Jeanel Alvarado is a sensational retail strategist, business consultant, podcaster writer and speaker. She has over 10 years experience in the industry. She has worked with many clients in all areas of marketing, branding, operations, sourcing, retail real estate and more.  

Jeanel is the founder and CEO of RETAILBOSS, a platform that connects the retail industry for professionals, entrepreneurs and small businesses. She is also the Founder of Startup Retail, an entrepreneur summit that helps entrepreneurs go from IDEA to CREATION to LAUNCH. Jeanel hosts a monthly Retail Roundtable.

We sat down with the Canadian to discuss her career, business and desire to help others. 

AF: How have you been under the world’s COVID-19 pandemic? How has that affected the retail industry?

JA: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected me in many ways, both personally and professionally. I would say the biggest hurdle has been travel, since most of my work is in Canada, USA, and internationally! It was tricky in the beginning when it came down to many of our in-person events that we had planned, including trade-shows and sourcing trips, to Los Angeles and China, respectively. As a retail consultant, sourcing is one of the most important factors for retailers to operate their business, it’s just as important as the marketing and branding aspects, because if you don’t have products to source and or develop, you have no items to sell. This was one of the biggest challenges for both large and small retailers and boutiques during the pandemic. As their orders became extremely delayed, many factories were forced to halt operations due to government regulations for social distancing. Most factories were only allowed open for essential services, for creating medical masks, face-masks, and sanitizers. We saw many shift operations, not only to help during the pandemic, but also to stay in business as many contracts were cancelled. Its important to keep in mind that orders that are needed for Spring, and already in pre-production in the Fall, so many of the garments were already in production, yet, retailers could not afford to finish the production. We also saw many physical retailers go out of business, and many are dealing with litigation to attempt to get out of leasing agreements, whereby, even if the retailer leaves the space to save on the operating costs of the store, are still on the hook for paying 5-10+ year leases.

AF: How did you get into the retail industry?

JA: I got started in the retail industry at a young age, I have family who owned their own boutiques in my city, as well as would sell my own and assist selling products at markets. I have always been interested in the fashion and beauty industry, and my first job was working at a mall for a fashion brand, and then I worked as a beauty advisor. I had always been blogging and I actually created my first website on a floppy disk when I was 16 years old. Through my blogging, I was able to attract clients who were interested in me providing services and consulting on their business and product ideas. During this time, I was still in High School, I went straight to University to study Fashion Merchandising and Buying, and then later continued on completing a Bachelor of Commerce

Degree in Marketing. A fun fact is that while I was in University, I had so many consulting projects that I had from clients, I had to contract four University students to help me complete a few projects. While at the University, I also worked for the Alberta School of Business, School of Retailing, as a Managing Director overseeing larger consulting projects and upon graduation I was promoted to the Senior Managing Director of the centre. During my time I oversaw consulting and applied research projects taken on by the University.

AF: Can you talk about your company RETAILBOSS?

JA: Absolutely! RETAILBOSS is the largest platform connecting the retail industry for professionals, entrepreneurs and small businesses. We provide news, resources, events, consulting services, networking opportunities and more. We have over 100,000 followers across all social channels, thousands of subscribers and a members-only mobile app. Our mission is to make breaking into the retail industry, easy, and shift the narrative of retail as an occupation and instead as a lifestyle choice. There are so many jobs, careers, and opportunities in this industry, but often when people think retail, they think sales associates or store managers. We are changing this narrative, as most people in the retail industry are not in those occupations, most are in marketing, sales, finance and operations – in addition, to it being one of the best industries to get into as an entrepreneur and scaling a business. With opportunities online to start a business selling products via. Shopify or Wix, utilizing a marketplace such as Etsy or Amazon or going straight into physical retail via. Pop Ups or Markets, there has never been a better time to start a retail business.

AF: What are some of things you’ve learned while being an entrepreneur?

JA: I have learnt that as an Entrepreneur, it’s important to stay in your lane. I always say there are two ways to look at the retail industry, as a buyer or as a seller. It really comes down to your mindset. Do you want to be a producer, or a consumer of content. Do you want to be a great “boss” or a great “employee.” Everything has its pros and cons, more responsibilities or less, more risk or less risk, but at the end of the day it comes down to your goal. The fashion and beauty industry has always been swayed by trends, and following the next big trend, pivoting from one initiative to the next. Remember, we had the Green-washing marketing problem, whereby every Fast Fashion company was somehow suddenly “Sustainable” and now we have the issue of Black Lives Matter, and you can see companies who jumped on what they see as a “trend”, yet to be heard from again. As an entrepreneur, my biggest thing I have learnt is that being authentic never goes out of style. I believe that no matter what the trend, it’s about staying in your lane, staying true to your mission, your goal, and alignment. Instead of chasing a trend, if you simply say in your own lane, the time will come when YOU become the trend, then, all eyes will be on you. It’s not about trying to chase or create a moment. It’s about being the most authentic you, brand or business. For when your moment comes, you are ready, not because you are trying to be something you are not for popularity, or it’s the “thing” to do, but because it is authentic to your brand’s DNA. Everything is cyclical, vintage is in, and then vintage is out, its crop tops and then long sweaters. You really can’t be a brand anymore that’s switching with “the times,” the times will come back, and you’ll still be top of mind, once again.

