Entrepreneurial roots? Check. Big aspirations? Check. Business plan? Check. Unmatched work ethic? Double check. Lifelong friendship? Multiple checks. In a nutshell, all of those things combined led Swainsboro natives Johnna Ware Eaton and Shea Sammons Brown to where they are today—both literally and figuratively. Eaton lives in Statesboro with her husband, Justin, and their three kids, Khloe, Elin, and Ellis, while Brown lives in Johns Creek with her husband, Josh, and their daughter, Stella. Despite the distance between them, the two remain successful business partners and, above all else, the very best of friends.
Their friendship, the duo explained in an interview with The Chronicle last Friday, started in grade school at David Emanuel Academy. They bonded over Brown’s “nerdy” glasses, and the relationship progressed from there. Today, they are the perfect balance, the “yin to each other’s yang,” as Brown’s puts it.
“We were in the first grade. Back then, glasses weren’t cool, but we really didn’t know it because no one in our class had them. Before Shea came back to school with her new glasses, our teacher told us everything not to say, and what did a bunch of 6-year-olds do? We said the things, anyway,” Eaton joked with a chuckle as Brown laughed with her. “I decided I wanted to be her friend and help make the transition a little easier. Plus, we were seated alphabetically so we sat close to each other. We’ve loved each other ever since!”
The following school year, Eaton and Brown coincidentally moved to Swainsboro Elementary School at the same time. Over the years, the only way their friendship changed was by growing deeper through meaningful life moments.
For example, the two spent many a time together with Brown’s grandmother, Peggy Sammons, and Eaton’s mother, Gail Ware; these family matriarchs, they say, taught them about being strong women.
Another bonding moment between the set of friends came in high school when Brown lost her mother, Sherry Sammons. Instead of waiting for her work to be sent home for completion, Brown went to school and found her best friend for solace. (On a small tangent, Brown credits her late mother as being very creative, and Brown believes she somewhat inherited that trait, which has proven to be an asset to her professionally today.)
As the end of high school neared in 1997, Eaton and Brown looked to each other to figure out what the next step of their lives would be. A casual conversation in the back of Ware’s car at the gas station would turn into a major decision made easy.
“We were in Mrs. Gail’s car. I don’t know why, but we were both in the backseat. I guess we just wanted to be next to each other. I think that’s the epitome of our friendship,” Brown recalled. “Anyway, we were talking about where we wanted to go to college. Johnna looked at me and was like, ‘Georgia Southern?’ And I said, ‘Sure! Sounds good to me!’ We applied, got in, and never looked anywhere else.”
Sure enough, the new graduates moved to Statesboro as planned and lived together for a stint during their freshman year. They both pledged Kappa Delta and graduated on time, albeit with different degrees.
Fast-forward and Brown’s marriage took her to the suburbs of Atlanta, a place she loves today because of its many conveniences and the “hustle and bustle” atmosphere. She used her business administration degree to help get a startup, Lake Oconee Outfitters, off the ground. Next, she worked as a realtor before moving to Johns Creek and working for Wells Fargo. She then became a stay-at-home mom until 2017. At that point, a friend in her neighborhood hooked her up with a franchisee looking for someone to assist in the day-to-day operations of a nearby Board and Brush studio, a do-it-yourself workshop where customers are taught to make custom home decor independently.
Eaton, on the other hand, stayed somewhat local to Swainsboro after college. She majored in kinesiology with all intentions of becoming a physical therapist. An internship, however, proved to be extremely beneficial in that Eaton learned PT wasn’t the field she wanted to dedicate her life to. Instead, she graduated and went to work as a health professor at East Georgia College, where she has remained ever since. For a while, she instructed online because her family moved to California to be with her husband, who was stationed in San Diego as a U.S. Coast Guardsman. Once he left the service, the family moved back to the area. Today, she splits her week at both the Swainsboro and Statesboro campuses. Eaton considers this a blessing because it allows her to work where she lives while simultaneously being connected to her hometown of Swainsboro and the family members who remain here.
The same year Brown became affiliated with Board & Brush, in 2017, Eaton and her husband opened FroYo & Joe, a frozen yogurt and coffee shop, on Roger Shaw Street in downtown Swainsboro. That business, Eaton says, was a wonderful venture, although it required much of their time between her classes at East Georgia and her husband’s full-time job as a firefighter. The two were able to steal away for a weekend and went to visit The Brown Family in Johns Creek, which, of course, included a date night at Board & Brush. The Eatons had a great time with Brown as their instructor, fell in love with the concept, and returned home inspired.
