In mid-November, more than 1,100 women from over 30 countries gathered at the Knockdown Center in Queens, New York, for the fourth annual Girlboss Rally.
For its second appearance in NYC, this rally promised to be “bigger and better than ever before” — and it delivered. Part conference, part “experiential inspiration wonderland,” it was a two-day affair complete with panels, networking opportunities, and even a curated bazaar of over 20 female-owned businesses at the “Girlboss Collective.”
As someone whose career started with the launch of Nasty Gal, the addition of the shopping bazaar is fitting: Girlboss Founder and CEO Sophia Amoruso wanted to “highlight the female entrepreneurs who are doing great things and selling products we knew our community would love. To see all these brands together is pretty unique, and Shopify has been a great partner in creating this.”
With the Girlboss Rally, Amoruso has inspired women to channel their inner “girlboss” and helped flip the script on the traditional conference world by creating a space for entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, thought leaders, and hustlers to thrive and make their dreams a reality.
It’s here that panels of hard-hustling entrepreneurs and successful in-person sellers offered up a number of insights that are helpful for retailers. Without further ado, here are some of the top takeaways for retail entrepreneurs from this year’s conference.
The Future of Retail Is Female
When it comes to women pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams, that’s becoming more of a reality: According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), 61% of new retail entrepreneurs (defined as people who owned their business for three years or less) are women.
“NRF has long championed the fact that women are leading the reinvention of retail, and this year’s survey data supports that continued trend,” says Sam Berndt, NRF’s Director of Research.
Knowing that women make up the majority of fresh-faced retail entrepreneurs, the Girlboss Rally was a hotbed for networking and industry knowledge. Attendees left with new contacts (perhaps even a future co-founder), mic-drop worthy wisdom, and renewed inspiration.
With topics ranging from branding and scaling a business, taking control of finances and health, to building confidence, “it's really more than a business school; it's a life school,” Amoruso explained.
Here are the 10 inspiring retail-related takeaways from the female entrepreneurs and panelists who have paved their own way in the industry.
"User-generated content performs really well for us, especially because you can’t test fragrances online.” —Abigail Cook Stone, Founder and CEO, Otherland
The challenge that online candle brand Otherland faces? Marketing a fragrance-based, sensory-focused product via the Internet. After all, candles are an emotional purchase, no longer strictly used for their prime functionality: light.
One answer that founder and CEO Abigail Cook Stone turned to was leveraging user-generated content on Instagram to help tell Otherland’s story in a compelling way. According to Cook, this has served to create an emotional response and get customers “over the hump of not having to smell before you buy.” And tapping into the fact that scent is the most powerful trigger of memory, nostalgia becomes important too.
“It’s about selling an experience, not just a product.”
FURTHER READING: For more ideas on how to sell an experience, read up on how experiential marketing get customers excited about your retail business.
"Go for it anyways. Fail. Fail fast and then, get up and recover. For me, again, if I'm not doing that, then I'm not taking big enough risks. I don't want to live in a safe space. I don't want to be just chilling. The only way that I am going to be great is if I am pushing harder and pushing harder.” ―Bozoma “Boz” Saint John, Chief Marketing Officer, Endeavor
Before becoming Chief Marketing Officer at talent agency Endeavor, Bozoma "Boz" Saint John famously served as Chief Brand Officer at Uber for a year.St. John had left her role as the head of global consumer marketing for iTunes and Apple Music to join Uber, where she was tasked with turning the brand’s image around. Saint John is known as a fearless leader, who wooed audiences and media during her presentation of the redesigned Apple Music during the 2016 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (this was known as her breakthrough moment).
It’s this risk-taking attitude that has elevated Saint John to become one of today’s most awe-inspiring leaders. In the panel called “Stepping Into My Career,” she explained her philosophy.
“To me, there's no success without the failure. Now, what has happened is that my recovery is much better. I have fallen, but I am able to get up and brush my knees off and keep going much faster than when I was younger, but again, that takes practice.”
If you’re hoping to grow your retail business, then you need to embrace the greater risks that might come along with pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. And if you need even more inspiration when it comes to failing forward, consider this quote from revolutionary leader Nelson Mandela: “I never lose. I either win or learn.”
"The ‘nos,’ they really propel you forward. If they don't propel you, they at least allow you to reevaluate what it is that you're doing, and how better to pitch what you're doing.”―Brooklyn Decker, Co-founder, Finery
Agility is critical as a small business. Whether pitching to investors or dealing with negative feedback from customers, make sure you listen to all criticism and evaluate how you can pivot accordingly.
And while the “nos” can sting, they can ultimately serve to point you in the right direction. As a former model and actress, Decker faced some challenges while pitching Finery, which is a “wardrobe operating system” that helps you make sense of your closet.
"If you aren't set up to manage your own growth, you're going to hit a roadblock, and we did.” ―Aurora James, Founder and Creative Director, Brother Vellies
While selling too much too quick might sound like a good problem to have, it proved to be a challenge for Brother Vellies (a brand of handcrafted shoes and handbags from South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Morocco) after winning the CFDA award (Council of Fashion Designers of America), spearheaded by Anna Wintour. While it was a huge win for Brother Vellies, it caused the brand to grow too quickly.
James explains: “What's difficult was that we were now in a situation where we were going from being a very tiny company, to a huge site. We were growing 300% in that year, and the concept of training everyone in Africa to make all of these shoes that fast was just not possible and not happening. It was just me and my assistant at the time. It was really a mess, and I think that one of the things that people have to realize in growing a business, is that you hit those hiccups and they're really unexpected, and that's not really a problem that you can complain about.”
