“You need to understand the current climate to attract the right talent”
Shira is a ‘career retailer – entering the world of fashion at just 15, where she walked into a store and was offered to a job off the bat of helping another customer. A ‘career retailer’, she’s been in the retail world for a long time. She started her career in a fast fashion business based in NSW and worked her way up to State Manager, in between working for Cue and developing her talents as a singer-songwriter. She rounded out her retail experience working with Michael Page and headed back into retail with Chic before moving out of retail to work with the family’s organisation.
Shira came up with the idea for gentSac when she was shopping for products for her partner and realised a gap in the market to developing a platform for bespoke, high quality men’s grooming products. Using her retail experience, she developed a solid understanding of their market and started out an eCommerce website. Fast-forward to today where she now has a store in the Galeries in Sydney. Here we share some of the secrets to her success.
Sara: Where did the concept of gentSac come from?
Shira: When I was shopping for my (then fiancé) husband, I noticed that there wasn’t a lot out there for bearded men – when you take out the mass brands like Nivea, Garnier etc., there is a real shortage of access to products for conscious men.
We serve the market of the ‘evolving gent’- men who are enlightened about their skincare and want to buy premium quality products.
Sara: Where did you get started?
Shira: When I did a search for these products, there were about 30 niche brands. We had a solid brand concept before we started – I did market research and found out what our ideal customer looked like and what they wanted. The products needed to be very niche, premium and with beautiful product and packaging.
I reached out to these brands and we got all but one. This was because we had a clear understanding of the vision and the concept and were good at articulating that concept.
Sara: What do you think helped your success?
Shira: I was across the details of the business from the start. I created a beautiful landing page for the website, so the company seemed legitimate when I was reaching out to potential brands. I had to learn to be more across the bigger picture, but I think the details were important in building the business.
I am also a high achiever – I had a retail background and I never saw the business as moving too quickly. As a passionate retailer, I always work with good product and connect to people. My skillset was being able to build rapport and having great product knowledge to sell my products.
Sara: Shira, you’ve got a great people-first approach in your business – how have you developed this?
Shira: People want flexibility in their workplace – find out what your people want and work with them to give it to them. If you give your people what they want 90% of the time, you’ll get what you want from them 10% of the time and have happy people. You can be the best leader when you factor in the different needs of the business.
I think you need to think about how you’re attracting talent – you need to impress and attract people to work for you. So many retailers think of it as the other way around, but you need to hire the right people, retain them and inspire! Good people will work hard.
What’s also important is that your people are happy outside of work. You need to think about your own mental health, but also those of your people. We empower the team to manage their mental health and this starts with the leader.
We build a community and create a strong team spirit. We make sure that the training is simple to learn, simple to teach. We also encourage our team to make mistakes.
Sara: You invested a lot into your business – was it scary?
Shira: No, if I was terrified, I wouldn’t have done it! I had a strong belief in the concept and I’m a positive person, so I felt optimism helped me through. Cashflow is a scary thing, but I didn’t let myself be scared. I was always proactive in looking at my numbers and hustled to make it work. What also helped was having a good relationship with my suppliers – I was open, honest, transparent and had brands that believed in gentSac. Whilst you’re growing, you need the flexibility in your relationships.
Sara: What are the top three lessons that you learned?
Shira: Firstly – I’ve built strong relationships with people who helped build the business. This was integral.
Secondly – know your numbers, know your data. Be across your finances, your book-keeping, best-sellers. I was also slightly on the optimistic side, but had good, proactive financial planning.
Last – the mental health piece is key. I’ve always been a positive person, but I’ve had a lot of tough days. The consistency of doing things like yoga and meditation is important and I’m always working to evolve into my best self. If you don’t take the time to do this, you’ll lack the mental staying power to win and be resilient. I wanted to stay around for my business and I needed to prioritise my mental health to do this.
You don’t need to be a slave to the business to be sustainable.
Sara: So where to next?
Shira: I want to continue to grow the community, showcase our incredible products and become more eco-friendly and sustainable with our business. I’m also wanting to grow the education piece for the business and help people take care of themselves. I believe it starts with yourself.
About Shira O’Sullivan-Linker
Shira began her retail career at a young age with Cue Clothing, and rose to the top from being a top seller to a management position overseeing flagship stores. Shira also began exploring entertainment opportunities as a musician, and eventually launched gentSac. with partner Ross O’Sullivan. gentSac. is a startup in a hugely growing space focusing on providing the best in men’s grooming and essentials. They will also be collaborating with worthy causes in line with the company ethos to empower men to look after themselves better and be proud in doing so.