
Want to learn more?
Visit www.fabipreslar.com to learn more about Fabi Preslar. Visit www.sparkpublications.com to learn more about her publishing company.