Female Leadership a Throughline at Harrison's

Three decades ago, Danny and Emily Harrison hung a sign, opened their doors, and started selling workwear.

They sold one T-shirt their first day.

Emily certainly didn’t see where the company was headed. Five successful stores across the Carolinas, a bustling web and third-party e-commerce division, and a growing contract sales department.

“No, I never envisioned the business growing to the level that it has,” she said. “We are just so grateful to our loyal customers and appreciate every person who does business with us. We don’t take anything for granted. We have worked very hard over the years, and it is gratifying to see things when they go well.”

As the business has grown, it’s evolved into a place where team members can move into a solid career. Several leadership positions at Harrison’s are occupied by those who started in entry-level positions and who have advanced.

“I am very proud that we reward hard work,” Emily said. “Danny and I place a high value on hard work – we don’t ask anybody to do anything we wouldn’t do. We care about the people who work here and it is great to see our employees bring new ideas to the table and take ownership of parts of the business.”

More and more, those stepping up and taking ownership are women. Three of our five retail stores,  inventory and data management for the entire chain, third-party sales, and both regional warehouses have female leaders. Several of those stores and both warehouses go a couple of levels deep with female leadership, as team members have moved into assistant manager roles.

They hail from widely different backgrounds, including traditional retail, health care, and small, family-owned businesses. Nearly all of them started their careers at Harrison’s in customer-facing roles. Some of them were well acquainted with retail customer service, and some learned quickly.

Mauldin manager Bonnie Blackwell had a 20-year career in healthcare billing and management. She learned quickly that her skills translated well to customer service.

“Retail was not something I thought I would be doing,” she said. “But I was given an opportunity and I took it. It’s honestly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. As it turns out, I actually love working in retail and account sales. I love working with our customers and team members.”

Warehouse and third-party sales manager Katherine Jolly was looking for a part-time job for a few months between high school and college. That was three years ago. Her position has evolved around her strengths.

“I really didn’t see myself here for more than six months before I left for college,” she said. “I came in and worked hard, but for me it was a means to an end. By the time it was time for me to leave, I didn’t want to go. My job and title has kind of grown as I have, and the only real consistency through all of my time here is being a part of our third-party sales team, which I now lead.”

Jessie Smith has grown from an online and third-party order fulfillment role to lead Inventory and Data Management for the entire chain.

“Before coming to Harrison’s, I was the Inventory Manager for a small, family-owned business for 18 years,” she said. “I love a good spreadsheet, so I was hoping to one day get back into that kind of work. My position was created and has been a work in progress since I started in August 2020. We knew we wanted to have one person in the background taking on the role of many so that our brick-and-mortar team members could focus on taking care of customers and each other.”

Mooresville manager Tonea Birdsong comes from a strong retail background, working in retail since she was 19. The ability to watch team members grow in the company is something she loves.

“I was hired in as a manager, but was blessed to be able to see my assistant manager promoted to store manager of our Winston-Salem store,” she said. “I definitely share with our employees how much Harrison’s values hard work and dedication to growth. I currently have account managers that began as part-time associates. Both have prove to be valuable assets to the Mooresville store and Harrison’s as a whole. I know from our conversations both want to advance even further with the company, and believe that they can.”

Taylor Austin, assistant manager in the South Carolina warehouse, is one of those team members who advanced in just a short period of time.

“When I started working for Harrison’s I was hired to receive new product and process pick tickets,” she said. “After six months, I moved to where I am today. I always tell new hires that if you are really willing and want to move up in the company, it’s very possible and we have all the right people to help them. I think it does give them a lot of confidence because of how quickly you can move up if you’re really serious about it.”

Those success stories are something that Bonnie loves to see.

“I want to hire people that I can develop and turn into leaders and then watch them succeed at possibly becoming an account manager or even a store manager running their own store,” she said. “Nothing thrills me more than having to replace a team member because they moved on to something bigger and better within the company. It definitely gives people confidence in themselves and makes them want to be successful.”


That success goes back to the overall success of the business, and that in turn goes back to one thing – the way you treat people. Despite serving customers in what are historically male-dominated industries and careers, Emily said she hasn’t seen any pushback.

“Well, I have a husband, a son, and grandsons I’ve helped clothe over the years,” she said. “So, I’ve aways had my finger on the pulse of menswear and workwear. When I help customers, I help them just the same way I would help the guys in my family. I also enjoy helping men shop for the women in their lives. I think I am able to give some pretty good advice.”

She’s also helping to set the table for success for many years to come. Like any family business, the next generation is already being trained. The Harrison grandchildren have worked (or will) alongside their family in the store from a young age, which is something Emily sees as a reward.

 “I am so proud of my granddaughters and grandsons,” she said. “It is very special to see them take interest in the business we’ve worked so hard in over the years. The business has enabled us to raise our family and do things for our children and grandchildren. It is heartwarming to have them be a part of it now from this end.”








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