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One on One with Dawn Dewey

Dawn Dewey played volleyball growing up. She swam. She even once held Manzano High School’s pole vault record.

But sports were never really her thing – her participation was driven primarily by her parents’ requirement that she stay involved in extracurricular activities.

Dewey always preferred her after-school and summer jobs.

“I started working when I was 15 and I’ve never not had a job since then,” said Dewey whose first paying gig was as a lifeguard at Los Altos Pool. “I loved being able to earn money on my own. When I found that sense of independence at 15, I don’t think I ever looked back.”

She moved onto restaurants, paying her way through University of New Mexico by waiting tables everywhere from Applebee’s to Seasons.

She eventually took her business degree to Animal Humane New Mexico and later to Dreamstyle Remodeling, where she has been marketing director for three years – a period of tremendous growth. Albuquerque-based Dreamstyle, which deals in name-brand home improvement products and custom remodeling projects, now has operations in five states and expects revenue to reach $75 million this year, up about $20 million from 2015.

And, Dewey says, she likes going to work.

“I love the business, I love the industry,” she says.

Q: Describe yourself as a teenager.

I would say rebellious, but I still got good grades. So I definitely liked to have a lot of fun with my friends, but also academics were really important in my family. (It was) the combination of those two things.

Q: What were your career ambitions back then?

I wanted to major in entrepreneurial studies (at UNM), but they didn’t have that major at Anderson (School of Management) for the undergraduate program, at least when I was there. I kind of always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so I also liked marketing, but I didn’t know. It’s always vague when you’re in business school, like “What am I going to do with this degree?” Now that I’m eight years out of business school and I’ve had so many interns, it’s funny that so many people that are getting a marketing degree always say “I want to work for a firm.” And it’s like, for me, that would not have been my ambition and it’s also really rare – one, for people with marketing degrees to actually work in marketing; and, two, to work at a marketing firm. I much more love working for a company and doing their marketing, especially here. I kind of get to indulge that entrepreneurial spirit I’ve always had working here because Larry (Chavez, Dreamstyle’s president) tasked me with lots of responsibilities, which I’m very grateful for. I create the annual sales plans. I’ve been able to write business plans for some of our new locations opening and so I just love this job.

Q: You spent five years at Animal Humane, starting with a clerical position and left as marketing director. What did it teach you to start at the bottom?

I learned so much more in that process of kind of working my way up the ranks than I would’ve in school. At one point, I told them, “I’m going to go back and get my master’s and open my own marketing firm.” (Laughs) I just remembered this and it’s funny because I’m saying (college marketing students) want to do that. I went part-time to go back to Anderson for a semester to start my master’s program and quickly realized that, now that I’ve had a taste of the real business world, I was learning so much there. They wanted me back full-time, so I dropped out of – first time ever – the masters program. I only did one semester and went back to work full-time, and just kind of continued the trajectory of moving up the ranks there. But I think it’s so important because I’ll have a lot of applicants come apply right out of college and they’re expecting a marketing manager position and it’s just so important to realize that the degree is a little piece of the pie, but you’re going to have to work your way up, even if you paid and got that nice degree. You can’t start at the top; you’ve got to work your way up from the bottom.

Q: Were you wooed away by Dreamstyle? How did you end up here?

I was. I had been working with Larry because he was, and still is, a significant donor to Animal Humane. He was on the board actually, so I had been approaching him to make donations and I’d gotten him to sponsor a couple of things, and he, I guess, saw something in me and so he approached me and asked me if I might be interested, and it was so kismet. It was kind of like “The Secret,” that book. I don’t think I’ve told anyone except my husband this, but I had been thinking “Gosh, how do I move on to the next step? What’s my next step and how am I going to find that?” And then it was like a week later that Larry approached me. It was really cool. I was like “Oh, it fell into place.” … I was sad to leave Animal Humane. I loved working there, I loved all the people there, but you know I’d been there for five years and I was eager to kind of spread my wings, and develop in my career and professionally.

