From corporate to wholesale
In 2016, after working for 18 years in the corporate sector in Kingston, Jacqueline Wilson decided to commit to helping her husband run their family business, Stoplight Wholesale, in May Pen, Clarendon. She took on various responsibilities to improve the company, bringing years of experience from the corporate world to their operation.
“My husband Junior would always be saying that he needs me to come and help him at the shop because he needs my expertise because I was working in the accounting field,” Wilson related. “But you know, married and young, you still need your little independence so I was telling him I am not ready yet. The years go by and I would come down and help him on a Saturday but I was still holding on to my independence.”
“But then I realised the business started to grow beyond him,” she continued. “He was having little challenges, so I said give me two more years and then I will come back to May Pen and help you out. But he insisted ‘Jackie, you have to come. Remember this is our thing and you are working for somebody’. And that’s the part that hit me because I was trying to be independent working for a corporation while I would be looking at him doing his thing, knowing I could assist him. So I got up one morning in November 2015 and decided ‘I think this is it’.”
She did not just focus on accounting when she returned, however. She set about applying what she had learned in various areas of management to improve the business.
Wilson first focused on enhancing the human resources structure of the operation to better meet the needs of the staff. Additionally, she worked on promoting the company, particularly in retail, wholesale, and distribution.
“So when the customers would come out the front I said I would want them to be greeted in a certain way just to change the whole ambiance,” she explained.
Wilson also trained three staff members in customer service, drawing on her corporate experience, and also initiated a long-service award to boost staff morale, recognising those with over 10 years of service.
“And so in 2016, we decided to have a fun day and also a long service award and they gravitated to it and we have been doing that every year, except we stopped during COVID because we didn’t want anybody to be too exposed,” the manager said. “And so that’s where I started when I came here.”
To uplift staff morale, Wilson encouraged employees to value themselves and their work, countering negative feedback they may receive from customers. Her efforts in mentoring staff have been rewarded, such as one individual transitioning to the police force. Her aim is to maintain connections with staff members even if they depart.
Continuing to motivate and strengthen the team, she is working on staff benefits, including discounts on goods, health plans, and designated lunch hours. Team structures and organised competitions where winning teams are rewarded with incentives like a crate of juice or Red Stripe have been implemented. There are also instances where employees needed additional support, such as sending them for literacy classes to improve their reading and writing skills.
“So we haven’t reached where I want it to be, but we are heading there,” Wilson assessed.
Bringing change to an organisation can be complicated and she and her husband would sometimes knock heads on the subject.
“He liked the idea but he was a little bit apprehensive to let it go through because he said ‘Jackie, I’m glad you come but we have to take it slowly because remember these people are accustomed to how they do work’,” she said.
So Wilson set about addressing this by discussing her plans with the supervisors and emphasising the benefits of bringing about necessary changes. She and her husband both evolved over time, learning to work together and come to understandings about issues more effectively.
“Right now we are in that mode where we try to assist instead of figuring out each other,” she said. “If I say ‘OK, this is what I want’ he says ‘OK, Jackie, let us see how this can work’ and if he says ‘this is what I want’ I say ‘OK, Junior, let us see how we can work together’.”
Wilson and her husband see a positive future for the company noting that November will mark the 20th anniversary of the business, which has expanded considerably, particularly in distribution, reaching areas as far away as Mandeville in Manchester and Lucea in Hanover. They utilise trucks to transport goods to these locations, demonstrating the company’s growth and extended reach in the market.
The manager indicated that further expansion can be expected.
“We want to, if God is willing, we are going to do a walk-in,” she revealed. “So we are going to be like a little supermarket and wholesale still. And then [it is] one year now that we have a franchise with Western Union, Moneygram and Bill Express. My son now started a little shipping company so we are all in the same building. All of those companies fall under Stoplight. So it’s Stoplight Financial now and Stoplight Shipping.”
It has been a story of personal development alongside family growth and business expansion for Jacqueline Wilson ever since she made the decision to commit to Stoplight Wholesale in 2016, a decision that has brought about challenges but also rewards, and she is looking forward to more.