Something to keep in mind: Brother Vellies partners with local artisans to ensure ethical work practices. So, when it comes to growth and potential business partners, James makes sure to talk to the artisans first: “You have to remember, I started Brother Vellies as a flea market stall, so it's a little bit different (than the standard business model). I was like, "Can we make 20?" That was a very different conversation when it went from 20 to 200, and then eventually 1,000 to 2,000, right? It's an ongoing conversation.”
For more insight, we’ll refer to a separate interview James had with The Style Report, where she discussed managing sustainability and growth. The major takeaway: Promoting and sustaining small-scale production is crucial. James explained: “I try to work in different countries based on the style of shoe and as the business grows, they [the production] grow. Even when demand is high, we have to limit certain shoe styles because that’s real life. People need to understand that, especially if you are doing things sustainably.”
"Make sure that every day you are doing something that’s pushing your business forward.” —Rea Ann Silva, CEO and founder of BeautyBlender
The former makeup artist launched BeautyBlender when she recognized her now iconic tear-drop shaped sponge could solve a problem in the market. When building a business, especially as a sole founder, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, distracted, and lose focus on what you’re doing.
“You have to have your North Star and keep trying to move towards it every day. Know that one day you're going to feel like you're taking three steps back, but then next week you're going to feel like you've run a mile. You have to keep the mindset of moving forward and achieving whatever the ultimate goal is.”
FURTHER READING: Learn how to avoid analysis paralysis and prioritize tasks in your retail business.
"If a door closes, find a window. It's so important to believe in yourself and find another way. Don't get discouraged; let the naysayers make you more excited. You prove to yourself that everything you do is worth it. There is nothing better than proving people wrong.” —Alex Williamson, Chief Brand Officer, Bumble
When the dating app that put women in the driver’s seat launched four years ago, it was met with resistance and doubt. Today, with Whitney Wolfe Herd at the helm as founder and CEO (Wolfe Herd has graced the cover of nearly every business magazine and was recently included as one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2018”), Bumble has launched two additional verticals (Bumble Biz and Bumble BFF) and boasts over 44.5 million users. There’s no doubt that Bumble and its team managed to prove the doubters wrong.
FURTHER READING: Having trouble moving forward? Read up on how a business coach could help your retail business scale.
"Our two biggest expenses, and they're about 50/50, have been product and people. Marketing doesn't even make the list. We want to invest every dollar that we generate into something the customer is going to take home with them. Choose product or the people who are going to make that product amazing; make that experience amazing.” —Maggie Winter, Co-Founder and CEO, AYR
Yes, marketing is an important aspect of any retail business, but it’s critical to prioritize product and people first. This is especially true if you have any brick-and-mortar locations, or if customers are interacting with your online team. Once you’ve got your product and people on lock, it’s easier to move onto building your comprehensive marketing strategy.
FURTHER READING: Investing in retail staff presents its own unique challenges. Learn how to vet, hire, and keep top-notch retail employees.
"A point of view is so key; the market is so saturated now. We all know that everyone can become their own brand on Instagram and on all these platforms, so if you find that thing that is the white space that's missing and hone in on that, that's where you get the growth, that's where you get the sense of community, that's where you get your customer who really feels the genuine story.” —Rajni Jacques, Creator of @platform, Fashion Director of Teen Vogue and Allure, and moderator of the panel, “The Future of Retail,” in partnership with Shopify
While social media and in-person selling tools like Shopify POS have helped democratize in-person selling, it’s even more important to identify and then stick to your brand’s point of view (your brand’s POV clearly communicates who you are and what makes your brand unique).
It goes beyond the marketing materials: it’s an expression of how you show up, why you stand out, and it needs to be done in a way that comes naturally in order to remain authentic. One way to start? Look for the white space in the market, consider what problem you’re solving, and forge ahead.
FURTHER READING: Establish your brand’s point of view with a these lessons from retail branding experts.
"When we have our Fashion Week shows, that's where we see the jump in follower count for Instagram (and 80% of our website traffic comes from Instagram).” —Becca McCharren-Tran, Founder and CEO, Chromat
Considering adding IRL events to your plans? For swim and bodywear brand Chromat, which focuses on empowering swim and bodywear designed for all bodies, McCharen-Tran (a Forbes 30 Under 30 pick for “People Who Are Reinventing the World”) shared that Chromat saw the most uptick in followers when they participated in events.
FURTHER READING: Learn more about how to choose the right sales events (think markets, fairs, festivals, and pop-up shops) for your retail business.
"I think it's okay to be really uncomfortable, and it's okay to be sleepless, and it's okay to not have balance, and it's okay to be stressed out. This is temporary, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. You started it because you love it. That's self-care, you're following your heart, you're doing what you love.” —Aurora James, Founder and Creative Director, Brother Vellies
There’s so much emphasis on self-care today, especially for entrepreneurs who are prone to burnout. Know that whatever you’re working on, it will get easier and this too shall pass. Start by being kind to yourself, remember that you’re doing what you love, and keep going. It will all be worth it in the end, even on more challenging days.
FURTHER READING: As a busy retailer, it’s easy to fall victim to exhaustion. Learn how to prevent and bounce back from burnout.
Moving Forward: Implementing Insights From the Girlboss Rally
Bookmark these lessons and revisit them whenever you need a motivating push, or post your favorites in your office as a daily reminder that we’re all in this together.