AF: Who has been your hardest critic? What did you learn from that person?

JA: Without a doubt the customer is always the hardest critic. All we can do is try our best, I find customer expectations are higher than they have ever been before. With the availability of typing up a review in a matter of seconds, customers are always ready to write up their dissatisfaction, and even more so how you handled the interaction. In addition to “cancel” culture prevalent online, the customers themselves are the biggest critic. If a customer has a bad experience, and they didn’t resolve it with you, they will go to all other means to try to resolve it in their favor. What I have learnt, form working with many types of clients, and from the ones that we could say are most critical, is it is more important than ever, as a consultant, such as myself, that I take the time to really assess potential clients who reach out to me, their expectations and determine if I am the best fit for the project. You should also do a background check on the person contacting you, and ensure to verify they are a representative of that company, and depending on the project request references from them from other consultants or agencies they have worked with. 

On my website www.jeanelalvarado.com, I have free 30-minute sessions to learn about what the client may be interested in, and in that call, I can determine if this client is a match. I find this is imperative to reducing criticism, as I find this is often where it stems from. It must be crystal clear what the client will get, this is your responsibility: What the deliverables will look like, project duration, payment terms, contract breach terms, down to the estimated number of pages in the report and make sure all the i’s and t’s are dotted and crossed. 

Don’t be afraid to vet the client, as it will save you peace of mind in the long run.

AF: What advice would you give another female who’s looking to become an entrepreneur?

JA: My advice would be to first take an inventory of the resources, skills and tools that you have already. I find many new entrepreneurs, when they think about starting a new venture, are trying to find everything they NEED to get started. Instead, I always say to take the approach of figuring out everything that you do have and starting to work on the component of your business plan that you can do with what you have now. The resources can include access to someone who knows about apparel design, or a cosmetic scientist who can help you with formulation, or a private label company who can white label your brand name, and so much more. Then, take an inventory of your skills, such as are you already great at marketing, do you have an eye for branding, are you smart with numbers, or have really good interpersonal and communication skills. Then tools, do you have the newest iPhone or a Canon Camera, do you have a MAC, photo editing software, etc. At the end of the day a true entrepreneur is resourceful, if you can’t jump start your business with what you already have, then starting a business may just not be for you.

AF: What’s one of the best strategies you can share when it comes to e-commerce?

JA: The biggest strategy I can share for e-commerce, and I’ll take the perspective for a small business, is that creating an engaging website is all about the content including photos, keywords, and information. Simply, creating a website is the easy part, the problem that most people have is the content. I cannot stress enough the cost of creating content, and by content i’m referring to product photos, campaign photos, header photos, category photos, etc. One of the biggest recommendations I give or those struggling with content is to simply follow the retail calendar – of holidays, not seasons. We can get into fashion seasons another time, but as a small business, holiday dates are most important to structuring out a plan for content. In addition to the content, to drive traffic to the website, there has to have strong SEO keywords (search engine optimization) for the category pages (ie. dresses, blazers, pants) and the product pages (ie. Women’s Houndstooth Oversized Blazer), in order for customers to discover your brand online. Lastly, part of content is the information on the product, delivery, returns etc. I always tell my clients, that most new customers will land on a category or product page from search engines (ie. Google), and it’s important to have all the information on shipping, returns, size chart etc on that page. Once the content is nailed, then it’s time to add in additional e-commerce plugins to optimize your store, I go over a few here: 

AF: What’s next for your career and how can people find you for business opportunities?

JA: Next, is simply continuing to stay in my lane! Streamline our processes and focus on our upcoming partnerships and sponsorships, through our educational, workshop and program initiatives. We are excited to be working on a series of exciting endeavors behind the scenes with leading companies in the industry from manufacturers and wholesalers to shopping centers to e-commerce technology. We want to see more entrepreneurs win in the retail industry, and we are passionate about achieving just that. We are excited to continue to grow our team to provide value to our community. I can be reached at www.jeanelalvarado.com and member sign up is available at www.retailboss.co.

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