Dawn Dewey, marketing director at Dreamstyle Remodeling. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Dawn Dewey, marketing director at Dreamstyle Remodeling. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Q: How much of what you learned at the nonprofit applied when you entered the for-profit realm?

I think that base experience – having to be really industrious in figuring out how you’re going to achieve your goals in a nonprofit – is a wonderful foundation for learning because, when I was at Animal Humane, the annual marketing budget was like $28,000. Here, I can just say it’s much, much more than that when you put all the markets together. It’s in the several hundreds of thousands, but being an Animal Humane with that $28,000 budget for a $4.5 million dollar operating budget at the time, that’s a tiny percentage of marketing. … It just taught me, one, negotiation skills. When you’re at a nonprofit, you’re kind of selling an idea. “Hey, don’t you want to do this because it feels good to support animals?” And so it really helped me build negotiation skills where now I actually have money to spend, but you better believe I’m a penny pincher.

Q: What have you learned from representing Dreamstyle on Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies Remodeling Futures Steering Committee?

That you’re always smaller than you think you are. We are one of the biggest remodeling companies in the country, truly with the revenues we’re doing now, but it’s very humbling to go to this Harvard steering committee because they have on there, you know, the vice president of Home Depot, of Kohler. These are giants. So it’s really amazing to be able to go have dinner with these people and network with them, and they also have fantastic information. … The steering committee is the first (group) to hear their semi-annual (report) before they release it to the media, and all the news stories you’ll read about remodeling are sourcing those reports for their information. It’s really humbling and just such an honor to be able to be part of that steering committee.

Q: You have lived in Albuquerque your whole life. Do you see spending the rest of it here?

Oh, yeah. This is my town. (laughs). I love it here, my family’s here. And I’m proud to contribute to the community that raised me.

Q: You had your first child in May. How has being a new mom impacted you as a professional?

I would say it’s had a tremendous impact – basically a huge priority shift. I started working at 15, and I’ve always loved my job and that’s always been my top priority. And when I was pregnant, I was so naive. You just cannot understand the depth of the love you feel for your child and so it’s just given me certainly a fresh perspective on what’s important. Obviously, my career still is, this company and the people here are like a family to me. It’s a huge priority for me, but she’s about 10 stories above it. (laughs)

Q: What are your pet peeves?

I had one this morning. Being called pet names by other professionals like “sweetie” or “honey” – or by anyone really, except my husband or my dad. That’s a huge pet peeve. People saying “um” a lot is a big pet peeve of mine, I guess because my mom was pretty strict on that. And laziness.

Q: Do you have any strange quirks or superstitions?

I’m very superstitious. I believe in déjà vu and signs and stuff like that – which my husband doesn’t believe in at all. I’m going to sound like such a crazy person: I always think birds are my spirit animal because, when something meaningful is happening in my life, I’ll always get something significant from a bird. I’ll see like a hawk on a mailbox or something. Honestly, it happens all the time. My dad broke his femur riding his bike two weeks ago. It’s terrible. … He’s going to be fine but, the day he called, he was up at the Valles Caldera and we were panicking. I’m in my kitchen and we have a fountain outside the kitchen. I look out and there’s like eight robins on the fountain – like that never has happened before, ever. There’s like one bird out there (usually); they’re competitive and there were like eight robins. I was like, “I told you, it’s my spirit animal.”

Q: What is your perfect way to spend a day off?

Just hanging out with Jordan, my daughter, all day – going to the park with her, and swinging and letting her nap in my arms.

Q: What is one food you can’t live without?

Green chile, of course, but I would say tacos. I love tacos.

Q: Homemade or do you go somewhere?

Homemade are the best, but I love Taco Bell, Taco Cabana, Los Cuates. I love tacos from anywhere.

Q: Do you have any hidden talents?

Tray spinning from my days waitressing. I can spin a tray like no one’s business.

Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?

Ambitious, hopefully kind, and driven.

 

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