Donna Steakley prioritizes treating people well, and others in the retail industry have noticed.
In November, Fossil Rim’s Director of Tourism traveled to Tennessee for the 2019 Inaugural Clarion Events Spotlight Awards at the Smoky Mountain Gift Show. Among other things, she was in town to accept the “2019 Buyer Friend Spotlight Award.”
“That is a show I attend each year, and it’s one of the best gift shows,” Steakley said. “Roughly 40,000 people attend that show. It’s an honor to be selected by my peers. It means a lot to me.
“We also had our ZAG (Zoo, Aquarium & Garden) Buyers Group annual dinner and meeting that night, so it was a busy one. I was ZAG Buyers Group Board President several years ago. I was lucky enough to be selected and I am again a ZAG board member.”
Steakley oversees the Nature Store and the Overlook Café. She is also Fossil Rim’s Special Events Coordinator.
Here’s the description that Clarion Events emailed to voters about the award that eventually went to Steakley:
“Who do you think of when you think of an industry friend? Someone who’s always willing to help out or lend an ear, share advice? The one who brings a smile to your face when you see them coming down the exhibit hall aisle or into your show? That individual who you always know you can count on? That’s who we want to recognize for this award – an industry individual who captures the true spirit of friendship.”
Steakley recalls the moment she realized she had won the Friend Spotlight Award.
“I was sitting in my office when I read the email announcing I’d been selected,” she said. “I was surprised. I knew that nominations were being made; they’d asked each of us to nominate someone for each category and explain why. One of the ladies who was evaluating the nominations said they cried when they read what was written about me.
“Something mentioned was that I’m ‘always there to listen and give advice.’ Part of being in ZAG has always been to help each other, but you don’t have to be a ZAG member for me to help you.”
Being helpful certainly did not hurt her cause in the award voting.
“No matter who I’m dealing with, it’s about building relationships,” she said. “Melinda in Kansas City, for example, we work together really well. I don’t see her as competition. I think I will be helping the gift stores in Waco and Abilene soon.
“I’ll help new buyers and be there for our vendors in any way I can, and we have longtime vendors who are supportive of me, as well. If anything, I’m honest, and I guess that’s what people respect. You have to speak up with something is wrong; we all make mistakes, but how do you fix it?”
Steakley learned long ago what positivity can do in the workplace.
“I trust my staff here at Fossil Rim,” she said. “If there is a problem, I ask them why. Sometimes, they may have bad days, but my goal is to try to make them laugh. I joke around a lot, because of what I learned while working at Tom Thumb when we were graded by secret shoppers.
“I’d walk the whole store every morning at 6:30 and see where our strengths and weaknesses were, in terms of attitude. I’d go joke around with the person who was having a bad day. I realized that if they were happy, they’d present that to our customers; it really made a difference in the grades our store received.”
Steakley has honed her intuition regarding employees through 40 years in the retail industry. She can still recall those early days in her native Chicago.
“I got a job as a sales agent at Wieboldt’s in Chicago in the ‘70s, which I would compare to a Dillard’s,” she said. “I had an area sales manager, Mary Busch, who I really enjoyed working for. She would teach me something new every morning I came in.
“Sometimes it was inventory control, other times it was margins or merchandising. I also had a friend who was the display manager; he taught me a lot, as well.
“I was pretty lucky to work in a positive environment early on. It made me want to be an interior designer, plus I loved math and business. I liked people, too.
“Mrs. Busch saw something in me, made me a department manager, and that was how I got going in this industry. She was the best teacher I’ll ever have. I eventually worked my way up, and the rest is history.”
In April 2020, Steakley will reach 15 years of service at Fossil Rim.
“I was fortunate to have received some other awards before coming to Fossil Rim, and it’s always been about the little things,” she said. “This one really stands out as the most satisfying because it was the decision of my peers, as well as vendors.”
Steakley gives credit to her Fossil Rim staff for this award. Having confidence in them surely helps her focus on the task at hand when she is out of town – or even out of state – at gift shows and meetings.
At the Nature Store, that includes Kade Bonesteel, Lupita Arcibar, Logan Jones, Cole Evert, and Maegan Cray. At the Overlook Café, staff members are Jennifer Hendon-Hooks, Juanita Kalem, Randall Fouts, Rebecca Blake, Robert Graham, and Tony Ramos.
“I feel that I’m only as good as my team,” she said. “This award is for all of my staff members, because I’m fortunate to have a great group. It takes everyone at Fossil Rim to make a nickel.
“We are all here for the same reason. I always jokingly tell (Executive Director) Kelley (Snodgrass), ‘My boss is a rhino.’”
Bonesteel, for example, is six years into his Fossil Rim tenure. Recently promoted to Nature Store Supervisor by Steakley, the store is the only place he has ever worked.
“That’s the environment that I try to create here,” she said. “You want to keep them happy. Look at Lupita and Logan with their customer service. Look at how much Jennifer cares about her customers in the café.
“Everybody does a great job for us; the whole Overlook staff works together as one to help each other. Everyone at the Nature Store is trained for the Overlook Café, and vice versa.
“That’s important to me. Mrs. Busch took pride in my success and now that’s me with my staff.”
Steakley is sending Bonesteel to his first two gift shows in 2020, and she has made him well aware of how essential they are.
“Going to these shows is very important,” she said. “Not only am I seeing the new items, but we also have training seminars, panel discussions, tours, and some fascinating guest speakers. I’ll go to receive new training every chance I get, because it’s an opportunity to learn, network, and see what’s new in the gift shop world.”
The Nature Store may not sell the board game “Risk,” but Steakley is not afraid to embrace the concept in the name of sales.
“We can’t buy from all vendors, so tough choices have to be made,” she said. “I’ll take some chances if I think an item will sell. Recently, we decided to carry a lot of buffalo plaid clothing items, for example, because I thought it could be a hot seller for us.
“It’s doing very well. I say I’m lucky, but nearly 15 years of watching the trends for our Nature Store inventory plays a role, as well.”
Steakley hopes you will come check out the buffalo plaid gear, as well as everything else the Nature Store has to offer, this winter.
“Come see us,” she said. “We had some great feedback from some of the people who attended our (Canid & Hyenid TAG Husbandry Course), and those folks know (ZAG) gift shops well. I think we are unique in our inventory, and it is ever-changing. Also, from reading our customer reviews, I believe we might have the best bathrooms in the business.”
When it comes to working for the benefit of Fossil Rim, Steakley has done it all through the years in various job descriptions. Well, maybe not quite everything.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of other aspects of Fossil Rim over the years,” she said. “I still haven’t gotten to feed and care for the animals, though. And they don’t let me drive, either. I made money for ‘Big Brother’ for decades; now, I make it for rhinos.”
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate