FAMILY BUSINESS — Donella Handley, owner of Handley's Western Wear in Folsom, works with members of her family every day — and customers quickly become extended family. Here, she is with three of her granddaughters who help in the store. Left to right, Julie Marshall, Janie Marshall, Donella Handley, Grace Handley. Photo by Susan Laird

FAMILY BUSINESS — Donella Handley, owner of Handley's Western Wear in Folsom, works with members of her family every day — and customers quickly become extended family. Here, she is with three of her granddaughters who help in the store. Left to right, Julie Marshall, Janie Marshall, Donella Handley, Grace Handley. Photo by Susan Laird

Secrets of Success 2011

Handley’s Western Wear has same owner 60 years

By From page D11 | January 06, 2012

If 80 percent of success is simply showing up, then Donella Handley has that secret of success completely mastered.
For the past five decades, this mother of two, grandmother of five and great-grandmother of two has opened the doors — every day — at Handley’s Western Wear in Folsom. Seven days a week, she is there with her staff to greet customers with a smile — and a commitment to customer service.
Why does she continue to come to work every day, at the tender age of 89?
“Because it’s fun,” she said with a big smile. “I like it. I love it.”
Indeed, Donella has an energy and joie de vivre that amazes her children and grandchildren, who all take turns working in the store. (The newest great-grandbaby came to the store just 24 hours after being born).
“She runs circles around us,” said granddaughter Grace Handley. “She is amazing.”
Handley’s Western Wear opened in March of 1951, back when Folsom was still an agricultural community.
“The store has changed over the years,” Donella said. “This was a shoe store at first that my husband, Chet, and I took on when it was failing. Eventually, we stepped in and took over the entire store. It was called Bird’s Department Store then. In the beginning, we even sold business suits.”
One of Donella’s secrets of success is to study the winds of change, and to keep pace with the times.
For example, back in the 1960s, area residents wanted Levis. But there was one problem.
“Levis wouldn’t add us as a new account,” she said. “But we wanted our customers to be happy. So we ordered Levis through the Willows Department Store for years so we could stock them for our customers. Levis eventually gave in and added us — and we’re still a good account with them today.”
Today, Handley’s is a very successful business in the niche market of western wear. Cowboys and cowgirls who are looking for that hat by Stetson or Resistol, a great pair of Wranglers jeans or Justin boots will find them here, and other famous brands, too.
Ever the savvy business owner, Donella continues to stay abreast of the times. She offers more choices to customers who have additional needs for safety boots and quality clothing that can take a beating and last.
“I have a lot of customers who work in construction,” she said. “So, we are more than just a western store. We concentrate on stocking Wranglers, Levis and Carhartt jeans.”
Carhartt manufactures premium workwear known for exceptional durability, comfort, quality of construction and fit. It also looks good.
A master of the old school when it comes to customer satisfaction, Donella has taught her children and grandchildren (who have all worked in the shop) that customers must be treated with courtesy and respect. All transactions are handled with a smile.
Customers come from over four counties.
“Placerville is a big part of our business,” Donella said. “So are El Dorado Hills, Pollock Pines, Jackson and Granite Bay.”
Brad Thompson of Roseville has shopped at the store for decades. “I used to stop in when I lived in Southern California,” he said. “They’ve always had quality. And it’s American made. And the people are always friendly.”
“They always have what you want – and in stock,” said customer Pauline Miller of Granite Bay. “And if they don’t have it, they’ll order it for you. Also, they don’t sell you what doesn’t fit you.”
In addition to women’s western wear fashions and men’s work clothing, the store offers gift items, Black Hills gold jewelry and more items made in the USA.
“We are really trying to stock as much ‘Made in the USA’ as we can,” said Grace Handley. “It’s important to our customers.”
“And it’s important to us,” said Julie Marshall, another Handley granddaughter.
In addition to her other duties at the store, Julie’s specialty at the store is shaping and blocking hats. In fact, other western wear stores refer their customers to her for blocking.
“We’ve always had a generous policy on customer returns,” Donella said. “For example, if a guy has a defective boot, we’ll take care of him. I figure that we’ll do more business with that customer over time because we did right by him.”
“It’s important to treat others the way you would want them to treat you,” Julie said.
At the end of the day, one realizes that everyone is treated like family at Handley’s Western Wear. In fact, it’s not unusual for customers to join the Handley Family in discussions at the back of the store. Topics range widely, and cover every aspect of life in the regional community. And that may be the greatest source of Donella Handley’s success.
“If I had to pick just one, I’d say this is Grandma’s greatest secret of success,” said Grace. “SHE LISTENS.”
Handley’s Western Wear is located at 314 East Bidwell Street in Folsom. Business hours are Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12 noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 916-983-2668 or visit

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Susan Laird

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