F.Word Consulting shares their advice for women entrepreneurs in the retail industry
Caitlin Heinen and Robin Reiners are the powerhouse duo behind F.Word Consulting. After working together in the world of corporate retail, they jumped ship to start a company where they could lend their expertise to women-owned small businesses. Together, they are on a mission to help women-owned businesses thrive in the retail industry and earn a bigger piece of the pie in today’s marketplace. They help retail entrepreneurs level-up their business, from hiring and training practices, merchandising, and business operations to customer experience and selling culture. Anyone who wants to help women-owned businesses make more money is someone we want to meet, so we chatted with Caitlin and Robin to learn more about F.Word and get some practical advice for retail entrepreneurs.
How did you decide to start F.Word together?
Caitlin: We connected instantly the first time we ever met, and have worked well together ever since. In any workplace, you need that person you can use for anything: brainstorming, venting, pumping you up and checking you when you need it. Robin has always been that person for me, and I was that for her. We said for years “if we can get the right business idea, we can conquer the world.”
Robin: What’s that quote? Something like, “surround yourself with people who are smarter than you”, even though I’d never tell her I think she’s smarter haha. But really, we were destined to do this together. We jumped ship [from the corporate world] and started something we have always been passionate about: helping women be successful.
What’s the best part about working for yourselves?
R: This should be an easy question to answer, but like most people who have been in this boat, it’s a total mixed bag of feeling liberated, being scared AF and tired. I think sometimes we over glamorize “working for yourself,” I remember day-dreaming about the flexibility and freedom that would come with owning my own business. And while that could be true, the reality of it is, you get out what you put in.
Tell us a bit more about your work. How do you help women-owned businesses level up?
C: I’ll stick to sharing our biggest strategy: “Eliminate the background noise, amplify the woman.” We know that the real secret for business success is through the talents and passions of its people. There are so many things involved in running a business that can sap the most energetic entrepreneur of her energy. Our objective is to look at what’s taking her energy, and help her to implement solutions to make those things easier so she can unleash all her passion and creativity on the things she’s best at, the parts she loves that made her launch a business to begin with. Then the real magic happens.
R: We aren’t one-size-fits-all, our suggestions for growing one woman’s business will be totally different from the next.
What’s the biggest mistake you see retail entrepreneurs making, and how can they course correct?
C: The biggest mistake I see is not maximizing customer service. I see business owners approaching customer service as operational interactions. “They ask, we provide.” The differentiator for brick and mortar businesses is that you have the chance to interact, to provide an experience. You have a living, breathing person in front of you. You have the opportunity to show an interest in who they are, not just the stuff they put in a cart. Connect with people, make them smile, anticipate their needs, make your customers feel important. I can’t tell you how many businesses I walk into where the people working make me feel as if I walked into an important place, where important people have important things to do, instead of making me feel like I’m important.
I recommend that all business leaders walk through their business through the lens of their customers. Physically walk into your space and imagine what your guest experiences from you: what do you see/hear from when you first walk up? When you linger? When you order/try-on/check-out? How does it make you feel? What would you want to see/hear? As a customer, what would make you pause, smile, stay, and feel important?
R: [Another major mistake is] not knowing how to keep up with the ever-changing retail environment. We hear constantly “retail is dying” - that isn’t true. Yes, Amazon is booming, they offer their customers convenience. That doesn’t mean local businesses don’t have a place in the market. It means today’s retailers have to incorporate strategies that appeal to today’s shopper. Your product needs to be unique and not easily found on Amazon for half the price. And you have to provide a unique guest experience; that isn’t ever found online.
C: Once you identify the experience you want to give, it’s so important to ensure you are set-up to deliver it consistently as a team. Teaching and training people skills is hard, and it’s an endless cycle. Stay humble and find creative ways to help your whole team deliver an experience you’re proud of. Your customer is worth it.
What’s your vision for F.Word?
R: To be the leading force in helping all these bad-ass business owners succeed and take up a larger portion of the marketplace!
C: We are basically field leaders for companies too small to have oversight roles at that level. Instead of paying a six-figure salary for someone exclusive to your business, we fulfill that role at a fraction of the cost with all the benefits. We know your business, your mission and provide fresh eyes and hands-on support monthly, in addition to external support for your strategies and professional development. We are so excited about the prospect of being consistent partners to help businesses flourish, and we’d love to eventually grow our concept and our team even beyond Chicago.
Interview edited for clarity and brevity.