Women founders lead innovation in the retail sector

Last year, the outbreak of the global pandemic saw the largest decline in Canadian retail sales on record, falling 10 per cent by March 2020. While all retail business owners feel the devastating effects of COVID-19, women are disproportionately impacted because more women work within service industries than in any other sector. Despite pandemic setbacks, female-led businesses are a large part of the innovative solutions currently emerging in retail.

The recent Mentorship Circle “Women in Retail,” presented by Startup Canada with guest speaker Lauryn Vaughn of The Upside, brought industry leaders and retail newcomers together to discuss current and future trends, the sector’s most pressing collective needs and important information for those just beginning their retail journey. This article will examine some of the women making waves in retail and the advice they shared during the Mentorship Circle.

The Importance of market research

Vaughn emphasized the importance of thorough and continuous market research. In the competitive retail sector, having a unique, scalable idea. Scalability will eliminate excessive direct competition that could affect potential sales and make it attractive to potential investors. Some important tips for market research include the following:

  1. Product market fit: are there people who pay for this product/service? Show them that you have a business not a hobby.
  2. Competitor review:  this will help inform and accelerate your decisions as you build your business, making you competitive from the start.
  3. Perform a SWOT analysis: Identify your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Here a few female-led companies that have mastered the art of adapting the product to the market:

  1. Smash + Tess – This hugely successful Vancouver-based apparel company grew out of the realization that there’s an unfilled niche in fashion – affordable and stylish loungewear.

  2. Flutter Care – Based in British Columbia, Flutter Care improves reproductive health care access through wearable, non-invasive maternity wear paired with a mobile app that accurately tracks fetal movements.

  3. Nudnik – The Toronto-based company makes children’s clothing exclusively from pre-consumption textile waste that would otherwise pollute the planet. All garments are made from fully compostable, 100 per cent organic cotton and shipped in zero-waste packaging.

Retailers: the emperors of e-commerce

In the first four months of the pandemic, e-commerce sales across Canada exceeded sales in the 2019 holiday season. Today, about 80 per cent of Canadians have made online purchases at least once.

In the ever-growing e-commerce market, retailers account for the largest share of e-commerce sales at 68 per cent, followed by tourism at 57 per cent and information technology at 52 per cent. These staggering statistics would prompt many business owners to consider switching to online sales platforms, but many resist the change. Among the main deterrents for entrepreneurs using cybercommerce is the difficulty of providing good customer service, developing skills and ensuring profitability. With that in mind, retail entrepreneurs interested in e-commerce should consider the following:

  • Online sales differ in each sector – see what the leading companies in your industry understand best practices and their sales strategy.
  • Have a basic understanding of online sales. For the more in-depth tasks, you should hire a freelancer or hire the expertise you need!
  • Make informed decisions, no presumptions – as e-commerce sales, take advantage of online commerce tools available for your business.

Although a lot of women in retail have benefited from recent trends in e-commerce, here’s a few shining examples:

Sapling & Flint – CCAB Certified Aboriginal Business Sapling & Flint, founded by twin sisters Dakota and Jesse Brant, is a jewellery and accessories manufacturer specializing in gold and sterling silver had to rethink its digital strategy in the midst of the pandemic.

Loti Wellness – Curated by registered therapists, this monthly self-care subscription box company maximized its online sales platform during the pandemic and integrated with commerce platforms and fulfillment centres to manage supply, payment options, and general logistics.

Inequitable funding for women founders persists

Regardless of the sector, the problem of unfair funding for female entrepreneurs remains. According to the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, female entrepreneurs are less likely than men to seek or receive funding (32.6 per cent versus 38 per cent). However, within the funding space itself, including The 51 – a platform founded (and funded by women to build mutual prosperity and social impact between female investors and entrepreneurs.

In the funding space, Vaughn’s advice to founders is to take the time to imagine what they’d like their business to look like when it “grows up” – is it self-funded and small scale, backed by bank loans, or an international, VC backed venture? This simple question can help you avoid backing yourself into a corner both in terms of funding and your general business model.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Kayla Isabelle
Kayla Isabelle
Kayla Isabelle is the CEO of Startup Canada

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