Named ‘Women In Design’ award winner by Contract Magazine in 2019, Melissa has been a ‘wave-maker’ and ‘inspiration thought-leader’ in the world of retail. She was also recognized as one of LinkedIn and Design: Retail’s ‘Top 10 Retail Design Influencers of the Year.’
Nowadays, she’s busy ‘leading from the front’ in the retail world as a passionate mentor, strategist, podcaster, dreamer, and innovator. And when she accepted the appointment of Convrt Judge for the upcoming Convrt Awards, we were honored to get the chance to sit down with her for a few moments to learn about her experiences in retail, her vision for the future of the industry, and some snippets of wisdom for the ‘movers and shakers’ who are getting ready to showcase their work on the Convrt Award world stage.
Can you describe your job in one line?
If I were to describe my job in one line, I would say that I am a consumer, retail and technology strategist. I’m always thinking about where the consumer’s going and how we can create the best experiences for them.
What do you think makes a company stand out in your industry?
A company stands out when they’re really consumer-centric in thought. You can see that in the experiences that they create. There aren’t just bells and whistles everywhere.
Everything’s purposeful—and every touchpoint along the way of the consumer journey is intuitive. They stay true to who they are as a brand, with the visuals and the messaging that they create. It’s authentic, it’s honest, and it just feels really intuitive.
What one word would you use to describe your industry?
What do you love about the retail industry?
I think what’s exciting about being in the retail industry is that it’s always changing. Consumers are evolving. The acceleration of technology is changing our behaviors, how we live, our expectations, and our access to information. It’s always kind of a ‘good challenge’ that’s brought to the table. Whether we are on the brand side or the design and consulting side, we’re always having to be forward-thinking—and I think that’s a really exciting part of the industry.
What has changed in the retail industry since you started working?
So much has changed in the industry since I started working. My background’s a little non-conventional in that I started on Wall Street, so we always had to be on top of trends and behaviors. From college to today, for example, which has been 20-plus years, the way we live has changed so much.
When I first started in the industry, I had a Blackberry. There wasn’t really an iPhone. Your phone was definitely not your personally held computer the way it is today.
Things weren’t as fluid. When I started Linus Group brand, Shopify was just launching too, so this was back in 2009. Brands really weren’t as fluid in the way that they operated across channels. Consumers weren’t as fluid in the way that they operated from their mobile devices to their desktop devices, to in person. There was no TikTok or Instagram, Facebook wasn’t even really a thing yet. So everything has changed since starting.
That’s what’s been exciting about it as well. What I think we have to pay attention to so much is that we are in a phase of high-velocity technology advancement. So while all those things have changed over the past 20 years, I think you’re gonna see that much change happen again in the next 5 to 10 years.
Whether we are on the brand side or the design and consulting side, we’re always having to be forward-thinking—and I think that’s a really exciting part of the industry.
What do you think would be the number one thing you hope people could learn from you and continue to learn from you?
As a leader, I hope that I could teach the ability to always be listening because things are changing so quickly. I think, a lot of times, you can approach work with preconceived notions—kind of a way of doing things that you’re used to. And I think you can always use those in your toolkit.
The ability to be agile and nimble and adaptive, I think, is critical for success—especially with the way the world is evolving so much. So that’s something that I always hope to pass on as a leader.
What are the qualities that you cherish the most in a colleague?
Accountability is critical. I think that’s how you build trust. So for me, with a colleague, whether you have all the answers or not, just honesty, accountability, and reliability to me is critical.
If you weren’t a leader in the retail industry and an expert in the industry, what do you think you would like to be doing with your life?
Well, if you asked my daughter, I would be a famous actress. When I was younger I always wanted to do that. So who knows, maybe that’s what I would do.
So be curious, jot things down, store them in your mental toolbox, and know that you’re going to have the opportunity to leverage all those experiences along the way.
Do you have any insights or advice for someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
The advice I would give to somebody who’s just starting their career is to be insatiably curious and have an always learning mentality. There’s so much at our fingertips that teaches us all of the time. Be open to that and understand that every bit of it is a learning opportunity. Those lessons might not be applicable to this moment in time, but eventually, there will be applicability to the things that you’re learning every single day. So be curious, jot things down, store them in your mental toolbox, and know that you’re gonna have the opportunity to leverage all those experiences along the way.
Who were you most nervous to meet in your career?
I don’t know if nervous is the right word. I mean, excited and hoping that you’re going to really deliver—I think I’ve had a few people along the way I felt that way about. I had the opportunity to meet Sherry Redstone once, in the bathroom, and I was like, the bathroom is probably the oddest place to approach somebody—but we were both at the White House and we were at this amazing summit talking about what the future of consumerism was going to be.