Immediately, Eaton knew she wanted to open a franchise in south Georgia because nothing of the sort existed here. She and her husband looked into launching a Board & Brush in Swainsboro, but the company had strict specifications for applicants and locations. Swainsboro didn’t make the cut—but their new home, Statesboro, was a perfect fit in the eyes of the franchise. In 2019, the husband and wife team secured a location there and opened Board & Brush – Statesboro. Shortly after that, the Eatons made the difficult yet necessary decision to close FroYo & Joe as the demands and scheduling difficulties were too much to run both businesses and work full-time jobs.
Life remained the same for Brown and Eaton for about a year—then the pandemic happened. While many businesses around the country were forced to board up, the two fortunately found themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum mid-2020. In the middle of a global health crisis, the lifelong friends actually launched a business.
The decision to do so, Brown said, started with a crazy ambitious phone call, a really good sales pitch, and a little convincing. “Josh is actually from upstate New York, and we were about to go up there for a month. I called Johnna and I told her, ‘Hey… We’re going to buy a Board & Brush franchise and open in Alpharetta. I’m about to be out of town for a few weeks, so I need you to take care of the negotiations. Johnna was a little taken aback I think, but she never hesitated once she got on board. She jumped in headfirst and got things done until I came back home. Then, we went to work together.”
That all happened the last day of June 2020. By February 2021, Board & Brush, Alpharetta was open for business and held its grand opening March 9.
Brown, because of her close proximity, runs the Alpharetta location full-time, and Eaton remains on board as a “silent partner” for the purpose of advising and pinch hitting as needed. Eaton and her husband continue to run Board & Brush, Statesboro.
In terms of logistics, the two locations couldn’t be more different from one another. The Alpharetta studio, for instance, is busier largely due to its location at Halyon Forsyth and is open seven days a week. Conversely, the Statesboro shop does most of its business on the weekends.
Overall, clients can expect the same services and feel at both locations. Eaton explained, “Board & Brush, no matter where you go, is an instructor-led, DIY experience. We don’t sell a product; we sell a good time, an experience. It’s a wood sign workshop where we walk you through the steps it takes to complete a project using raw, farmhouse wood. We teach you how to assemble your piece, how to use power tools, how to stain it, and even adhere the hardware on the back of your creation so that when you leave, it’s ready to hang.”
Brown picked up where Eaton left off, adding, “We have over 100 different paint colors. You’re in complete creative control. The best part is, you can come by yourself or as a group. If you want your piece to look like someone else’s, you can do that. If you want it to be completely unique, we can make that happen as well.”
Both studios are thriving today. Statesboro filled its books with three sessions last week, and Alpharetta did the same with 11. The owners credit their success to three things: their respective family’s entrepreneurial roots, which showed them how to run a fruitful business; hard work; and, most importantly, each other.
As it turns out, Brown and Eaton both have long-running family histories of successful companies. For starters, both of Brown’s grandparents were business owners in Swainsboro. Her grandparents, Edmond and Myrtle Curry started Peebles Curry Mortuary. They also owned Curry’s Feed & Seed in Swainsboro. Her grandfather, Tommy Sammons, owned a pharmacy, Swainsboro Drugs, for many years as well.
Eaton’s family, of course, was one of the early owners of Ware’s B-B-Q.
“I think the biggest thing is… Opportunity is all around you, regardless of where you are,” Eaton said. “You just have to look for it. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and opportunity will find you on its own, but most of the time, you have to put in the effort to find it. It doesn’t matter where you are—small town, big city. There’s always opportunity. You just have to be open to seeing it, and you have to be willing to put in the work. We saw an opportunity in Board & Brush, and we’ve done the work. We’ll continue to do the work because all of it—making our businesses successful, providing for our families, keeping our friendship alive, making our hometown proud—matters to us.”
On that note, both women insist that even though they’ve moved off, Swainsboro is still very much home and their bond is stronger than ever. (One must-do for Eaton and Brown alike when they make their way back home is to grab some famous Ware’s barbecue.)
“Swainsboro is home. It always has been, it always will be. It’s always going to feel like home, no matter how far we live from there, whether it’s 30 minutes away or 3.5 hours. If you’re ever in our neck of the woods—Statesboro or Alpharetta, maybe both eventually—come see us! We’d love to show you guys a wholesome, empowering, good time!” Brown said.
If you’re interested in patronizing either business, visit them online to view prices, upcoming collaborations, scheduling availabilities, and more. Statesboro’s website is www.boardandbrush.com/statesboro while Alpharetta’s digital home is www.boardandbrush.com/alpharetta.
In closing, Eaton reiterated the significance of working with her childhood best friend in adulthood. “I think I speak for Shea and I both when I say we love what we do, we love where we’re at, and we love each other. We’ve been friends for such a long time… It’s hard to imagine doing this, running a business, doing life, with any other friend besides her. I wouldn’t want to for that matter. We’re grateful for each other, Board & Brush, our families, and everyone back home that has supported us in the past and will support us in the future. If you haven’t already, y’all come see us!”