For two years, a big part of Pamela Barclay’s job was firing people.
She’d worked her way up to a top management position for a subsidiary of the Heinz Corp. when the company began downsizing in 1988.
“I spent my time eliminating positions, consolidating offices, breaking hearts, causing a lot of grief and pain because things were being reorganized,” Barclay said of her final years with the company. “That’s when I decided I could no longer be a part of the corporation.”
Barclay left the company in 1990, taking with her a lucrative exit package. She invested that money into a new dream, which became reality two years later when her first Wonders of the World shop opened in 800 square feet of Spokane’s Flour Mill shopping center.
She expanded again in 1994, opening Wonders Too, a 700-square-foot store across the hall. Now she’s expanding again, adding 500 square feet to Wonders Too.
“It’s just one big shop with two entrances,” Barclay said.
The atmosphere in the Wonders shop is markedly different from what you might expect from a high-powered corporate manager. Barclay’s employees come in and hug her. One calls her “dear heart.” The employees seem thrilled to be at work.
“I’m 44 years old and I’ve had lots of jobs,” said employee Stevie Bond. “I’ve never worked for somebody like Pamela. If you have personal needs, most employers don’t care.”
“I hire my equals or better,” said Barclay, 52. She looks for retail experience in her employees, but most important is “the light in their eyes.”
The Wonders shop is a feast for the imagination. Baskets are filled with gems and minerals, and the floor is crowded with Indonesian carvings of dancing dolphins and trumpeting elephants.
It’s easy to see that Barclay stresses inventory variety - and why she needs more room. Hanging wind chimes, Australian didgeridoos, Hopi Kachina dolls and cases of jewelry crowd the store.
Barclay stocks her shops by traveling to foreign countries and trade shows. About 20 percent of her merchandise comes from an annual trip to the Indonesian island of Bali. Another 35 to 40 percent comes from wholesale gem and mineral shows, the two largest of which are held in rotating locations in the United States.
In one corner of the shop, smooth brownish stones with bright red spots balance on a stand. The “tantric lingam” are found in the Narmada River in India. The stones are used in Hindu temples and are known, Barclay said, for their healing qualities.
Everything in the shop can be picked up, touched, or tried on.
“I want to create in this shop a play yard to delight the children in everyone,” said Barclay. Round brass earrings depicting Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, dangle beneath Barclay’s short, carrot-colored hair. Her joyous smile is constant.
Barclay’s philosophy has its drawbacks. With small items out in the open, shoplifting has been a huge problem. Still, Barclay refuses to hide everything behind glass cases.
“This is a textile world. We want to touch,” Barclay said. “I’m not willing to change that.”
Barclay was born and raised in Phoenix, Ariz. She attended Arizona State University for two years, then left to marry. For 18 years, she was a full-time homemaker. Her son and daughter are now 30 and 28, respectively.
“I consider the years I spent as a homemaker the highest calling to which I directed my energy,” Barclay said.
When her children were teenagers, Barclay went back to work. She rose quickly through the ranks of the corporation, becoming a training director, then a business manager.
In 1985, she was promoted to area manager and transferred to Denver. In 1987, she was transferred to Kansas City and promoted to general manager of nine states.
In 1988, the downsizing began.
“I fired 13 of my best friends,” Barclay said. “They all thought they were going to hear about the neat bonuses they were going to get.”
Though Barclay hates what happened during her final years in the corporate world, she said she owes a lot to her former employer. The company paid for her to finish her bachelor’s degree in communications at Whitworth College and gave her the financial skills she needed to open her own business.
“If you follow your passion,” she said, “you’ll do well. I was breaking my own heart.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo