“Grandma, can you make me a mermaid tail?” This innocent request from Jerry (BS ’63) and Karen Browning’s granddaughter ten years ago could not have been more pivotal. At 72 and 66-years-old, Jerry and Karen jumped feet first into a brand-new business opportunity inspired by their granddaughter. Though they were no strangers to starting businesses, they had never done anything quite like this.
Karen and Jerry both grew up in small towns in Idaho. They came from farming families that, at times, struggled financially and didn’t enjoy many luxuries. After high school, and a mission for Jerry, the two met and were married within the next year before heading off to school. Jerry studied Business Management at BYU. He says, “Anybody who wants to be an entrepreneur ought to take those classes.” But while education made a difference for Jerry, it did not shield him from the challenges that lay ahead in his many business ventures.
“Jerry worked at the Forest Service until ’93, and then he decided to join me at the furniture store I'd been managing since '77 . . . we were in that 22 years,” relates Karen. The Brownings prided themselves on selling high-quality items at a fair price. Jerry says, “Our goals are to be fair and honest and to work hard.” The furniture store was just the start. When it closed, the couple began buying and selling refurbished homes. After that, they ran a reception venue from one of their properties. They took on various roles in each business. Jerry recalls, “I became a janitor in the reception business, always sweeping up.” After years of running different companies and acquiring an impressive skillset, they finally decided to retire.
The Brownings’ retirement didn’t last long, though. One day, their 10-year-old granddaughter came to Karen and asked her to sew a mermaid tail for her to wear swimming. “She showed me her idea and we went right down to the fabric store and bought the swimsuit material and cut it out and fit it to her,” recalls Karen. Her granddaughters started wearing their new tails to the pool and began to spark excitement in the community. Soon friends and neighbors all wanted mermaid tails. Jerry says, “I had a tough time convincing [Karen] that this was really something we ought to do, but the reactions of girls, mothers, and grandmothers when they saw it were amazing. We finally decided to make a business out of it.”
At first, Karen did all the sewing, but as demand grew, she had to recruit more people to help her. “I got the lady across the street, who’s a grandma, and another lady who’s a grandma, until we ended up with about seven or eight ladies sewing for us,” Karen says. As time went on, the demand outgrew their small group of grandmothers and they decided to manufacture the tails internationally and sell them online. What did it take for the Brownings to do what they did? “I think courage, mostly, and a little bit of hope.” says Karen.
A couple of years into Fin Fun, the Browning’s mermaid tail company, their two sons, Eric and Steve came to them wanting to buy equal shares in the business. “Eric said one thing when he bought it. He said, ‘I don’t want my folks to ever have to work another day in their life.’ Honestly we haven’t.” The Browning children, in-laws, and grandchildren took over Fin Fun and have been essential to its success today. With so many family members involved, there are inevitably disagreements, but they remain respectful of one another in order to solve problems. “If they were in there just for their own greed, it wouldn’t work. But they’ve been there for the good of the team. “You don’t find that very often,” says Karen.
Because Fin Fun was born from the dream of a little girl, the Brownings are determined to donate generously to charities that support youth. They donate to almost 30 organizations that provide services for children. When asked their motivation for contributing they simply state, “Because that’s what you should do. There’s really no other motivation, it’s just something we feel is right.” The Brownings attribute the success of Fin Fun to faith, hard work, and family. They say, “I really think that Heavenly Father has had a hand in this whole thing the whole way, and maybe He’s done it because He wants us to share the blessings.”