Close Up: The Perks Of Feel-Good Work
Above photograph: Jeanne Walls and her husband Dave DeBarger live in Richmond, Virginia.
Some people are driven to excel in their professions for riches, others for fame. Then, there’s the kindred spirits, who are constantly reaching their hands outward, considering how they can be of service to others, and always showing up to offer their help. Jeanne Walls is one of these people.
Walls owns and operates her own distributorship, JWalls Ink! in Richmond, Virginia, which she founded in March 2007. In her business, she offers professional expertise and guided suggestions for clients honing their brands and developing campaigns. But in addition to this, she is an active, 24-year member of the Richmond Rotary Club—where she served as the first female president in its 90-plus-year history, and received the highest honor, the Service Above Self award, given annually to 112 individuals worldwide for their contributions to the community, both inside and outside of Rotary—and she’s involved in several other organizations, all with a giveback focus. She actively supports many nonprofits; she started her own fundraiser, Bucks4Boobs, to raise money for Susan G. Komen; and she’s participated in PPAI’s Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.), a two-day initiative where promotional products professionals visit Capitol Hill to represent and discuss issues facing the industry.
When asked how she juggles her civic duties, professional and personal life, she says, “Ha! I’m still trying to figure this one out.” But she later adds, “If I’m not doing 10 things at once, I’m bored. I love the adrenaline rush of making it all happen.”
When Walls founded her business, she did so with a go-getter mindset. “I didn’t need much to get started,” she says. “I was inspired and in need of a job, so I created my own.” She was previously with Richmond Office Supply Company, where she provided stationery for clients that included law firms. When the company was sold, she worked for a few printers but was keen on starting her own business. It was while working for one of these printers that Walls had a conversation that led to an experience, which birthed her entrepreneurial plan.
“I called on a potential client—and I say ‘potential’ because she told me, in no uncertain terms, that I didn’t have a chance of getting her business,” she says. “It seemed like the company she worked with was perfect, and she had no plans of switching. I heard so many wonderful stories about her supplier, so naturally, I wanted to meet them. I called them up and told the owner I’d love to chat and see what his clients were raving about. His website had photos of all kinds and featured loads of equipment. When I arrived at his office, I expected the entire building to be humming with people and machinery. But nope—he only rented a tiny office and didn’t own anything. He outsourced everything. We talked for several hours, and when I got ready to leave, he asked if I’d be interested in working for him—heck no! He’d just told me how to do it myself.”
Walls focuses her distributorship on printed products, like letterheads, envelopes, brochures, folders and even forms, and predominantly serves the financial, nonprofit, medical and educational industries. “It’s certainly never boring,” she says. “We never do the same thing twice, and I love the variety of my clients. I love getting them the perfect item for their events, and I absolutely love making my clients shine.”
But she also keeps busy with her civic work. In addition to being a member of Rotary, Walls is a member of Business Network International and the Network of Enterprising Women, and she frequently involves her business in fundraising efforts for organizations like the Richmond Food Bank, The Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Virginia War Memorial Foundation, The ALS Association and the Alzheimer’s Association. And every Tuesday, no matter how busy she is, you’ll find her at the lunchtime Rotary meeting. “I’m so fortunate to be able to make a living doing what I truly love,” she says. “This profession has allowed me to have so many outstanding opportunities. It’s still fun—crazy, but fun.”
Above, left: Walls started the Bucks4Boobs fundraiser, which she holds annually, to raise money for Susan G. Komen.
Above, right: a "power bar" with a wrapper resembling an energy bar snack food that Walls helped design as part of a
campaign to promote empowerment.
Can you share with us a campaign that you have been involved with?
I work with a bank that has a woman’s group called P.O.W.E.R., which is all about embracing your personal power. I found the perfect “power” bar—a charging station for electronic devices—from supplier Twintech Industry, Inc. It looked like an edible power bar that you might take the wrapper off and eat! It was a huge hit. The packaging for this product was absolutely perfect. On the wrapper we also included photos of some of the group’s powerful women.
Tell us about your experience being the first female president of the Rotary Club of Richmond.
I love, love, love my Rotary experience. I’ve set my calendar around Tuesday lunch meetings for the past 24 years. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. My two bosses at Richmond Office Supply were both members of the Rotary Club of Richmond. Every Tuesday, no matter how busy we were in the store, they left for lunch. Women were not allowed in Rotary at the time—not until the 1980s. Yes, it was a “good old boys” club, and I heard the ceiling crack a bit when I joined.
Being a member of our club was and is still an honor. I get goosebumps every Tuesday when we say the Pledge of Allegiance and offer an invocation. When I was asked by the past presidents to run for the office, I was warned that I probably wouldn’t get the vote, since no other woman had even been asked to run in the 90-plus years of our club. It was, by far, the best year of my life. We have made so many changes for the better. I had big “wing tips” to fill as the first woman president.
Rotary has truly opened my eyes to the world. We’ve taken a couple of trips to Costa Rica, bringing books to elementary school kids while doing a duplicate program with a school to Richmond. I have friends from all over the world—like-minded individuals who want to leave this world a better place. Last year, my husband and I took a three-week safari trip to Africa. In the middle of nowhere, we found an orphanage started by Rotarians. We left books, pens and paper, and we sent a suitcase full of undies six months later, delivered by a friend and competitor in the promotional products industry, who enjoyed the same trip with her family.
Above: Tootsie, Jeanne Walls's 4.5-pound Shih-poo, accompanies her to many clients.
What is Bucks4Boobs, and what inspired you to start this initiative?
Bucks4Boobs was probably my favorite fundraising adventure. I lost a very dear friend to breast cancer and my husband lost his first wife to the disease, so raising money to ultimately find a cure became a goal of mine. The first and second year of the fundraiser was held in our backyard. We auctioned off anything and everything we could get our hands on. One poor guy bought a ton of our mess, and asked if we’d take it to Goodwill for him—he didn’t want it! I had silly games, even dug-up plants from my yard, for sale. We decorated bras. It was a hoot seeing some of Richmond’s finest parading around in bras with peacock feathers, decks of cards and all other kinds of fun stuff. For the next two years, the fundraiser was held at a country club. We raised more money for Susan G. Komen than any other organization in Richmond had for the past three years.
When you’re not at the office, what do you enjoy doing for fun?
My husband, Dave DeBarger, and I scuba dive, which is kind of crazy, because I can’t swim. We love to travel and are always planning our next adventure. When we first got married, I was working for another company, and I wanted to take a two-week vacation to Alaska. I had the vacation time, but it was “company policy” that I couldn’t take both weeks back to back. Who the devil wants to go to Alaska for just one week? That’s reason No. 458 why I love owning my own business: I don’t have to ask anybody if I can take time off.
Our house has an open door for family and friends—it’s the gathering spot in the neighborhood. I enjoy cooking and gardening, so our yard is comfortable and inviting. I’m a southerner, and I love entertaining and trying new recipes, and there always seems to be plenty of people around to eat whatever comes out of the kitchen. And then, there’s Tootsie—our 4.5-pound Shih-poo—who’s spoiled rotten, goes on many of my client appointments, has her photo plastered on the side of my bags and knows all my secrets. I work hard so my dog can have a better life.
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.