Jennifer Guy on Leadership, Business During COVID-19, and Staying Inspired
Valentina Solci speaks to Store Manager Jennifer Guy on her rise to leadership, the state of the luxury fashion industry, and spreading wellness
New York born and bred Store Manager, Jennifer Guy, knows a thing or two about ethical leadership and how to retain loyal clientele. Having graduated from the American University in 2005 with a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and a minor in Business Administration, Guy, 37, has utilized her diverse academic and humble professional background to leverage her career in luxury fashion management. She currently runs the SMCP Maje SOHO store as a General Manager and has been doing so for the past two and a half years. However, Guy didn’t just enter into a leadership position from the getco. Having initiated as a Seasonal Sales Associate, Guy worked her way up the management ladder by learning, growing, and appreciating every role along the way. She has grown her experience in the luxury fashion industry by working for a variety of brands, such as Carolina Herrera, Restoration Hardware, and Calypso St. Barth. Alongside her current management work with SMCP, Guy is continuing her education by attending NYU’s School of Professional Studies certificate program.
In this interview, Guy shares with me how her love for fashion flourished, how she’s guiding and uplifting her team during COVID-19, and the future of the global fashion industry.
Valentina Solci: What does fashion leadership mean to you and how did you fall in love with the fashion industry?
Jennifer Guy: To me, fashion leadership is how a brand delivers a product to the customer’s hands. Experience is so important and so many elements play a role in the delivery. Visual merchandising can drive product through window displays. Having a team that embodies the brand's values and loves the product helps the customer fall in love with the history and designer vision. Operational strength ensures that the right scheduling provides enough customer service to the clients during peak hours. There are so many aspects of running a store that contribute to the overall success. I fell in love with the fashion industry because it combines a personal love of fashion- especially shopping, with the professional challenge of running every aspect of a multi-million dollar business on a daily basis.
VS: How did you rank up to a leadership position in fashion?
JG: I began my fashion career as a seasonal sales associate and through the years, worked my way up in several companies in different roles. My first leadership position was a sales supervisor. In that position, I learned to balance achieving my own personal sales targets along with meeting team financial goals. Coaching sales associates, communicating company information, and conflict resolution were among the expectations. Through the years, I was always eager to learn new skills, outside of selling. After a promotion to Assistant Store Manager, my responsibilities grew again, to include scheduling, visual merchandising, human resources and training. Now, as a General Manager, my responsibilities are much the same. Additionally, I work on building bench strength through training and developing my existing staff and engaging as a mentor to other store managers within the region.
VS: What valuable lessons did your early career years teach you that still sticks with you today?
JG: I believe that working in any service industry- retail, hospitality, etc. provides invaluable lessons to any professional. Flexibility, problem solving, working under pressure, achieving sales goals and so many other skills, can be translated into other industries. These are lessons that I learned early on and still apply every day.
VS: Having had a diverse academic background, do you feel this contributed to your current career endeavors in fashion? If you could go back in time, would you have studied fashion instead?
JG: I fell in love with fashion and retail while working part time in college. My studies helped me understand different opinions and viewpoints. My classmates were from all over the U.S. and the globe. I was exposed to so many different cultures that opened my eyes and made me more appreciative of all perspectives. I would not have studied fashion, but would have added on a second major or second minor in a more specific field such as organizational management or marketing.
VS: What has been your favorite part about being a store manager for a luxury fashion brand? How is your role unique in comparison to other forms of leadership within the company’s sales division?
JG: Working in a high profile location in NYC is an honor and also an important responsibility! So many tourists from around the world, and also the U.S visit the SoHo neighborhood. We have the opportunity to introduce the Maje brand to first time shoppers and share our love for French style. We also have many shoppers who remember Maje from a special trip to Paris and hearing about those memories, and creating new New York moments is really fun. Within the company, I have close proximity to the North America headquarters and have relationships with several departments, including buying and visual merchandising.
VS: What essential leadership values have you been focusing on ever since your store reopened after the lockdown? Do these values differ from your leadership style prior to the pandemic?
JG: Empathy, honesty, and listening. These values have always been important and part of my leadership style, but I am more aware now more than ever. Everyone has faced incredible challenges this year. Asking questions, giving my team an opportunity to share their observations or concerns, and sharing information is how I strive to connect with my team.
VS: How would you describe the Maje girl today?
JG: Today, the Maje girl is looking for a return to “normalcy” and the shopping experience is something they are happy to return to. In general, her shopping habits have changed and she is mindful that her day-to-day life is different. She has less formal events and parties, but wants to feel and look good, no matter what.
VS: Being a manager has many perks but also comes with a lot of stress and pressure at times (especially during a pandemic), how have you been managing stress both for yourself and your team? Any tips for self-care?
JG: I try to keep my work-week to not much more than 40 hours a week. I do my best to provide a weekend off each month for each team member. This is not always possible in retail, but I know it means a lot for my team to have time with their loved ones.
VS: During non-pandemic days, SOHO is normally one of the most vibrant and creative neighborhoods in NYC. How has the area changed since then and how has your team adapted to these changes?
JG: SoHo has changed so much since February. In the past, the neighborhood attracted a diverse clientele of both international tourists and local shoppers. The tourism in NYC has been dramatically less. Many stores and restaurants have not re-opened. However, we are happy to provide virtual appointments via FaceTime or WeChat, but most of our clients prefer to shop in person. Additionally, the team is supported with weekly incentives for meeting various objectives and we work together to win prizes, keeping us motivated and excited.
VS: How do you foresee fashion business and creativity moving forward as we approach the new year? What can the global fashion industry learn from the #NYstrong mentality?
JG: I think the fashion business will be challenged with driving business over a greater time period instead of historically high volume business days. For example, with New York State capacity regulations, high traffic days such as Black Friday, will simply not exist at the same level. #NYStrong is possible when everyone contributes to keeping themselves and neighbors healthy. At work, this means a safe shopping environment. As a company, we enforce the wearing of masks, hand sanitizing, cleaning fitting rooms after every use, steaming every piece of clothing after it’s tried on, and cleaning hard surfaces continuously. We want our clients to feel safe in the store and continue to return to shop.