February 01, 2017
Sara Douglass Puts Her Own Stamp on the Family Business
by Emily Reagan
Paper, ink, rubber stamps. These are the humble materials transformed into an interactive crafting experience by the folks at Stampin’ Up! The personalized designs demonstrated by independent sellers may be worthy of Pinterest (the company’s account has more than 68,000 followers), but the experience itself is low-tech—and that’s part of its charm, says CEO Sara Douglass. She should know. Though she’s only been CEO for about a year, Douglass grew up with the company, so to speak. Her mother, Shelli Gardner, co-founded Stampin’ Up! and served as CEO until March 2016, when she passed the reins to her daughter. By that point, Douglass had been involved in many aspects of the business, and even served as interim CEO from March 2015, when her parents undertook a yearlong service mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The mother of five recently spoke to DSN about taking on leadership of the family business, which has 45,000-plus Demonstrators in 10 countries. The following is excerpted from that conversation.
DSN: You’ve led the company for nearly a year, but this isn’t your first stint as chief executive. What did you learn from your year as interim CEO?
SD: For years preceding that, I’d been back in the business and mentoring under my mom. The way things worked out, it provided a way to get my feet wet. My mom and I worked together closely while she was away. Of course, she wasn’t on site, but that helped me gain a different perspective from what I’d previously experienced. It was a good opportunity to step in, see different areas of the business and glean as much as I could during that year.
DSN: What priorities have you set for 2017?
SD: I hope we’re continuing to grow and change even more lives. For the coming year, we want to help individuals succeed—not just Demonstrators and customers, but also our employees. I’m highly invested in our home office family as well as our Demonstrator family, and then of course our customer family. Specific goals are increased collaboration and continually learning and improving and doing what we do well, even better.
DSN: You grew up with Stampin’ Up!, but at what point did you decide to get involved in the business?
SD: I’ve always been interested in the business side, having grown up with that surrounding me. I have four sisters, and though none of them are involved on the corporate side, any one of them could’ve had the same experience I’ve had. For me it was a matter of timing, focus and interest, as well as my mom being adamant that if we were to get involved, it would be our own choice. She wanted us to find our own story, and she’s been instrumental in allowing that to happen.
DSN: What is your background with the company?
SD: There were a couple years when I was not involved at the corporate level, when my husband was getting his master’s degree and we’d moved to a different state. About seven years ago was when things really started to take off. We actually moved back to the Salt Lake City area for that reason. We felt this was an opportunity to take on more, embrace the company, and also allow my mom the freedom and flexibility to do what she’d like in her life. This is a 28-year-old business, and she’s been working hard at it! I wanted to give her and my dad the freedom to serve missions as they’ve done, spend time together, and pursue other things.
DSN: Did you have a succession plan in place leading up to the transition?
SD: It began organically. I first got involved as a young teenager in the inner workings, like filing and picking orders. My interest led me into the creative side, where I’d use our products to make the samples showcased in our catalog or at our annual events, those kinds of thing. From there, I signed up to be a Demonstrator when my eldest daughter was born, and then my husband pursued his degree.
It took a few years to figure out what I wanted to do. I remember asking my mom, “Where do you see me? What path do you see for me?” She would say, “Sara, I want you to discover what you love about the business and let that guide you.” Over the past three to five years, it’s been more along the lines of that corporate focus, running a business, caring about our employees, valuing their opinions, helping them become successful, and in turn helping our Demonstrators become successful. When my mom was involved in a horseback-riding accident in 2013, I picked up a bit more responsibility, which set the stage for them serving a mission.
DSN: How does Stampin’ Up! approach creativity?
SD: When you’re creating something with our products, it’s personal, and so you get the satisfaction of giving someone a thing you made—a little bit of you—and it means something to them. We’re not just about the products, but also the discovery of creativity and exploring your inner artist. I think we all have that innate desire to create in some way. One of the common things we hear from new customers is, “I’m just not that creative!” Over time, they discover they actually are. I love that about what we do.
DSN: With a focus on handcrafted, personalized products, how do you incorporate digital tools and platforms?
SD: We have a very low-tech product in a high-tech world. It doesn’t require a screen, which is what I love about it; it’s tactile and tangible. The way we sell our products and talk about them has changed. We still very much embrace an in-home party experience. A lot of our Demonstrators provide classes with one-on-one interaction, but we’ve also seen a swing toward social media and online sales, and we embrace that as well, because at the core of all of it is the relationship from person to person, and the creativity that goes along with that.
DSN: Stampin’ Up! has a history of giving back. What does that effort look like today?
SD: We have a Making a Difference program I’m very passionate about. Most recently, we donated $2.5 million in product to the TODAY Toy Drive. We also have an ongoing partnership with Ronald McDonald House Charities, which allows us to give back in all the communities where we have a presence. We donate a portion of proceeds from one of our stamp sets to the charity, our Demonstrators volunteer at the local level, and then we always donate cards, journals and other products for Ronald McDonald House residents to use.