So I harnessed the opportunity. We were here for a common topic. And I decided, “I’m gonna go ahead and say hello, even if we’re in the bathroom.” So I think it was a culmination of her stature, but also the appropriateness of how you approach somebody in the lady’s room—that would probably be one example.
Can you identify a tipping point in your career when you actually started to see success? And then, after you spotted it, did you start doing things differently?
When you think of a tipping point, sometimes you’re unsure what direction you’re supposed to go in. When I was in the very early entrepreneurial phases, I had a lot of different avenues and ideas at the time that I was contemplating. I remember a brand that came my way that was on a different trajectory than the current client base I had. That was pretty exciting. They were about a hundred million in revenue, whereas my average client at the time was probably more like 10 to 20 million. So while I was contemplating moving in this one direction with my current client base, I remember getting the advice—well, throw out a number. What do you think the work would take with this different typology, and see how they respond?
They said yes right away, which automatically told me I probably didn’t charge enough. It was a tipping point for me because of the opportunity I had with this different, not caliber, but the level, right? Of a brand that was further along in its trajectory.
I got so excited about getting down and journeying, rolling up my sleeves with really early clients. I was now with a brand whose founder was still engaged and I still got to work with the founding team. So I had that kind of ‘startup’ aspect of it. But they had much more robust resources, they had healthier budgets, and they had a little more clarity on where they wanted to go and what they considered a success. It was really my internal validation of kind of moving up the market a bit—along with the clients I served, the services that we could offer, and the engagements that we could create with them.
We kind of shifted a little bit after that (positioning-wise), and we changed how we presented ourselves, where I focused my energy more on how we could be partners with our clients.
What does creativity mean to you?
Creativity is thinking outside of the box. I know that sounds pretty straightforward, but I think, we can sometimes gravitate to our tendencies—and this is how I always approach something. I think creativity is not having those confines. You wanna have best practices, and it’s nice to have processes that you could follow. But I think that’s where, for example, A.I. is an amazing opportunity for us right now—because of the way in which it’s become a tool for designers and being able to push boundaries of what your mind on its own can think about. This is an example of that creativity going to the next level.
Creativity can sometimes mean staffing a project differently because you’re bringing in different team players with different core competencies and different perspectives, and that’s gonna help you come up with a different point of view than you would’ve had in the past.
It might be leveraging new technology, like A.I. tools or VR, and pushing the boundaries of how far your imagination can go. It’s multiple aspects, but it’s really not allowing yourself to be confined with this is how we’ve always done it. It’s saying, what’s the opportunity I might have here to go at it a little bit of a different way, while still honoring the core fundamentals? It’s asking what you would want to bring into a project, but not letting yourself have those strict boundaries.
But I think that’s where, for example, A.I. is an amazing opportunity for us right now—because of the way in which it’s become a tool for designers and being able to push boundaries of what your mind on its own can think about. This is an example of that creativity going to the next level.
The Convrt Award is about authentic, independent recognition. Why do you think that’s important?
I think that it goes into authenticity, in general. There are a lot of people I think who you expect to be winners. If you think of the Oscars, right? There are the same few that get nominated all the time, and they win and you know that they’re great.
But I think giving an opportunity to uncover the up-and-comers, or having more holistic criteria, or different points of view—it’s about the opportunity. And I talk about this because I just watched the SAG awards last night. When I think of the SAG awards, It’s like actors are voting for actors—and sometimes there are certain nomination committees (like the
motion pictures, and directors). So in this opportunity, it’s having a different point of view, evaluating the talent out there, giving an opportunity, and shining a light on more diversity in the industry and pulling that forward. I think that’s exciting.
What would you like to see from participants entering the awards? Any words of encouragement for entrants?
I always like to understand the full picture. I wanna know what was the problem you were solving. What made it challenging? How did you go about it differently? How did you use that creativity? What did you consider success and what were the outcomes?
So I think that a holistic story is really important. I’m really excited to hear that, and I’m excited to see those who were thinking outside the box to achieve that success.
We always love to see proof points. That’s always great validation as well. So that can range from anything from how you had a lift in engagement, a lift in sales, and all that should go back to what you were trying to achieve in the first place. Maybe you made your market in a new market. Maybe it was a test that proved something bigger that’s gonna happen in the future. So I think the context around it, and really explaining through what the challenge was, how you went about it, how you thought outside the box, and what were the outcomes. It’s a good formula that I’d like to see.