This Factor Empowered Her to Open a Business Later in Life

Stacey Howell has made a career out of doing the unexpected and the impossible — first as one of the few African American women in her class at Cornell, then as a pioneering top sales producer at several large corporations. In fact, Howell comes from a long line of groundbreakers, something that she relies on daily. “The biggest thing that I’ve learned from my uncles, who were trailblazing African American men in corporate America, is that you have to be prepared for business cycles,” she says. “It’s about reinvention.”

Now, Howell has embarked on her most rewarding reinvention journey as the owner of a Woodhouse Spa franchise in Atlanta.

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“My background has been very diverse, which really makes me proud.”

After graduating from Cornell, Howell began working for some of the most recognizable brands in the world. She initially went into medical sales with Johnson & Johnson before moving to another company, selling cardiac monitors to all New York City hospitals. “My background has been very diverse, which really makes me proud,” Howell says.

This period of her career, through the 1990s and into the 2000s, was characterized by significant achievements in sales and marketing and adapting to different markets. As she continued to excel, Howell’s future seemed bright. “I was being groomed for a regional manager position, and I was put on a fast track,” she says. “But in that 10-year span, I was having my family, so they moved to a man and started grooming him.”

“I was afraid of politics, but I decided that fear is going to keep knocking at the door until you just embrace it.”

As her career progressed, Howell felt the need to give back to her community. So in 2004, she began a four-year stint as a city council member in her hometown of South Orange, New Jersey, a town known for its diverse and inclusive population. It was a lot to juggle a full-time sales job, a family and being a councilwoman, but running for office was a way to gain important perspectives on leadership and, most importantly, to step out of her comfort zone.

“The people in my community wanted me to run for office, and I initially said no,” Howell says. “I was afraid of politics, but I decided that fear is going to keep knocking at the door until you just embrace it, so I jumped in and became a councilwoman.”

Howell says that she found the nonpartisan cooperation in the town’s politics refreshing, and this openness enabled her to connect with several mentors in the field. “I learned that working across party lines and being diverse and representative of all is so important.”

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“I was like, what am I gonna do? I’m still young. I’m not ready to hang it up.”

After facing personal and professional upheavals, including a divorce and job loss, Howell relocated to Atlanta around 2010. Despite initial challenges in finding employment and adjusting to a new environment, she remained resilient and continued to explore new opportunities.

After taking a sales leadership position with IBM, she found herself in familiar corporate territory, but something was missing. The long days selling high-tech products led to high paychecks, but she didn’t feel passionate. “I couldn’t find my groove here,” she says. “I was like, What am I gonna do? I’m still young. I’m not ready to hang it up.”

In early 2017, Howell founded a nonprofit organization, Every Woman Works (EWW), dedicated to transforming the lives of women facing challenges such as homelessness, substance abuse, penal system transition and domestic violence. EWW provided clients with training, including computer education, interview and resume preparation and other professional prep courses.

For Howell, it was an opportunity to utilize that diverse background to contribute to social change. “It combined my government experience and my corporate experience,” she says, adding that the pay cut she had to take didn’t bother her then. “It was purposeful. I wasn’t making any money, but I absolutely loved it.”

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“I thought about how I’m going to go out into our community and do for single mothers who can’t afford luxury.”

Three years into Howell’s tenure at EWW, Covid struck, drying up much of the nonprofit’s funding and preventing it from serving its client base; it eventually shuttered completely. Howell considered starting a business, but she was determined that whatever opportunity she chose had to give back to her community. By this time, she had married a disabled Navy vet. “Massage was part of his lifestyle,” Howell says, “and it gradually became my lifestyle.”

Howell did some research and learned that the spa industry in the U.S. — currently worth $20 billion — was booming, so she decided to open a Woodhouse Spa franchise in 2022. “But what I really want to do is bleed into the community with wellness,” she says. “I thought about how I’m going to go out into our community and do for single mothers who can’t afford luxury.” Howell has already held several free events for single moms and foster moms who cannot afford massage as a part of their regular lifestyle.

Following the success of her initial franchise, Howell is weighing her next steps. Regardless, her staff believes in her vision. “Stacey is a leader,” says Kay Arroufi, director of Woodhouse Spa Buckhead. “Her passion for giving back to the community and the greater world at large is inspiring.” Arroufi mentioned the three paid volunteer days the employees receive working for Howell at Woodhouse. “Working alongside Stacey inspires me to give back more abundantly.”

Howell has also made some important connections. The president of Morehouse College’s School of Medicine recently came in for a service. “She had a great experience and introduced herself — I didn’t know she was the president of Morehouse Medical,” Howell says. “And we are now in collaboration to do wellness in the community together.”

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