ELLISVILLE – Some might say his drive and determination landed him the top job at Laurel’s new retail store in Sawmill Square Mall. Oak Grove native, Stephen Douglas, however, chalks it up to his education and something he was born with.
“Retail is in my blood,” said the 33-year old and new store manager for The Children’s Place. “My mom was in retail and my dad worked hard for a Hattiesburg company.”
Networking was also a factor for the ’09 Jones County Junior College graduate. “My fashion marketing instructor, Finee’ Ruffin heard about the job opening from some friends at church, and she thought it was a perfect fit for me,” said Douglas.
His resume’ was impressive with more than a decade in retail management, when he met with store executives last May. At 16-years-of-age, he admitted, he was attracted to the clothing at American Eagle. He pursued his passion and landed the opportunity to open the clothing giants’ new store in Hattiesburg.
“Here I was holding the keys to a store worth $1.4 million,” said Douglas. “I did that and worked at the country club and played baseball. I just never sit still.”
Douglas veered off the ’retail’ road after high school, enrolling at JCJC in 1996 as a nursing major. He quickly realized he wasn’t suited for the medical field. He also didn’t think getting a degree was important, so he pursued the retail business with a vengeance.
“I helped open Target in Hattiesburg, despite Hurricane Katrina, and served as the assistant clothing manager,” said Douglas. “I was promoted to senior team leader and trained other execs in La. and Miss. After five years, I reached a plateau and needed to branch out.”
The realization that ‘experience’ would not be enough to land the top jobs meant going back to school.
Upon returning to Jones, assessment tests pointed Douglas to a familiar career path: Fashion Marketing and Business Management.
“I was 30-years old when I earned my A.A. degree and that’s when I understood I needed more education. A lot of places wanted a bachelor’s degree,” explained Douglas. “So I signed up to take 16 hours of online classes at Franklin University, (through JCJC’s partnership)….and I should graduate this May with a Bachelor of Science degree in business management.”
Balancing a full time job and classes wasn’t easy according to Douglas. He said his instructors offered numerous options and helped him plan for his future.
“They were dedicated to helping me and every student. I was never doomed to fail, unless I didn’t put forth the effort and commitment,” said Douglas.
Staying in the Pine Belt meant changing a dream to live in fashion capitals like Atlanta and New York. However his teachers at Jones know this go-getter’s commitment to succeed is now benefitting Laurel and The Children’s Place.
“He is the perfect example of hard work and determination as well as what engagement and retention can do when it comes to producing a student who is serving Laurel with products and services that add to the economic development of South Mississippi,” said JCJC business marketing instructor, Ginger Keeton. “Stephen has also set a precedent as the first manager of The Children’s Place at Sawmill Square.”
The Jones graduate is in good company with nearly half of his staff enrolled at Jones. “I’m very proud to have Jones students here. I didn’t discriminate in hiring them. They just stood out because they were committed,” said Douglas. “I know I can also mentor them and help them along.”
Ruffin knew this nontraditional student and children’s clothing store manager would not only succeed, but help his team rise to the top.
“He is a natural born over-achiever which is the main reason I knew while not a traditional fit for a children’s store manager he would excel with whatever task he took on,” said Ruffin. “There is no doubt in my mind that The Children’s Place is lucky to have him and will achieve great success under his leadership.”
With a sense of ‘Bobcat’ pride, Douglas shared that he aspires to being a district manager in the near future. Douglas is bound to reach that goal while also inspiring future fashion and business management students to also dream big.