Texas Top 50 Women To Watch: Debi Burrows Of Penguin Suits
For small business marketer Debi Burrows, the timeless, heart-wrenching narrative of the hard-working entrepreneur is one that has deeply influenced her life. Originally from Western New York, Burrows watched her Sicilian father tirelessly grow his small business, determined to provide for his family. That left an imprint on her, and informed her life’s work as the Founder, Head Storyteller and Strategist of Penguin Suits, an award-winning marketing firm in Boerne. Devoted to helping the makers in her community grow their small businesses through marketing strategies tailored for diverse needs, Burrows shares her thoughts on championing the Hill Country, empowering women, and selflessly nurturing others with the belief that everyone has the potential to succeed.
On her mission to empower other women in business:
I first arrived in Boerne as a new mother in the 1990’s, having just moved to Texas from Western New York. Something spoke to me when I found Boerne, after driving the highways for days trying to choose the location of our new home. I met several fellow New Yorkers who also settled in Boerne, and it immediately felt familiar and comfortable. We have been here ever since.
Once I settled in with my newborn son, I started Penguin Suits (named after one of his baby toys), with a mission to service the gap of fellow entrepreneurs who needed big advertising ideas on a modest budget. These small business owners were mostly women from the very beginning; they are the makers: candles, clothing, and other products made from soft skills that can be developed at home and used to support a family.
As our Head Storyteller and Strategist, I have spent decades encouraging women to either take the leap into small business ownership, or that they are worthy of recognition once they have become successful small business owners. I have observed that the most limiting factor for women to start their own businesses is that they don’t believe in themselves. I have always said that if we don’t allow the other women in our lives to feel as though they can’t do something, why would we ever let ourselves feel that way?
Our business has continued growing over the years because of women’s’ necessities. Everything is a marketing call—I coach women and remind them that they are marketing all of the time, whether they are in the office, their home, or out in the community. The phrase I repeat all of the time with my clients is, “If you’re not going to say you’re the best, who is?” It fulfills me to own a business that can be the cheerleader for others.
On entrepreneurship and small, family-owned businesses:
I have a unique perspective on entrepreneurship and small, family-owned businesses. I grew up in a family with parents who owned a small business, and I watched them struggle with parts of their business they did not understand, such as marketing. Observing that struggle has always stayed with me, as it has given me the determination to succeed, and also the drive to offer marketing rates that are accessible to smaller businesses. Additionally, as a woman who raised a family while growing her own small business, I feel it is important to mentor other women business owners, both in the office at Penguin Suits and out in the community. It feeds my soul to watch a fellow business owner grow. Especially in a smaller town like Boerne—when one business benefits, we all do.
On giving back in Boerne:
At Penguin Suits, we support our fellow businesses in the Hill Country by buying local and using local services whenever possible. We also work hard to make the marketing strategies of larger businesses available to smaller businesses with discounted rates and manageable packages, so that our services are accessible to our clients, no matter the budget.
Outside of the office, I give back to a variety of organizations that I believe in, such as the Boerne Community Theatre, Dress for Success San Antonio, Career Gear San Antonio, Angels All Around You and the 100 Women Who Care Alliance. I have a passion for the arts and education, so I volunteer with the Hill Country Council for the Arts and Boerne Community Theatre. I work with students at the University of Texas at San Antonio to provide a project for their PR class each year. I attend that class on a monthly basis and I am available to the students for meetings and questions. I also teach a quarterly class on marketing for business owners at San Antonio College.
On her personal female hero:
I have always identified with Lucille Ball. Not only because of our shared hair color, but because of her tenacity and innovation in her industry, even in the face of constant adversity. Her story keeps me pushing to do my best, and remember all of the women in history whose courage paved the way for our present-day opportunities. If we don’t pull each other up and support each other through the ups and downs as women, who else is going to do it? Lucy always said it best, “Be positive. Be humorous. Be who you are.”
This profile was (Em)Powered by Penguin Suits.
Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison.