For our annual Women of the Year issue, we feature six fascinating local women paving new paths for business, community and generations of women to come. Read on as we learn more about Donna Salyers and her 30 years of entrepreneurship and is about to start an exciting new chapter.
Entrepreneurship is nothing new for the Salyers. The dynamic husband-and-wife team of Jim and Donna Salyers are the brains behind several Northern Kentucky based, and nationally known, businesses.
The story of their entrepreneurial journeys goes back to the mid-80s when Jim purchased the Woolworth Building as an investment. Following some years, Woolworth announced they were leaving and that’s when Jim decided it was the perfect opportunity to step out on his own and start a business – The Madison Event Center.
At the same time Jim was starting his business, his fashionista wife Donna was launching her business Fabulous-Furs in the basement of their Cincinnati home. However, business grew much quicker than expected for Donna and she needed more space.
The couple wanted to do their part in growing their Northern Kentucky neighborhood, so they began buying boarded-up buildings that not only solved their space issue, which also improved the neighborhood.
“In the beginning we lived in a loft apartment above The Madison and experience firsthand the urban blight and neglect,” explains Donna. “Jim set out to change the neighborhood and, amazingly, it worked. It was painfully slow – nearly two decades – but make no mistake; it’s been a joint effort with my husband, our daughter, our son, and their spouses, as well as fellow entrepreneurs who risked investing in a troubled area.”
Not only is the couple the founders of The Madison Event Center and Fabulous-Furs, but Donna also launched Donna Salyers’ Fabulous-Bridal, as well as a couple of restaurants, a wedding mall, and more.
“Our son-in-law Guy van Rooyen spearheaded Hotel Covington that opened in late 2016,” she explains. “The Hotel has been a fabulous game-changed, bringing restaurants, shops, and specialty bars – places creating vibrancy and bringing people and credibility to Covington’s business core.”
As the family has worked to change the face of Northern Kentucky, Salyers says that they live by the Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated.
That passion for treating others the way they’d want to be treated translates into a desire to create a community they themselves would want to live in. While at times that sounds like a walk in the park, it isn’t always the case.
“We’ve always believed in the power of small businesses leading the way,” she says. “Local government can only do so much. Covington, for example, teetered on bankruptcy with limited revenue-generating entities and neighborhoods. Big business is essential as well, but individuals and small businesses can be far more nimble and resilient in changing economic conditions and world events.”
When it comes to running Fabulous-Furs, Salyers says that she finds inspiration in the people she works with every day, who inspire her to do everything possible to offer great products and lead fashion trends, which allows her to provide jobs that feed families, pay taxes, and expand the family’s reputation as the world’s leader in luxury faux fur.
This same business she hopes to build a reputation with is what started more than 30 years ago as a sewing kit company.
“Fake fur was far different,” she explains. “Technology today produces faux fur so realistic, a furrier may be fooled. But I started with the best quality available, and it became my challenge to create a luxury market for something with a terrible reputation. I was naive enough to think Ic ould turn faux fur into a luxurious product even more desirable than the finest animal fur. We were embraced by the entertainment industry early on and, though it’s been a gradual process, today we’re sold by high-end boutiques, department stores, and casinos in 46 countries.
Products from Fabulous-Furs have appeared in movies, on Broadway and TV, national publications and were even named as one of Oprah’s “Favorite Things.”
“Each year we get better still and customers tell us they really are trading up to something humane but just as luxurious as animal fur,” adds Salyers.
With a new decade approaching, Fabulous-Furs isn’t the only brand run by the Salyers that will continue to expand. Salyers says that Hotel Covington recently announced an expansion that will include moving into the historic former YMCA building to make way for a bourbon distillery experience, 10,000 feet of office space and an expansion of Hotel Covington.
“It will be more than returning vibrancy to another long-vacant block,” she says. “A bourbon experience, VIP suits, and all sorts of unique features will make it one-of-a-kind. Jim and I are merely cheerleaders; our son-in-law is leading the way.”
Learn about the other 2019 Cincy Chic Women of the Year:
Rachel Felous, Simply Zero
Learn about the woman behind a new zero-waste lifestyle shop in OTR who’s making the earth’s future a little brighter on fun find at a time.
Ray Ball, Neighborhood Rose
See how a woman from Bond Hill recently achieved her dream of designing a shoe for Nike, and how her neighborhood inspired it all.
Emily Hoskins, Green Bee
She’s a former makeup artist turned natural beauty product guru and advocate for the world’s pollinators. Keep reading for all the buzz.
Kendra Ramirez Digital Agency
This local tech guru helps businesses thrive through her marketing agency, and inspires personal development through her conferences and a new e-book launching soon.
Mary Delaney of Education Matters
She leads a local organization that removes barriers to learning for adults seeking to re-engage in education. Read on to learn her secrets to success.