Close Up: The Secret Sauce
While how and where we work continue to transform businesses as they look to rebuild during the pandemic, incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion will remain a major goal. It’s been shown that these qualities add a competitive edge as workplaces that are more diverse continue to outperform competitors. According to Harvard Business Review, companies with higher-than-average employee diversity had 19 percent higher innovation revenues. Organizations with above-average gender diversity and employee engagement outperform competitors with below-average diversity and engagement by 46 percent to 58 percent, according to Fast Company. Before businesses began to recognize diversity as a tool to make workplaces smarter and more successful, Stacey Steele saw diversity as a way to not only expand her business, but to find untapped potential and shake up the promotional products industry.
“Over the years, watching distributors who have succeeded and who have failed, those who have succeeded have had the most diversity,” says Steele. “And [diversity] not only in the people they sell to, but the types of clients, and it’s just across the board, having a mix is the secret sauce in this industry. For me, I have a lot of diversity so that helps in my success.”
As an independent salesperson running her own business, LogoLab, under distributor Proforma Albrecht & Co., Steele found her way into the promotional products industry 25 years ago through her mother who worked at a promotional products business. For her first job in sales, Steele worked for a Black-owned company whose owners, deeply involved with community outreach, tasked her with reaching out to supplier diversity organizations to build the business. With a few clients and the lessons she learned, Steele began building her business in 2009 in the San Francisco Bay Area. “If you’re in the Bay Area, it’s almost impossible to not have a diverse group of clients,” says Steele. “It has given my life so much that I wouldn’t choose any different. I have chosen to live in a location that allows me to, without effort, be around people from all around the world.”
“In order for our industry to keep evolving, we need to evolve with the rest of the culture.” Steele’s business has found its stride as a company that’s diverse in every way. “It’s diverse in the type of companies that I go after, but it’s also diverse in the type of people that I work with,” she says. “People from every culture, every country and every ethnic group—from entry level to people with more decision-making power. It’s the way you want to see a group of people working together.”
Steele says diversifying your client base makes for a better result in the end. “First of all, we are in marketing and advertising, and if you can’t reach out to all sorts of people, your message is not going to resonate, and it’s not going to have the vibrancy of the American economy,” she says. “I also think that helping people improve their economic power through marketing diversity is better for our country in general, and anything I can do to contribute to that makes me happy.” Steele volunteered with women diversity organizations, helping to review paperwork that recertifies women-owned small businesses (WOSB), and supplier diversity organizations, creating events to bring together small minority-owned organizations and large corporations to build partnerships. “Just being involved with those organizations and getting to know those corporations really helped my business expand, and I developed really tight relationships with those companies,” says Steele.
To effectively serve her expanded audience, Steele looks within her own community for guidance. Steele, who is Jewish, has one son who is half Black, and she is married to a Tibetan man and they have a daughter together who is half Tibetan. “My own family and friend group tends to be very diverse, so I think I was always pulling from the interests, tastes and trends that were going on around me,” says Steele. “And I just think the more I spent time with diverse clients, it was like osmosis—one thing I learned from one client would help me with another.”
Steele says she is happy to see a renewed interest in diversity, encouraging people to step outside their comfort zones and connect with different people. “It doesn’t have to be a big effort,” she says. “You just have to surround yourself with it and you will become it. You just have to be about it.”
PPB spoke with Steele to learn more about making diversity a priority, instead of an afterthought.
PPB What advice would you give to other business owners looking to expand and diversify their business?
Steele I would say to look outside of people with industry experience and to people who have experience that is still relevant, like in sales or product development, who bring a different point of view to the industry and take a chance on them. Hire them and support them—they may need a different level of support at the beginning, but the return will be worth it.
PPB Looking back, what would you have done differently?
Steele I would have helped and brought along more people into the distributor’s side with me and pulled more people into sales from all walks of life to help improve our industry.
PPB What are the biggest lessons that you have learned from working in the industry?
Steele There are two main lessons that I have learned. The first one is, try your hardest then take a look at the work you have done and then try again. Try even harder than that and every day, keep striving to do the absolute best. Question what you are doing. The second thing I would say is to really strive to listen and pay attention and make sure that you are really understanding what the clients need so that you can give them the result that they are looking for. Don’t let your own preconceived notions get in the way of what that client actually needs.
Kristina Valdez is associate editor of PPB.