Picture from an Awards Dinner for Home Interiors, Inc. in 1960. Mary Crowley is on the left, Sunny Wilson is on the right, next to Mary’s son, Don Carter. I apologize for the damaged photo and not knowing the names of the two women in the center. This is the only photograph I can find of Mary and Sunny, although many were taken during the years they worked together.
Entrepreneurship Opens The Door
Mary Crowley, the Sunday School teacher who had organized her class to bring prepared food and groceries to Sunny’s family during the winter of recovery, stepped into her life again in the late summer of 1954. This time she became the light at the end of the tunnel that finally started Sunny on the beautiful road to solid ground financially.
Mary had a special understanding of Sunny’s predicament. Years before she, too, had been left with two young children, but without a husband’s support. To put food on the table, she began working in a local Montgomery Wards and discovered she had a knack for salesmanship. She also realized that as the bread winner, she needed more than a high school education. So she put herself through business school while working at the department store, and then moved with her children to Dallas, Texas.
There, she became an accountant/salesman for one of the larger downtown furniture stores. During the Post War building and baby boom, she grew more and more aware of the huge numbers of the young families buying their first homes and wanting to make them beautiful. So she began sharing information with customers about putting pictures on the wall, selecting pretty lamps, choosing complementary colors in the upholstered furniture, as well as explaining the store’s finance terms. Very soon she became their leading salesman.
But in early 1954, (while Sunny was recuperating at home) Mary left the established business to work on a new venture with Dick Kelly selling decorative objects for the home on the “party plan.” They called it World Gift Company since most of the merchandise was imported, similar to the products now sold at Pier One. Dick made the executive decisions, while Mary became the sales executive to recruit and train the women who became their independent representatives.
They sold each new recruit at least one large suitcase full of samples to show at the party. Then she trained them with many creative ways to use the items for home decor and got them started by presenting at the first two or three parties that the newbie booked. The official training continued every Monday when Mary showed additional possibilities for using the decorations; she also shared stories about how and why each imported item had been made and used in its country of origin. And she made the sales meetings the most upbeat, inspirational programs anyone could imagine.
When Mary realized that selling insurance was providing neither the income nor the satisfaction that Sunny wanted, she recruited her to sell for the new company part-time while she also taught school as she had done the year before. Sunny couldn’t begin to pay for the cost of the suitcase full of samples and sales aids that she needed, so Mary kindly lent her the money and let her repay the debt over several months of work.
When school started in September, Sunny had to miss the Monday sales meetings, but again Mary came to her rescue by offering extra phone support as well as tape recordings of sales talks. Also, she mailed out inspiring sales letters every week to every one involved with new stories and new ideas about the products. So, Sunny happily added teaching lessons in decorating a home economically at parties to her lessons in poetry and public speaking at her school.
Each month became less of a struggle with money than the month before. By the end of the school year in 1955, just one year after facing total financial destruction, she decided to leave teaching her beloved students to selling full time because it was so much more profitable. And she had the privilege of spending all of her working hours concentrating on creating beauty. One year after that, she had earned enough rewards from World Gift Company to win a one week free vacation in Mexico City for herself and as a high school graduation present for her daughter.
When some disturbing issues arose between Dick Kelly and Mary over executive decisions in 1957, Mary left World Gift to begin her own company, Home Interiors. She asked Sunny to join her as executive assistant. The two had become close friends in the previous three years and knew they could work well together. And Sunny had social and business skills that complemented Mary’s talents.
Home Interiors grew rapidly. By 1983, at its twenty-fifth anniversary, sales topped $400,000,000. And profits were over $20,000,000. By the early 1990’s, after Mary’s death, sales were over $850,000,000. Her son, who had continued to run the company, sold it during the nineties.
But Mary and Sunny had led the company to its early successes as great friends and as co-workers. The friendship continued, but the business relationship ended when Sunny’s daughter finally found the man of her dreams – a step father. But that’s another chapter in the life of this beautiful woman.
Copyright 2018 by Kaye Fairweather