Director of Sales and Marketing
Starlite Sign, LP
Denton, TX, USA
Field: Marketing and Sales Management
After realizing that working as a receptionist would not suffice to raise her five children, Debra Stellar set a goal to become involved in sales by the time she turned 30. Beating her own deadline, she was selling lumber by the age of 28, a position she held for 10 years. She later moved to Texas and began working in the sign industry, which led her to the position of director of sales and marketing for Starlite Sign, LP, a sign manufacturing company that provides the design and installation of interior and exterior electrical signs.
Holding 25 years of experience in sales management, Ms. Stellar spends her time carrying out many tasks, including working with high-profile companies, looking for new business prospects, coordinating with municipalities, negotiating, managing projects, and writing proposals. She is also charged with overseeing sales and partakes in obtaining large signage for the best price and value available. She takes time to develop and maintain client relationships, which ultimately results in returning customers. “I have good rapport [with my clients] and [strong] customer service skills,” she says. Her main motivation stems from seeing a customer satisfied.
Ms. Stellar has completed college coursework in business, accounting and psychology. In recognition of her exceptional skills in sales, she was named Vendor Sales Representative of the Year by Hastings Entertainment in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008. She also supports Susan G. Komen for the Cure. When she is able to find a moment away from work, she enjoys watching football and basketball, and spending time with her seven grandchildren. Though she intends to retire at the age of 70, Ms. Stellar plans to continue working as a consultant. She also plans to write a book, something she has always wanted to do.
Conversation with Debra Stellar
Worldwide Publishing: On what topic(s) do you consider yourself to be an expert?
Debra Stellar: Sign sales, and negotiating with cities on getting bigger and better signs.
What characteristics help to separate you from your competitors?
I work very hard and persevere. Rejection doesn’t bother me — I just keep going. All the hard work has really paid off.
What motivates you?
I was an abused wife and I needed to get out of that situation before it spilled over onto my children, so I went out into the workforce. I was a receptionist, and I knew that wouldn’t support me and my children. I saw that people in sales made money so I made a goal that by the time I was 30, I would be in sales. I made it into sales by the time I was 28 and I sold lumber for 10 years, and then I moved down to Texas because they were more receptive to salespeople. I then went into the sign industry and I was able to use what I learned in that business.
What short-term and long-term career goals are you currently pursuing?
My goals are to really hit it hard for the next five years — I want to build everything up so that I can begin turning things over to the younger salespeople who are under me now.
What is the most difficult obstacle or challenge you have faced in pursuit of your goals?
The most difficult obstacle has always been balancing family life with my professional life. You have children who need and deserve your attention, and you have to balance that with being able to put in hours that you need and not have either one feel neglected. It’s a thin line that you have to walk.
What is the most significant issue facing your profession today?
The hardest thing right now is that the cities are changing their codes and ordinances to being much stricter. Customers have to figure out how to get the signs they want while being compliant.
What are some questions that an individual interested in your services can ask to ensure a more productive relationship?
The main thing that the customers are looking for is that you have the production team that will meet their needs. You have to be able to create the number of signs they want, and ship and install them. The thing that they look at the most is a team that will take care of their needs and they won’t have to worry about their signs — they know they will be quality, shipped on time and installed correctly.
Did you ever consider pursuing a different career path or another profession?
Once I got into sales, that was one of the things that helped me with the balancing act. My hours were flexible.
What is your favorite or least favorite work-related task to do and why?
My favorite task is being able to involve myself with the design of the signs and watch them be produced. Having that idea become a reality and watching it step by step. My least favorite part is collections.
Who have been your mentors or people who have greatly influenced you?
I’ve been lucky that throughout the years there have been various people who I have really learned a great deal from. As far as sales, I had as sales manager named Les Russell who I worked with and learned a lot from. He mentored me in how to go after the bigger accounts. While working at Starlight, I had a construction manager named Mike Middleton who was also very instrumental in my career.
What changes have you observed in your industry/field since you started?
The biggest change is socially; women are far more accepted today than they were when I started 35 years ago. There is a big difference in how women are being accepted in a man’s world. Watching that evolution of women being more common in male-dominated fields has been great.